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Trigger-Happy Foreman Takes Worker Motivation to a New Extreme

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Trigger-Happy Foreman Takes Worker Motivation to a New Extreme
Image Credit: AP

This farm manager shot himself in the foot by using violence to motivate and manage his staff.

In a recent lawsuit, the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Washington ruled in favor of farm workers who were deprived of their wages and threatened with a gun by their foreman, Juan Morfin. The decision represents a positive stand for the farm workers, but they are still months or years away from receiving compensation.

With the help of Columbia Legal Services, Sandra Saucedo and 722 of her co-workers who worked on the farm from 2009 to 2011 filed suit against the farm's absentee owners and the contractor who hired Morfin. The suit alleged that Morfin frequently denied workers their promised wages and used a gun, which he fired in the fields, to intimate them. The suit was filed after several workers got fired for reporting the gun shooting.

Saucedo said, "Farm work is hard enough without the foreman pulling out a gun to intimidate people. We tried to complain to his brother [the manager] and the people in the office, but they never took our complaints seriously. They can no longer supervise workers at these orchards and that is a big victory that we hope will protect future workers."

Under oath, Morfin testified that he did not own a gun, had never held a fun, and did not remember ever getting arrested on gun charges, even though he was arrested by the Washington State Patrol and spent 90 days in jail for reckless endangerment for aiming a gun at another person. He also previously paid $200 in fines for firearms violations.

The parent corporation, John Hancock Insurance Company, attempted to claim the unlicensed labor contractor was the farmer. However, as the company had used the farm as a tax exemption, owns the orchard's equipment, and is responsible for its payroll, the defense fell flat.

As part of the settlement, each worker will receive $1,000 to $3,000 from the insurance company and the labor contractor, depending on how long they worked on the farm. The insurance company paid $1,004,000 in damages for its failure to register workers, provide correct information about compensation, give employees information about their wages and working conditions, and intimidate workers. Morfin and his brother are no longer employed at the orchard.

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