Last summer, news reports broke that the U.S. Department of Labor was effectively holding hostage the crops of blueberry farmers in Oregon until they signed documents agreeing to alleged violations to federal labor laws. Since then, similar cases have popped up on the west side of our own state of Washington.
Agents from the Department of Labor accused these farmers of a variety of labor violations and invoked an abusive tactic known as the "hot goods" provision - impounding the farmer's crops until they agreed to sign a form admitting to breaking the law.
Make no mistake, I believe that the enforcement of labor laws is important. However, I'm concerned with the manner in which these investigations were carried out.
Many of the growers that were victims of this "hot goods" policy believed that they were not guilty of the violations they were accused of. However, as we all know, blueberries are a perishable crop and our farmers are left with little choice: either admit to the violation and pay a substantial fine in order to preserve their harvest, or contest the investigation and lose their crop while waiting for a court resolution.
No one in America should face the choice of giving up their ability to defend themselves against accusations from a government agency or losing the fruits of an entire year's work - possibly even leading to bankruptcy.
Prohibiting the shipment of produce is grossly unprecedented, unfair and does not honor the right to due process afforded to all Americans.
So far, to my knowledge no one in my district in Central Washington has yet been a victim of the "hot goods" tactic. However, I am concerned that it's only a matter of time before it will be employed on growers of many of our region's leading perishable crops, such as cherries, applies and asparagus.
Many believe, as I do, that the Obama Administration is overstepping its authority and that the "hot goods" order should only be used on non-perishable food items and only in extreme cases.
I have long-advocated for policies that support our farmers and growers. That is why I'm proud to co-sponsor H.R. 1387, introduced by Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, which exempts perishable agricultural commodities from being subject to the "hot goods" provision.
The Department of Labor must take steps to ensure that perishable agriculture producers are provided due process and that producers can harvest, pack, ship and market their fruit and produce in a timely manner - without having their crops held hostage for an admission of guilt.
- U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.