How ‘Fair Labor’ Laws Are Destroying a Family Vineyard and Your Right to Volunteer

Did you know that it’s illegal for you to volunteer at a friend’s business to learn new skills? 

Anthony Freda Art

Eric Blair
Activist Post

Another unprecedented ‘government is taking your rights and renting them back to you’ event is upon us. And this one has tentacles that dive deep into the bowels of how the global elite are attempting to redefine rights as responsibilities to the state.

Since the beginning of time, people, often children, eagerly traded their labor for knowledge and experience. This is how real skills are typically passed on even today. But because involuntary slave labor occurs in extreme cases, governments seem to be broadly outlawing unpaid labor including volunteering, internships, free apprenticeships and even children’s chores. Heck, NCAA athletes are riding this “fair and equal” wave too.

This is the Totalitarian Tip-Toe follow-up story that I’ve been promising since my last one on private police in California went viral. Here, we have another precedent-setting case of tyranny. It is more subtle and less violent than the prospect of private military contractors raiding Americans, but it’s gangster governance nonetheless and it received almost no media coverage.

The unnerving story I’m referring to is the Department of Industrial Relations (yes, that’s a real thing) in California putting a mom-and-pop winery out of business for employing volunteers. The Westover Vineyards, who make only $11,000 a year in net profits, is being fined $115,000 for the supposed crime of using unpaid labor while teaching wine making to friends. Is anyone surprised this bizarre attempt to protect children and ensure fair wages doubles as a revenue generator for the state?


According to Mercury News:

A small-time vintner’s use of volunteer workers has put him out of business after the state squeezed him like a late-summer grape for $115,000 in fines — and sent a chill through the wine industry. 

The volunteers, some of them learning to make wine while helping out, were illegally unpaid laborers, and Westover Winery should have been paying them and paying worker taxes, the state Department of Industrial Relations said. 

“I didn’t know it was illegal to use volunteers at a winery; it’s a common practice,” said winery owner Bill Smyth….

State law prohibits for-profit businesses from using volunteers.

[….]

Meanwhile, he and his wife, Jill, are holding a going-out-of-business sale and plan to shut down before the end of the year. The fines represent more than a decade’s worth of profits for the winery, which nets about $11,000 a year, Smyth said. 

“There’s just no money left; they’ve taken everything,” he said. 

“We’re a small winery, open only 10 hours a week. We didn’t really need any helpers; we were just educating people about wine,” he said. 

About half the people the state considered Westover employees were taking a free class at the Palomares Canyon Road winery. Students learned about growing vines, harvesting and blending grapes and marketing the finished product. 

“This was an incredible opportunity for me,” said Peter Goodwin, a home winemaker from Walnut Creek who said he dreams of opening a winery with some friends. “I got to learn from someone who knows the business.” 

The winery sometimes asked Goodwin if he wanted to assist in different tasks.

“That’s what I wanted, to be as involved as much as possible — it was all about learning,” he said. “I don’t understand the state’s action. It was my time, and I volunteered.” (emphasis added)

Notice the only reference to justifying this gross misuse of government power is one sentence: “State law prohibits for-profit businesses from using volunteers.” I must add that no warning was given to Westover about the violations prior to issuing this business-ending fine and a spokesperson from the state claims the law doesn’t allow for warnings. And that is the extent of what we know about the actual “law” from the media. But what law would justify such nonsense?

The U.S. Department of Labor regulates volunteers under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was indeed amended by Congress in 1985 to forbid for-profit companies from utilizing unpaid labor, and California labor laws are built on this framework.

What’s worse, the law also forbids YOU from volunteering:

Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers. On the other hand, in the vast majority of circumstances, individuals can volunteer services to public sector employers. (emphasis added)

Apparently you can volunteer for the “public sector” but you can’t learn to make wine with your friends.

Did you know you lost your right to volunteer wherever you choose? That you must now get permission from the state if you help your buddy out at his shop or farm, and that your buddy must now pay taxes on this activity? That you indeed do NOT own yourself or your energy if you can’t choose how to spend your “free” time?

The FLSA seems like a pretty straightforward prohibition; yet, as with any prohibition, there are exemptions. In this case, there are lots of them including specific trade exemptions like salesman, partsmen, mechanics, computer professionals, drivers, loaders, and yes, farm workers — and a whole lot more. Other exemptions include businesses under a certain amount of employees and volunteer programs with an “educational benefit” (i.e. unpaid interns).

Westover Vineyards would easily qualify for multiple exemptions if this was the law in question. So what gives?

First, I should clarify something. It is still legal in every state for for-profit companies to have “regulated” unpaid interns. But California recently became the first state to pass an “anti-discrimination and harassment ordinance” which appears to make it illegal to not at least pay minimum wage to interns.

Fueled by class warfare fervor and a rogue court ruling that said unpaid interns could be sexually harassed by their employers because they weren’t “legally” employees, California passed AB1443 last month.

The Huffington Post described the bill prior to its passage in the article California Law Would Finally Protect Unpaid Interns From Harassment And Discrimination:

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) announced Tuesday that she will introduce the legislation in January. 

“Interns should not have to give up their basic civil rights just because they are willing to forgo pay,” Skinner said. “Interns deserve the same legal protection against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.” 

Like their rights to workplace compensation, unpaid interns’ protection from discrimination and harassment remains murky in both state and federal law. Ordinances like the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect employees from sexual harassment but do not explicitly include unpaid interns. (emphasis added)

Did you catch that – “rights to workplace compensation”? But no right to volunteer where you want? Hmm. Let’s keep pushing forward.

Although this new ordinance doesn’t directly outlaw unpaid internships, it says interns must be treated the same as all other employees under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Consequently, it seems to indicate that minimum wage mandates, workman’s comp insurance, and other labor laws now apply to interns, which would technically make volunteering illegal without compliance to FEHA regulations. Those tricky devils.

If this one-month-old ordinance is in fact what the Department of Industrial Relations is using to levy these outrageous fines on Westover, then clearly it is being misapplied from the original intent of its supporters.

To all those who believed that this would somehow bring more equality and fairness: Now, no one gets an internship (minimum wage or not) at this or any other vineyard in California whom, after this lawless fine, are scared to death to use volunteers. Now, no one gets hands-on knowledge of an actual skill and at least one family’s dream is destroyed. But since no one gets anything, I guess that’s still called equality, right?

There’s an alarming trend of similar “fair labor” laws across America with New York getting ready to pass identical legislation. Even more disturbing, labor regulations more provocative than these are being secretly implemented without legislation from Congress.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor tried to ram through “child labor” regulations that prohibited parents from assigning farm chores to their children. This power grab of parental rights was attempted without a formal law. Fortunately, the proposal angered rural communities so much that it was scrapped, for now….

Was the government’s plan to fine moms-n-pops out of the parental business, too? Sounds outrageous, I know. Laws like these force you to transfer the legal custody of your children to the wise and benevolent state. Crazy? Unbelievable? You just read how you’ve already lost custody over yourself and your own free time, so why would this be so hard to believe? Keep reading…

In August, Saskatchewan Canada banned kids from working on their family farm which set off an immediate debate as to where the concept came from. Other nations like India tried a blanket ban on child labor with disastrous results.

Here’s one Canadian farmer’s reaction about it on Facebook:

So who’s behind these unpopular regulations and what is their real purpose?

Have you heard of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? It’s an international treaty which “requires that states act in the best interests of the child. This approach is different from the common law approach found in many countries that had previously treated children as possessions or chattels, ownership of which was sometimes argued over in family disputes.”

Translation: Because child slavery exists in the world, your parental rights or custodial “ownership” of your children is to be forfeited to the state for the best interest of the child.

If your nation is one of the 194 to ratify this Convention, like Canada and India are, your parental rights have officially been abolished and you’re legally required to comply with what the state now defines as “parental responsibilities.”

The Convention’s Wiki entry continues with some vague yet telling language:

The Convention obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, and to have their privacy protected, and it requires that their lives not be subject to excessive interference.

The Convention also obliges signatory states to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and asks that the child’s viewpoint be heard in such cases.

The Convention forbids capital punishment for children. In its General Comment 8 (2006) the Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that there was an “obligation of all state parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children”.  Article 19 of the Convention states that state parties must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence“, but it makes no reference to corporal punishment. (emphasis added)

The United States is currently not a signatory but, as noted above, Obama’s Department of Labor already tried to force this into federal regulation.

They’re openly field testing these draconian rules to measure the public’s response to them. They’ve proven to back off when confronted by angry Americans, but they will not give up. That’s why small local stories about fines for volunteering are so important to amplify. People must have a chance to say no before they move on to the next tip-toe to tyranny.

Personal note: My wife is currently going through the process of renewing her RN license after a seven-year hiatus to focus on homeschooling. Her refresher course requires 160 hours of mandatory unpaid clinical work. It’s annoying and a temporary financial burden for us, but it’s not an “unfair” arrangement.

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