Farm Workers Allege Threats Made by Ukegawa Brothers Inc.
Two former workers and one current employee of Ukegawa Brothers Inc., a major North County farming concern, filed complaints with the Carlsbad Police Department on Thursday alleging that they had been threatened and otherwise abused by company executives.
Oscar Ruiz de Chavez, an attorney representing former and current Ukegawa laborers, said 16 other workers planned to file similar complaints against the grower with the San Diego Police Department today.
All 19 workers are among 75 to 80 current and former Ukegawa laborers who are seeking more than $1 million in back pay from the firm dating to 1984, Ruiz de Chavez said. The attorney has begun filing back pay claims, mostly for unpaid overtime, with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement of the California Department of Industrial Relations.
An investigation of those claims has already begun, said Roger Miller, the division’s regional manager in Los Angeles.
Ukegawa Brothers representatives, approached in their office in Carlsbad, declined to comment on the criminal allegations or the back-pay claims. They referred all questions to Peter Mackauf, the company’s general manager, who was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
On Thursday, more than a dozen former Ukegawa employees went to the Carlsbad Police Department, accompanied by Ruiz de Chavez. All complained of their treatment and working conditions.
Felipe de Jesus Zurita Ramirez, 25, one of the former Ukegawa workers who filed a complaint against the firm, said he had been choked and shot at with a pellet gun by company management. He showed a reporter a mark on his back that he said came from the pellet gun.
Fearful of Deportation
However, Ruiz de Chavez acknowledged that both instances happened as far back as 1980 and therefore may be impossible to prosecute because the statute of limitations has expired. Asked why he failed to file the complaints earlier, Zurita, an undocumented worker from Mexico, said he had been fearful of possible deportation and was only filing now because he had achieved temporary legal status under the provisions of the new U.S. immigration law.
“I was afraid to say anything before because I thought they might bring in la migra, " said Zurita, using the common term for U.S. immigration authorities.
Another former Ukegawa worker, Gildardo Garcia, 22, said he had been kicked by a company official last year.
Neither man suffered serious injuries.
A third worker, Saturino Tabira Gonzalez, 22, contends that company executives recently threatened that his friends would be killed if he did not sign a document waving any legal claims against Ukegawa Brothers, according to Ruiz de Chavez. Tabira was still employed at the farming concern as of Wednesday, his attorney said.
Richard Castaneda, a bilingual Carlsbad detective who took the complaints, said the allegations would be investigated. Under questioning from Ruiz de Chavez in the Police Department lobby, Castaneda acknowledged that he knew the Ukegawa brothers, the firm’s top officials, but denied that he was a friend of theirs. He said his relationship with the family would not influence his inquiry.
Ukegawa Brothers Inc. is among the largest, and most controversial, growers in San Diego County. The Ukegawa vegetable farms employ 500 people and are spread over 400 acres in four locations, extending from San Diego to Carlsbad.
In 1984, the firm agreed to pay a $125,000 fine resulting from a civil suit brought by state authorities alleging under-payment of more than 2,000 employees. Eight years ago, Ukegawa Brothers bulldozed a sprawling encampment where about 1,000 undocumented workers had lived, after San Diego County authorities ordered the firm to clean up the squalid site.