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Farms where mass shooting killed workers must pay more than $450,000 in back wages and damages

An overhead view of mobile homes at a farm.
A cluster of mobile homes is seen at the California Terra Garden, formerly Mountain Mushroom Farm, in Half Moon Bay, Calif., last year.
(Santiago Mejia / Associated Press)
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Two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, where seven people were killed in a mass shooting, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to workers, and charged many of them to illegally live in trailers and cargo containers that were infested with trash, mold and insects, the U.S. Department of Labor announced.

California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms must pay more than $450,000 to 62 workers, plus more than $71,000 in penalties to the U.S. Treasury, the agency said in a statement, after completing an investigation that found workers were shortchanged in their pay, were not paid overtime and at times were not paid for working off the clock.

At both farms, workers and their families were housed in filthy, infested, cramped conditions, many living in illegal homes made from cargo containers, garages and dilapidated trailers, according to the investigation, conducted by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

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“Our investigation found workers at California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms housed in sickening conditions, forced to sleep near garbage and with insects all around,” said Alberto Raymond, wage and hour division assistant district director for the Department of Labor. “The Department of Labor is determined to hold employers accountable when they ignore their legal responsibilities to provide suitable housing when required and pay workers all their legally earned wages for the hard work they do in difficult conditions.”

The finding comes more than a year after prosecutors say Chunli Zhao, 67, shot his co-workers with a handgun. Zhao, who is still awaiting trial, was working at Terra Gardens at the time and had been previously employed at Concord Farms.

Officials said the deadly shooting occurred after Zhao was told by a supervisor he would have to pay $100 for damaged equipment.

Two lawsuits allege a Half Moon Bay mushroom farm failed to protect workers from a gunman who targeted them in 2023, resulting in a deadly mass shooting.

April 5, 2024

The Jan. 23, 2023, shooting brought attention to the living conditions of the workers in both farms.

In California Terra Gardens, investigators found 39 workers had been living in cramped cargo containers, dilapidated trailers and garages that had been used as homes, according to the Department of Labor.

Workers were exposed to insects and trash in the illegal housing, officials said. The farm owners, Xianmin Guan and his wife, Liming Zhu, also deducted money from the workers’ pay for them to live in the illegal housing. Officials from Concord Farms and California Terra Gardens could not be reached for comment.

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In Concord Farms, investigators found a former greenhouse was used as a home for workers, where they were exposed to mold and insects.

Workers were not paid for all their work hours, including overtime and time spent on off-the-clock tasks, the agency found.

Concord Farms agreed to pay $370,107 in overtime wages and liquidated damages to 10 workers, the agency said, as well as $4,242 in late wages to 23 workers. The farm was also required to pay $29,049 in penalties for the violations.

California Terra Gardens agreed to pay $84,074 for 39 workers to recoup fees they paid for the illegal housing, and $42,494 in penalties.

A man whose job is protesting publicly on behalf of paying customers, found himself staring down a gun while posting handbills outside the home of a restaurateur.

March 6, 2024

Last week, Half Moon Bay planning commissioners approved a new building designed for low-income senior farm workers. The project is expected to add 40 homes.

Although the project was in the works before the mass shooting, it gained new urgency after the killings.

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The plan was delayed in hours-long meetings in the city’s planning commission, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to publicly urge city officials to move the plan forward. He warned that the state agency that enforces housing laws would “take all the necessary steps to hold Half Moon Bay accountable” if the project did not move along.

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