Use of Volunteers at Wineries Is Illegal

Why does government stop young people from learning a trade? Why do liberals want to make sure young people or those trying to change professions are not allowed to learn? If I want to be a football player, UCLA can give me a scholarship and I can learn the game. If I want to learn the wine industry, I must be paid—maybe even union wages—though I have no experience or knowledge of the industry. Thanks to Sacramento labor laws, we have high real unemployment. Sacramento is killing jobs and businesses.

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“According to California labor laws, to volunteer legally, an individual must offer his or her services to a public agency or nonprofit organization. Businesses may not legally utilize volunteers. Government and nonprofits are exempt from the law.

In the Livermore Valley, volunteers work in winery tasting rooms and barrel rooms to support the local wineries and, in some cases, to learn the art of wine making.

Westover Winery owner Bill Smyth says that it is too much to deal with. “We have decided to retire.” Starting Labor Day weekend, they will begin selling inventory with the goal to shut down by December 24.”

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Use of Volunteers at Wineries Is Illegal

Independent, 8/22/14

At least one local winery has been hit with fines and penalties for using volunteers in its operation, raising concerns that other wineries may face similar action.

According to California labor laws, to volunteer legally, an individual must offer his or her services to a public agency or nonprofit organization. Businesses may not legally utilize volunteers. Government and nonprofits are exempt from the law.

In the Livermore Valley, volunteers work in winery tasting rooms and barrel rooms to support the local wineries and, in some cases, to learn the art of wine making.

Westover Winery owner Bill Smyth says that it is too much to deal with. “We have decided to retire.” Starting Labor Day weekend, they will begin selling inventory with the goal to shut down by December 24.

He pointed out that he was unaware that using volunteers was illegal. He found that was true of other people, including an Assemblyman who is an attorney. “I was told that government is not in the business of putting businesses out of business. That’s what they are doing,” said Smyth.

Wendell Lee, General Counsel for the Wine Institute, suggested that wineries using volunteers consult with an attorney familiar with labor laws. He noted that the use of volunteers by a for-profit business can lead to labor code violations. The penalties can be very severe. Minimum wage, payroll taxes and workman’s comp are all triggered. The volunteers cannot be paid with wine.

Lee added, wineries who use staff who are not paid need to scrutinize their use of volunteers.

According to one observer, California wineries are now finding out that they can be required to pay back wages and huge penalties going back three years. Some wineries and other small businesses have seen penalties and back wages for volunteers going over $100,000.

Although the Livermore Valley Winegrowers is a nonprofit, it cannot signup volunteers to help for-profit businesses. Executive Director Chris Chandler commented, “As we understand it, labor laws distinguish between and regulate the use of volunteers and interns (versus employees) at for-profit businesses. As far as we know, wineries in California do not have exempt or non-profit status, but are considered commercial or for-profit businesses. The non-profit Winegrowers Association cannot have volunteers that perform services of a commercial nature (i.e. tasting room/production facility) for another, separate for-profit business/winery.”

Smyth provided a press release from a consultant, who suggested the following actions be taken by for-profit businesses who use volunteers: immediately put all volunteers on the payroll with workers compensation insurance. Do not think paying people cash with a 1099 will protect you. You are most likely still in violation. Do not allow anyone in a business to do any job that is not on the books with a pay stub. A volunteer pouring at a winery harvest wine festival, even though the event is sponsored by a nonprofit, is most likely illegal if she/he are not actually a volunteer of the nonprofit itself. Officers and owners may be exempt from labor law.

In order to change or amend the law regarding the use of volunteers, businesses should contact local state assembly or senate members.

For information on the law, go to www.ehow.com/info_7999551_california-labor-laws-volunteers.html

 

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. Does San Fran Nan Pelosi owning a winery (or wineries) play a role in this phenomenon?

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