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Half Moon Bay Farm Involved in Shooting Paid $126,000 in Workplace Violations

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Crime scene tape is seen from this drone view at the California Terra Gardens mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Farm worker Chunli Zhao, 66, was booked on seven counts of murder after the Jan. 23 shooting.  (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)

One of the two businesses where seven farmworkers were fatally shot last year in Half Moon Bay has paid more than $126,000 for workplace violations uncovered after the mass shooting, the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed to KQED.

California Terra Garden paid $84,000 in back wages and $42,500 in penalties assessed under federal protections covering migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. This is in addition to a separate $150,000 settlement paid by the business to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, according to a spokesperson for the agency.

A Department of Labor investigation into the second site where the back-to-back shootings occurred, Concord Farms, is ongoing.

A team of investigators found California Terra Garden charged dozens of farmworkers to live in “deplorable” housing on-site and failed to notify them in writing about the terms of their employment as required, said Alberto Raymond, assistant district director at the agency’s San José office.

“The Department of Labor will enforce laws that protect all workers, particularly vulnerable workers,” Raymond told KQED. “And will put every effort to seek justice, to level the playing field.”

California Terra Garden made the full payment to the Department of Labor last summer. The agency has been working to track down 39 workers who are eligible for restitution over two years, according to Raymond.

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Attempts to reach California Terra Garden representatives for comment were unsuccessful.

San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller, who has helped the county take steps to support wage theft victims and to start developing more affordable housing units for agricultural workers, welcomed the news.

“The enforcement and recovery work by the U.S. Department of Labor is another step toward justice for the families affected by the tragedy in Half Moon Bay,” Mueller said in a statement. “On the county level, we are making active strides to ensure a safe and healthy future for all agricultural workers.”

Deemed an extreme case of workplace violence, the murders on Jan. 23, 2023, at the two mushroom farms exposed very low wages and substandard housing conditions for workers.

The day after the shooting, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters that the farmworkers lived in “shipping containers” and earned only $9 an hour, far below California’s minimum wage. State and county officials vowed to investigate.

More on Half Moon Bay

One year later, California workplace regulators accused the two farm employers of various safety and labor law violations.

A criminal grand jury indicted the alleged gunman, Chunli Zhao, with seven counts of murder, among other charges. The judge in the case scheduled an arraignment for later this month.

Zhao allegedly shot five people at California Terra Garden, one of whom survived. The former forklift operator, 66 at the time of the attacks, then shot and killed three more people at nearby Concord Farms, where he used to work.

Workers can check if they are owed wages by searching the Department of Labor’s Workers Owed Wages website, said an agency spokesperson.

They can also call a toll-free helpline at 1-866-487-9243 or contact the local office where the case was managed. The California Terra Garden case was handled by the department’s Walnut Creek Area office at 415-625-7720.

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