Oregon Farm Bureau, the state’s largest family agriculture organization, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Portland on May 29, 2013 in response to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) refusal to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the filing, Farm Bureau seeks public records about USDOL’s use of “hot goods” powers. Filing this lawsuit is Farm Bureau’s only option after USDOL failed to meet its deadline to respond to an April 23, 2013 appeal. The department had 20 business days to comply with the law and failed do so.
At issue is a February 27, 2013 FOIA request submitted by Oregon Farm Bureau to USDOL. The request sought information, in 10 detailed categories, relating to the department’s use of its “hot goods” powers in Oregon in the summer of 2012. Four of the inquiries seek information specific to USDOL’s investigation of two Oregon family blueberry farms that were subjected to “hot goods” treatment. The other six inquiries were about procedures, practices, and statistical information not related to any specific farm or matter before the department.
USDOL responded April 9 claiming a waiver under FOIA Section 7A and refused to provide responses to any of the 10 inquiries. Section 7A applies only to “active cases” that are “under investigation, in negotiation, or litigation.” Six of the 10 inquiries were not case-specific, and the other four inquiries were about cases that had been concluded by consent judgments and closing conferences with USDOL. Penalties and alleged back wages owed have already been paid on those closed cases.
“USDOL has shown contempt for due process, contempt for Congressional oversight, and now contempt for its legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act,” said Oregon Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Dave Dillon. “We want due process for family farms and a public agency that can demonstrate how its rules and procedures provide due process. USDOL has given us neither and continues to operate as though it is accountable to no one. That type of behavior was not acceptable from the IRS, and it is not acceptable from USDOL.”
Oregon Farm Bureau has worked with six members of the state’s congressional delegation (Sens. Merkley and Wyden, Reps. Schrader, Walden, Bonamici, and DeFazio), BOLI Commissioner Brad Avakian, and Oregon Dept. of Ag Director Katy Coba to get answers from USDOL about its over- and misuse of “hot goods” powers last summer in Oregon. The Oregon Senate has passed a memorial asking that USDOL institute policies and procedures to ensure due process is provided and that “hot goods” is used appropriately (SJM 7 is awaiting action in the House). Rep. Schrader has introduced federal legislation to prevent USDOL from misusing “hot goods” powers.
“We won’t rest until USDOL stops these tactics,” said Dillon.
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