California Destroys Winery Over Use of Volunteers

Enough a drive a guy to drink. Oh, WAIT!Apparently your labor is the opposite
of your sexuality in California: You can sell it, but you can’t
give it away for free.

California has a state law that prohibits for-profit companies
from using volunteer labor. Anybody who knows anything about
employment economics knows that this isn’t going to hit those big,
dastardly corporations that people hate. No, it’s going to end up
destroying small wineries like Westover Winery in Castro Valley.
From the
Mercury News

A small-time vintner’s use of volunteer workers has put him out
of business after the state squeezed him like a late-summer grape
for $115,000 in fines — and sent a chill through the wine

The volunteers, some of them learning to make wine while helping
out, were illegally unpaid laborers, and Westover Winery should
have been paying them and paying worker taxes, the state Department
of Industrial Relations said.

“I didn’t know it was illegal to use volunteers at a winery;
it’s a common practice,” said winery owner Bill Smyth.

So instead, the place will shut down. It was open only 10 hours
of week and earned about $11,000 a year in profits for the owning
couple. The story notes that half of these volunteers were actually
students taking a class about making wine and were benefiting from
what they were learning. Essentially they were interns:

This was an incredible opportunity for me,” said Peter Goodwin,
a home winemaker from Walnut Creek who said he dreams of opening a
winery with some friends. “I got to learn from someone who knows
the business.”

The winery sometimes asked Goodwin if he wanted to assist in
different tasks.

“That’s what I wanted, to be as involved as much as possible —
it was all about learning,” he said. “I don’t understand the
state’s action. It was my time, and I volunteered.”

A state spokesperson’s response was to whine about what might
happen if there were a “catastrophic accident” (lawsuits?) and that
it wasn’t “fair” for wineries that have to pay employees to compete
with wineries who don’t. I don’t think anybody was worried that
this $11,000-a-year empire was going to put anybody out of
business, and it’s the state that mandated this system in the first
place. Whenever anybody who works in government talks about
creating a level field for the marketplace, you know some small
business owner somewhere is about to get screwed over. The story
notes that there are many small wineries like this one in the area
who rely on volunteers. They had to send them all home.  

(Hat tip to Hit and Run commenter Old Man With Candy.)

from Hit & Run

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