California winery put out of business for using volunteers

The State of California continues its war on productive activity, fining a small family-owned winery that earns $11,000 a year a whopping $115,000 for the crime of inviting volunteers to learn about wine while helping out with the harvest and the crush. That is enough to drive it out of business, and the winery is starting to lauch a going out of business sale in response.

Rebecca Parr reports in the San Jose 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 industry.

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.

State law prohibits for-profit businesses from using volunteers.

At small wineries, the practice of inviting friends and family to help out is virtually universal, as it is a lot of fun, and at harvest time, there is about ten times as much work as usual.

The state’s excuse for ending this party and closing a productive business is pathetic:

Westover was cited in July for not paying minimum wage, not providing wage statements and not paying workers' compensation insurance, said Peter Melton, a spokesman for the state.

"These are not idle things. People should be paid for their labor. The workers' compensation violations are very serious. What happens if someone has a catastrophic injury at the winery?" he asked.

And, he added, "It isn't fair to wineries that are paying their employees to have to compete against for-profit wineries that do not."

Where is the fairness in stopping people from having a good time, learning about a subject they care about, and maybe tasting a few grapes and freshly-squeezed grape juice (there’s nothing like it – trust me) along the way?

I suspect that a much bigger reason for the state crackdown is that there is no withholding tax paid and no unemployment insurance paid. As regionally syndicated talk show host Joe Getty puts it, the State of California is like the Mafia: they want a cut of everything that goes on in its turf. And like the Mafia, it will destsroy those who refuse to give them a cut.

Congratulations, bureaucrats! You have killed another business for stupid reasons.

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