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Vintage 2014, and California declares war on small wineries



With the first (light) rain of the season expected tomorrow (today, as you read this) north of the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought it was a good time to consider the 2014 vintage in California. So, as usual, I asked my loyal Facebook friends, who responded in force.

The story is this: short, compressed harvest. Record early, in many cases a month before normal. (This means that Autumn rains should not be a problem. If they actually come, which everyone is hoping they will.) A good crop, tonnage-wise, not a record, but then, it comes on the heels of two record-setting years (2012, 2013).

Quality? Overall, pretty good. The wines should be plump and approachable. Several people commented on soft acids, but that can be corrected in the winery. On the other hand, others remarked about high acidity, which also can be corrected, partially, through the malolactic fermentation. The exceptional drought has resulted in small berries but that should make for intense flavors.

Potential problems? Smoke taint tops the list. The Sierra Foothills have been hit heavy by wildfires. So has the extreme North Coast, but that smoke drifts down to the south. A second potential issue is that the warmth, combined with the drought, has resulted in fairly high sugars, especially in reds, but true phenolic ripeness lags a bit behind. I wouldn’t call this a statewide problem but it could result in some structural and balance problems. In a few cases, the crush rush could be a challenge for vintners running out of cellar space.

Several respondents commented on the inverted order of picking, with Cabernet coming in earlier than Pinot and some of the whites, a situation that has vintners scratching their heads, and which may be due to the drought.

Overall, the mood among vintners is positive. I’d call 2014 the third year in a row where there’s more cause to celebrate.

* * *

I must say I find this story disturbing. In brief, the State of California has fined a local winery for using volunteers. Seems the winery didn’t pay them wages, or worker’s comp, so Sacramento has cracked down with a fine so heavy, it looks like it will put this little family winery, in business since 1986, out of business.

The story was so preposterous, I called the winery to see if it’s true. I spoke with Westover Winery’s owner, Bill Smyth, who confirmed it. “The State is out of control,” he told me. What will happen now? “We’ll go out of business, 900 of our club members and thousands of customers will lose, and wineries all over California will be devastated.” Bill contacted his state assemblyman, who’s calling for hearings to “do something,” Bill says. But what exactly can be done isn’t clear.

What were the volunteers doing? “The same things as they do at all other wineries: work behind the bar, making wine,” Bill says. They’re friends of the winery who loved participating.

I’ve volunteered at wineries. I’ve punched down, cleaned tanks and worked in the vineyard, and enjoyed and learned from it. There’s something seriously wrong with this development. I hope things work out for Bill Smyth, and I hope that the California Legislature changes the law to allow volunteers to work at wineries. And how about Wine Institute? Guys, it’s time for you to use your clout in the State Capitol.

  1. Bill Haydon says:

    I’m sorry, Steve, but I’ve worked at a winery. It is a potentially hazardous job in a hundred different ways every day that you’re in the cellar. From slips and falls on wet concrete floors to back injuries, caustic chemicals to clean tanks, sulphur, the whirring blades of the pump, fork lifts buzzing around, stacks of 500 pound barrels and even the occasional black widow bite while topping off barrels in the far reaches of the winery, things can go very wrong in a winery.

    While I don’t really have a problem with the volunteering aspect, if this for-profit company chose to have people come into their business and do this potentially dangerous job with no insurance or workers comp coverage, they need to be put out of business. Shame on them, not the state of California for enforcing basic wage and safety laws that a lot of people fought very hard to secure.

  2. ramona crinella says:

    I am not following this. Every well run winery has liability insurance. If someone gets
    hurt on the property they are covered and this would include the intern/volunteer/customers. Wineries have tasting rooms, some offer classes and demonstrations of various aspects of the evaluation of wine. It would seem to me that this would be the same thing, a hands on demonstration of winemaking. So what exactly was the problem that Sacramento was trying to fix?

  3. The idea working in a winery during harvest is appealing to many, but as Bill pointed out the hazards and risks are great. I’m sure if Westover winerys liability insurance company was aware of the situation, they would not stand for it. If an injury occurred to anyone who was not covered under the company’s workmans comp, they would be sued out of business anyway.

  4. Are you people nuts? This is a perfect example of nanny state California and why things are going down the tubes. Please get the bureaucrats and do-gooders out of my life. Give me the freedom to do what I want to do. When my fist doesn’t stop at your nose, then you can complain.

  5. Steve,

    In New York, they have an unpaid worker issue in the entertainment and publishing worlds:

    Likewise down here in La-La-Land:

    ~~ Bob

  6. It’s ridiculous that people cannot volunteer to help in California. The logical extension of this law is that “Hey, could you hold this for me for a second while I tie my shoe?” is now illegal. Adults with full knowledge of the dangers associated with working at a winery should be allow to participate if they want to. If somebody gets hurt and the winery gets sued out of business, then so be it.

    Bill and Pat, I hope your babysitters don’t make you go to bed too early tonight.

  7. Bill Stephenson says:

    Is there a parade that B.H. won’t rain on ?
    I have volunteer arrangements at a winery and a brewery. Both sides are very pleased with the deal. They need a skilled hand (I’m a General Contractor) and I need good wine and craft ales.
    All of us are happy to be there and feel like we are contributing to a local small business – unlike the State of CA which punishes small business or the first responder to today’s post who sounds like he’s looking for a Workers Comp claim so he can gravy-train someone else’s hard work and sacrifice.
    It takes guts and more hours than most people can imagine to start and maintain a business like a winery so you get your help where you can. Friends and nieghbours may not be the most skilled but are quite often the most enthusiastic and can be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.
    It’s also good to feel like you’re part of a community. Tell me, what could be better than putting in a full days work for a full case of social lubricant? Win-Win

  8. A winery is a manufacturing facility. You wouldn’t volunteer to work in a steel mill. Workman’s comp and liability is the huge issue. Not the romance of a small family winery.

  9. For nearly 200 years small farm agriculture has nurtured a
    “friends and family” community volunteer participation as a vital component
    for both its sustainability and a healthy social environment .

    Any effort to prevent the continuation of this charitable self-reliance is
    motivated by greed and ignorance. For the small independent farmer,
    neighbor helping neighbor has always been preferable to dependency
    upon government subsidy or entitlement.

    No more “Barn Raisings” or “Round Up” is a blatant infraction of our
    Constitutionally guaranteed rights of choice and association.

  10. I’m with Bill Haydon – Why wouldn’t /shouldn’t a for profit business pay its workers for work done? Why was this business soliciting volunteers in the first place? That’s not at all clear here – is there a compelling reason/interest for this arrangement (despite the potential and very real legal complications)?

    Bill Stephenson, however, is not a volunteer. He’s got a bartering arrangement – in other words, he’s getting paid for his work as a contractor, whether that arrangement is formal or not. His Workers Comp claim comment is flat out wrong, if not defamatory. Why demonize someone you disagree with. Just disagree. Okay?

  11. The confusion here seems to hinge on the word volunteer. These people are not volunteers. They are not trying to help a for-profit enterprise cut down on labor costs. There is not a winery out there that has decided to forego hiring harvest help because they can count on “volunteers.”

    To be blunt, the “work” of these volunteers is of negligible value to the winery, as work. It is of great value to the winery as PR/Marketing/Customer Relations. Perhaps wineries should have to pay someone or something to allow “volunteers” to get a taste of harvest work, which indeed can be dangerous. But, Mr. Heimoff’s punchdown work aside, this is not “work” in any meaningful sense.

    I say let the insurers work it out with the wineries, and keep the state out of it. There are plenty of people suffering wage theft in California–let’s devote the state’s energies there. This is not to say that a bigger problem (wage theft) makes a smaller problem (unpaid volunteers) okay. I’m arguing that the unpaid volunteers are not that at all.

    Would it change the situation if, instead of volunteering, winery “helpers” were charged to, say, do a punchdown?

  12. “Are you people nuts? . . . Give me the freedom to do what I want to do. When my fist doesn’t stop at your nose, then you can complain.” Please tell me how we got to this sad state of affairs in the discussion . . .

    The issue is individuals doing substantive work for free for a profit making institution. There are liability issues to consider, state laws to consider (wages, working conditions, etc.). Some are valid, and perhaps some are not. We don’t know in this case because we don’t have the specifics of what was happening at the winery–only speculation.

    If they were working as volunteers, there would need to be a very well-defined set of relationships and responsibilities for all involved (including insurance, whether you like it or not, it’s a reality). If they were doing boutique wine making classes that involved producing wine, that’s one thing. But if they’re working the crush or working the wine tasting room doing what employees usually do, then that’s an entirely different animal.

    If they were helping out a friend who was in dire financial straight or helping out because of health issues or some other personal catastrophe, then that might be/would be another set of circumstances. But it appears to be a systematic use of unpaid labor to run a winery – I see nothing to the contrary

    So what are the facts – I see a lot of opinion, usually of the ideological kind, but precious little in the way of the specific facts of the case of this winery that might help of be sympathetic to the owner’s case.

  13. Bill Haydon says:

    At the end of the day, if this guy’s business plan is dependent upon free “volunteered” labor, he’s not running a business. He’s running a hobby.

    And to the aptly named B.S., I have started three successful businesses, and while I may have sacrificed and tightened my own belt while the first one was getting off the ground, I never felt the need to base the success of those businesses off either the free labor of others or the flaunting of state and federal labor laws.

  14. A call-out to the “legal eagles” who may be reading Steve’s blog in silence on the sidelines:

    What if . . . a winery sold a single share of stock in the organization to someone who would otherwise volunteer his or her services as a “cellar rat.”

    Would that person now “qualify” as a minority owner in the venture, and be able to work “for free”?

    (As for me, I subscribe to the philosophy that if my intellectual/human capital is worth “something” and the recipient materially benefits from it, then it is also worth paying for. I can always sign over the compensation check to a worthwhile non-profit/charity organization supported by the “employer”/client.

    See my next comment — with Steve’s indulgence.)

  15. From The Wall Street Journal “Op-Ed” Section
    (Monday, January 18, 1999):

    “Don’t Devalue Human Capital”

    [Link: Not available on the Web]

    By Ira T. Kay
    “Manager’s Journal” Column

    Preface: Ira Kay is the global practice director for compensation consulting at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. He is author of “CEO Pay and Shareholder Value: Helping the U.S. Win the Global Economic War” (St. Lucie Press, 1998).

    When a big investor doubles or triples his money on a stock, no one complains. We praise people like Warren Buffet for their financial savvy. The bigger the return, the better.

    But what happens when the company’s CEO or another manager reaps a similar gain because of stock-based incentives? Suddenly, we make moral judgments, questioning whether anyone is worth that kind of money.

    Why do we cheer huge returns on financial capital but greet similar returns on human capital with suspicion? It doesn’t seem to matter that the financial capital might be controlled by some third-generation heir. Or that all the investor really did was move capital from one asset to another, with only cursory regard for the underlying organization or people.

    In Britain these attitudes are even more pronounced. Recent laws have essentially capped executive pay, while British investors remain free to earn unlimited returns. In the U.S. we don’t “cap” people like Sanford Weill, the Brooklyn-born Travelers chief, who has created tens of billions of dollars in shareholder value and built himself into a world-class business leader–human capital at its zenith. Still, we ask far more questions about Mr. Weill’s pay than we do of the passive investors who have followed him along the way.

    Our discomfort with high returns on labor applies outside the boardroom too–we complain about athletes’ big salaries, for instance. Part of the problem is that we tend to value labor in terms of discrete units of time. If a CEO made $5 million last year, that works out to perhaps $2,000 an hour. Nobody is that good, the thinking goes. But what this ignores is that labor is really a form of capital. Executives and other workers create value based not just on some unit of labor in the current moment, but on their entire store of knowledge and experience — their human capital.

    It’s said that a tourist once spotted Pablo Picasso sketching in a Paris cafe and asked if he would sketch her, offering to pay him fair value. In a matter of minutes, Picasso was finished. When she asked what she owed him, Picasso told her 5,000 francs.

    “But it only took you a few minutes,” the tourist said.

    “No,” said Picasso, “it took me all my life.”

    Our knowledge-based economy is a world of Picassos. What goes into a business decision or the creation of new software is not just the time immediately absorbed. It’s the years of education and experience accrued by the manager or programmer.

    Some argue that investing carries the risk of capital loss, while the downside risk for workers in a typical enterprise is minimal. But workers risk lost opportunities with every career decision they make. Imagine a Harvard MBA in her early 40s who decides to stay on board to turn around a declining company. If it fails, she may end up 10 years later with little added experience and with a lemon on her résumé. If the company succeeds, she wins big — and deserves to. This is not so different from the upside-downside risk financial investors face.

    World markets are in the midst of a dramatic shift. Financial capital will always be critical to corporate success. But the returns on human capital are becoming more important; the maxim about people being a firm’s most important asset is more true than ever.

    What started out in the executive suite is now making its way down the corporate ladder. High-tech professionals and other in-demand workers are getting rewards that go well beyond “wages” — witness all the Silicon Valley millionaires. We are entering the golden age of human capital.

  16. Quoting above:

    “What goes into a business decision or the creation of new software is not just the time immediately absorbed. It’s the years of education and experience accrued by the manager or programmer.”

    Excerpt from BusinessWeek “Opinion” Section
    (December 1, 2008, Page 110):

    “10,000 Hours to Greatness;
    Malcolm Gladwell dissects the paths of super-achievers
    and finds that practice beats intelligence and talent”


    Book review by Catherine Arnst

    “Outliers: The Story of Success”
    By Malcolm Gladwell
    (Little, Brown; 309 pp.; $27.99)

    . . .

    What does matter, he [Gladwell] says, is the 10,000-hour rule. No one gets to the top unless he or she puts in 10,000 hours of practice in a field . . .

    Excerpt from Fortune Magazine “Leadership” Section
    (November 24, 2008, Page 160ff):

    “Secrets of Their Success;
    Malcolm Gladwell on what separates extraordinary achievers
    from the rest of us.”


    Interview by Jennifer Reingold

    . . .

    Fortune: What link does practice have to success?

    Gladwell: The 10,000-hour rule says that if you look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that unless you practice for 10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about four hours a day.

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (October 29, 2008, Page Unknown):

    “The Hard Work of Getting Ahead”


    Book review by Philip Delves Broughton

    “Talent Is Overrated”
    By Geoff Colvin
    (Portfolio, 228 pages, $25.95)

    This is one of the grimmer messages of Geoff Colvin’s excellent “Talent Is Overrated.” Mr. Colvin, a writer at Fortune, seeks to explode the notion that the talent contest among human beings ends with their genetic inheritance. Instead, he argues, great performance comes down to one thing more than any other: deliberate practice. . . . He means a disciplined focus on weakness and a relentless effort to improve. Such practice, when it is done right, is “highly demanding” and “isn’t much fun.” But it is necessary, not least in the world of business.

    . . .

    What is most useful about Mr. Colvin’s book is its candor about the limits of potential. It does not suggest that you can do anything if you try. It says that starting early is a huge advantage in life. Mr. Colvin believes in the 10-year rule, by which it takes 10 years of hard work to achieve excellence in almost any important field. . . .

  17. How many “natural wine”-makers or adherents to the I.P.O.B. movement have attained 10,000 hours of practice in their field?

    How many wine bloggers have attained 10,000 hours of practice in “journalism”?

  18. A second call-out to the “legal eagles” who may be reading Steve’s blog in silence on the sidelines:

    Inform us about how the law treats “barter: deals: I swap something of monetary value (say, my professional services) for something else of monetary value (say, cases of your wine or bottled craft beer).

  19. Bill Haydon says:

    –people like Sanford Weill, the Brooklyn-born Travelers chief, who has created tens of billions of dollars in shareholder value and built himself into a world-class business leader–human capital at its zenith–

    I almost choked on my coffee over that one, Bob. Then I read the date (1999) and realized that it was written long before the damage that Mr. Weill was doing had come home to roost. That particular “Master of the Universe” did more to cause the economic collapse of 2008 than anyone with the possible exception of his protege Bob Rubin. The only thing sad thing about Sandy Weill’s death is that he won’t be scrubbing floors in an orange jumpsuit when it happens.

  20. I guess what I don’t understand is why Haydon, Phillips, et. al., seem so interested in what free people do with their free time. Maybe I missed it, but I can’t find anything in the article about overlords and chain gangs. And actually, Tom, I might volunteer for a day or two at a steel mill. I think it would be interesting to see how steel is made.

    At the same time, let me state what we all know. The people who volunteer to help out at a small winery generally are people who are customers of the winery; probably club members. They can afford $30/$40/$50 bottles of wine and probably wouldn’t accept pay if it were offered. I’ve volunteered before just to get a little more insight into how these small wineries operate. I seem to recall sorting grapes. I also got a free box lunch and a glass of wine. I’m sure in this case we volunteers were more trouble than we were worth. It was obviously a PR move for the winery and its club members. More power to them. I happily participated.

    But all this is begging the question. The real point is: what gives anyone the right to tell anyone else what they can and can’t do? You naysayers remind me of the biddies, constantly hectoring Professor Harold Hill about whatever it was they thought they knew best about. Goodnight Ladies.

  21. Paco,

    We’re interested in the issue because Steve raised it in the first place.

    We still don’t know the particulars of the case, however–and that means everything here. None of us know the facts of the situation.

    Now, if the volunteering was, as you suggest, a sort of day-tripping in the winery, a one day tourist-like visit, directed and closely supervised, then I have to say that I have NO problem with this. Sounds like fun. We know that there are programs out there where people PAY for experiences like this.

    The State’s interest suggests that there’s more here than meets the eye, however. The size of the penalty suggests that the problem may be fairly serious.

    And you still can’t stop with the personal insults. Good night, Paco.

  22. Bill:

    I am no defender of Sanford Weill. I could have edited out that section, but felt that Ira T. Kay’s original text should be preserved.

    In our minds we can easily substitute in better and more contemporary examples of business leaders who match the intended paradigm. [Nominating Steve Jobs rescuing Apple from the brink of bankruptcy — which now has the highest market cap of any corporation. Or nominating the founders of Google.]

    The overarching sentiment of the “op-ed” piece still rings true: if your human capital adds value to an endeavor/an enterprise, you should be compensated for it.

    So on that score I see no “daylight” between us.

    ~~ Bob

  23. People volunteer every year to work in our small winery, but we don’t take them up on it for several reasons. Because we are small and don’t have time to train them (which is what they want in our case) without jeopardizing our operation, because the winery can be a dangerous place, and because we won’t let people work for free. A little larger winery might be able to better use the help. I’m not a legal expert, but I think bartering wine, or expertise might be considered payment on a contract. I would probably put them on payroll to be safe.
    What bothers me about the state’s decision is the inflexibility of it. Is this the spirit of the law? It hurts small wineries who don’t have legal teams, and comes across mean-spirited, greedy, and lazy. It’s unbelievable that every law should have to have a warning system written into it.

  24. Paco,

    I don’t know you, so don’t feel like this is “piling on.”

    But to your comment . . .

    “But all this is begging the question. The real point is: what gives anyone the right to tell anyone else what they can and can’t do?”

    . . . I would respond thusly:

    We as voting citizens instruct our elected representatives (city, county, state, federal government) to draft and enact laws that restrict what we can and cannot do for our common good.

    And we as voting citizen out here in California also have a direct hand in the process through the state initiative and referendum process — bypassing our elected representatives when we deem “wise” or “prudent.”

    And we elect judges to interpret those legislature-enacted laws.

    So let me cite an extreme example of how we “tell anyone else what they can and can’t do.”

    The federal government imposes restrictions on airline flights by passengers who exhibit signs of ebola-virus exposure/contraction.

    Sounds like a good thing to me in limiting its spread.

    How ’bout you?

    Want to sit next to “Patient Zero” on a transatlantic flight?

    ~~ Bob

  25. Bob H.

    Patient zero is swinging his fist. When it doesn’t stop at my nose, it is a reasonable function of government to protect citizens from force. But I fail to see why the government has any interest in being concerned with me volunteering to do some work at a winery or, for that matter, any business, for profit or non-profit.

    Back to my original point when I posted in complete support of Steve’s point in this article. The action of the state is preposterous. It’s a perfect example of why so many businesses are leaving nanny-state California. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for a small winery to move its vineyards.

  26. KC,

    I understand you want to express your disagreement about what Steve wrote. What I don’t understand is support for a government entity that is acting so bullishly. People should be free to give their time and support to any business, especially a business that they no doubt have some affinity for. And the type of work being volunteered is shouldn’t matter.

    BTW, my Goodnight Ladies comment (for those who missed the reference to Professor Hill/The Music Man) was meant to be funny. I guess I should have said Pick a Little, Talk a Little.

  27. Paco,

    In some circumstance, even the act of swinging your fist, but still missing my nose, causes damage.

    The early spread of communicable deadly diseases — a cough or a sneeze — can be so subtle as to escape the attention of the afflicted (who may not even know they are walking Petri dishes).

    Quarantines for tuberculosis and virulent flues and Ebola virus are “wise” and “prudent.”

    ~~ Bob

  28. Bob Henry asks:
    “Inform us about how the law treats “barter: deals: I swap something of monetary value (say, my professional services) for something else of monetary value (say, cases of your wine or bottled craft beer).”

    It’s kind of a vague question, but in the context of this post I assume you’re asking whether it makes a difference for purposes of employment laws like the wage and hour statutes.

    In which case, I’d say you’re asking the wrong question. The purpose of the wage-and-hour laws that Westover was apparently cited for is to ensure that employees are given things like adequate compensation (minimum wage, overtime pay where warranted) and other basic protections (meal and rest breaks, worker’s compensation insurance coverage). If someone is an employee under the law, then they are entitled to those things: the fact that they have made a different arrangement with the “employer” is irrelevant. Take minimum wage as an example — if “but he agreed to work for fifty cents an hour!” was a defense to the minimum wage laws, then those laws would be irrelevant. I believe there are various regulations dealing with how much credit employers can get for providing housing, meals, or other “noncash” compensation.

    What makes someone an “employee” can be a complicated question; it’s very dependent on the facts, and it’s even possible that you can be an employee for purposes of one law but not under another.

    But generally speaking, the label that the parties themselves put on it — “independent contractor,” “volunteer,” “barter buddies,” whatever — is not going to be binding on the state. These are supposed to be basic legal protections that you can’t bargain away, and you can be sure that the Department of Labor has seen all sorts of attempts to wriggle around these laws.

    Not that I’m saying that’s what the winery in question was doing here, or that the massive fines are the right result here. As others have pointed out, this doesn’t seem to be the kind of situation these laws were intended to address. But it’s not as easy as it sound to create loopholes that allow a wine club member to putter around the cellar room for an afternoon, but that can’t be exploited to hire “volunteers” to harvest the grapes.

  29. Thanks Jim, for shedding some light on the legal definition of “employee.”

    (As distinct from the artful labeling dodge of “independent contractor,” “volunteer,” “barter buddies.” Or “owner” and “co-owner” if one is a shareholder in the venture.)

  30. I hesitate to add any more to this thread that has strayed so far from Steve’s original comment, but a reading of the news report in the Mercury News (and the accompanying comments) make it pretty clear that the general consensus is that the state is the overbearing villain. That’s why I found it so puzzling that a number of comments were so supportive of the state. Perhaps there are ulterior motives in play.

    (P.S. to Bob Henry: “Swinging ones fist” is just a rhetorical device. Sneezing on me is “swinging ones fist and not stopping at my nose.”

  31. Paco,

    I had read that article earlier as well, and it didn’t answer my original questions because the article was much more editorial and fact-based reporting–right from the get-go.

    I’m one you refer to. I have no ulterior motives, and I didn’t suspect that anyone else who might have been critical wee either. I have no skin in this game, and I can be and am often distrustful of many government bureaucratic actions. I can’t say that I’ve taken a position in this case because I don’t know enough about the particulars to do so–there’s been more supposition than fact presented here on all sides, including my own. I’ve made an effort to been ask questions that weren’t clearly answered in Steve’s post. To this day, based on the info I’ve seen, I can’t see if the winery owner was right or wrong or if the state bureaucrats were right or wrong.

    But government can be an instrument for good. I hope we don’t overlook that possibility (though I still don’t know if the result was good or evil in this case).

    I won’t know the conclusion of all this and that’s certainly okay with me. It’s the discussion overall that has been interesting.

    BTW, “swinging one’s fist” may be a rhetorical device, but one that carries one helluva lot of aggression. It’s the intent of the term that counts–it’s not a neutral term.

  32. Correction – you’d think I’d edit before hitting the button.

    I meant to say in the opening sentence, that the article was “much more editorial THAN IT WAS fact-based reporting ” . . . .

  33. Bob Henry,

    Just so we’re on the same page: of course “independent contractor,” “volunteer,” and “owner” are all real categories. They’re not simply invented for the sole purpose of dodging labor laws, and I didn’t mean to imply that.

    But people do occasionally use those first two for that purpose. And the law doesn’t accept as binding the (possibly self-serving) label someone chooses. It’s like that old quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

  34. Paco:

    “Swinging one’s fist . . .” Understood on coughing and sneezing.

    And I am familiar with the phrase’s origin:



    I am reminded of Microsoft mischaracterizing de facto “employees” as so-called independent contractors.


  35. KC, don’t be silly. There’s nothing aggressive about the term “right to swing ones fist…”. It’s from Oliver Wendell Holmes, perhaps the most venerated chief justice ever. I think he would likely apply the term to the case in point.

  36. Excerpt from a comment awaiting moderation.

    (Hope the embedded link doesn’t “trip” the “sensor”):


    “Swinging one’s fist . . .” Understood on coughing and sneezing.

    And I am familiar with the phrase’s origin:


  37. Isn’t a volunteer in essence a contract worker? They do work on their own recognition for whatever return they want to get out of it, intrinsic or otherwise. As such they are not an employee they can come and leave as they please in most instances. An exception could be an unpaid intern, but they are there for the learning in a more formal situation of being evaluated also. California isn’t the only state with ridiculous over reach. In Ohio they want to regulate wine and wineries as a hazardous food product, with duplicate of liquor regulation and licensing.

  38. Ron Saikowski says:

    Perhaps Bill might try another approach, I know of one winery near a large METRO area with lots of wine lovers which equates to volunteers who will PAY for the experience of harvesting grapes and going through CRUSH. The winery also includes a lunch and some wine. This is an interesting approach that generates CASH for this “mom and pop” operation and gets the work done. Lots of city folk will pay to “white-wash” that fence in the terms of Huckleberry Finn!

    I agree with Steve that the State is extending too far its reach without even giving a warning. I understand that there was never a warning this surprise was coming!

  39. Bob Henry says:

    Lamentably, now this news about Patient Zero:

    “First Ebola Patient to Be Discovered in U.S. Dies”


  40. Bob Henry says:

    The latest on unpaid interns:

    From The New York Times
    (October 24, 2014):

    “NBCUniversal to Settle Suit Over Unpaid Interns”

    Reported by The Associated Press

    NBCUniversal will pay $6.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by unpaid interns who worked on “Saturday Night Live” and other shows who claim they are owed wages, according to court documents. The interns said NBCUniversal wrongly classified them as nonemployees in an effort to avoid labor laws. NBCUniversal said in court documents that though it was settling the suit, it did not admit any wrongdoing. The average amount that class-action members of the suit will receive is $505, although the main plaintiffs will receive more. The settlement still is subject to approval by a judge.


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