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Government Shuts Down Winery for Having Volunteers

Written By Geoffrey Pike

Posted October 9, 2014

nowineforyouOne of the recent outrages from government comes from a winery.

Bill and Jill Smyth are closing the doors of their small operation – Westover Winery – after getting fined $115,000.

So what crime or violation did they commit?

Were they selling wine that was dangerous to drink?

Were they selling wine under a false label?

Were they selling to minors?

Was there a safety hazard in their workplace?

No – it was none of those things. They are being fined $115,000 because they committed the horrible act of allowing volunteers to work in their winery.

Yes, that is right. The Smyth family owes a six-figure fine and is being forced to shut its doors because it is not paying the minimum wage to people helping out.

It should come as no surprise that this is coming from the left coast of California, one of the least business friendly states in the U.S. The winery was issued a citation in July for not paying workers the minimum wage and the associated insurance premiums and taxes. The citation and fine came without a warning being issued first.

One state official said, “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?”

We can be sure that the government officials are looking out for the best interest of the volunteers and do not selflessly care about getting tax money or exerting power over others.

Minimum Wage, Maximum Pain

The state officials are missing a key point in all of this and that is the word “volunteer”.

The people working at the winery were not being forced to do it. They wanted to do it, even though they weren’t getting paid.

This is a small winery that is only open 10 hours per week and which profits about $11,000 per year. But some people wanted to work there, even for no wages. They were excited about the opportunity to learn about making wine and operating a business. One volunteer said he dreams of opening up a winery one day, so this was a great learning opportunity for him.

Isn’t this the same as an internship?

Why do people do internships that are unpaid? They do them to learn and to gain experience. They can potentially lead to employment and business opportunities that do pay.

But the Department of Industrial Relations in California does not like any volunteering in a for-profit business. If you are going to volunteer, it should be for something that “serves” the people, such as the government.

These bureaucrats really have nothing else to do but to make the lives of other people miserable. They are putting the owners out of business, they are wrecking the opportunity of volunteers to learn about something that interests them, and they are denying customers the chance to buy wine from this place.

In addition, other wineries have taken note of what happened. Any wineries with volunteers are quickly letting them go. They do not want to experience the same fate.

It actually amazes me that there are any businesses left in the state of California. As long as there is not widespread outrage over stories like this, then the anti-business policies will likely continue.

If vineyards were more common in Texas and Florida, then many of these wineries would probably be moving there by now.