Mata’s brief contends he “is proud to work at the oyster farm where his family is treated with respect, earns a living wage, is able to live and work together and has developed personal relationships with his coworkers and the Lunny family. Mr. Mata and his family stand to lose their jobs and their respective homes, if the oyster farm is closed.”
Oyster workers file briefs in support of DBOC
By Peggy Day
More Amicus Curiae, or Friend of the Court, legal briefs were filed in federal court this past week supporting Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court for an “en banc,” or full panel hearing, bringing the total to eight. Some of the filings are for multiple people or groups.
In an unusual occurrence, two normally reticent oyster workers Jorge Mata and Isela Meza filed on Oct. 28. Attorney Paul S. Cohen, of Legal Aid of Marin filed the briefs for Mata and Meza.
Jorge Mata, his wife Veronica, and two of their three children all work for the oyster farm, Jorge for 28 years and Veronica for 24. Mata’s sister, Leticia, has worked at the farm for 29 years. Twelve children from the farm attend Marin schools including Mata’s youngest child, who attends West Marin Elementary School in Point Reyes Station. Former principal Jim Patterson sent a letter of concern for the children’s futures to former Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar last year and submitted a declaration for the case.
While at the farm, Mata has developed specialized skills and become very experienced at growing oyster, setting oyster larvae and complying with seafood safety rules. Last October, opponents of the farm reported to Secretary Salazar that they suspected harsh work conditions at the farm. However, Mata’s brief contends he “is proud to work at the oyster farm where his family is treated with respect, earns a living wage, is able to live and work together and has developed personal relationships with his coworkers and the Lunny family. Mr. Mata and his family stand to lose their jobs and their respective homes, if the oyster farm is closed.”
Isela Meza has lived and worked at the company for five years as staff marine biologist. Meza received a degree in Marine Science, and was trained as an oceanologist at the University of Mexico, Baja, graduating in 2008. At the farm, she handles microscopic oyster larvae, ensuring that they “set” and begin to grow properly. Ms. Meza stands to lose her job if the oyster farm is closed and there are limited jobs available that would use her skills, the brief states.
Oyster farming requires specialized skills and compliance with numerous regulatory requirements. When oysters are sold, and often eaten raw, it is important that the staff diligently follow the strict sanitary requirements imposed by the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It takes years for individual employees to become proficient at this. If the farm is closed, the brief contends, it is extremely unlikely that the employees will be able to find other jobs in the area where they can put their specialized skills to work. Their children would likely have to be pulled from local schools losing life-long friendships with West Marin children.
The brief concludes: “Oyster workers would be obliged to take lower paying jobs, perhaps far away from the community they call home. Closing the farm will be devastating to these workers and their families.”