“California Destroys Winery Over Use of Volunteers”

“California has a state law that prohibits for-profit companies from using volunteer labor.” That spelled doom for little Westover Winery in Castro Valley, which cleared around $11,000 in profits a year for its owning couple and used unpaid volunteers, many of them amateurs who wanted to learn the wine business. The state hit the business with $115,000 in fines and wiped it out, to the unhappiness of some of the displaced volunteers. [Scott Shackford, Reason; Rebecca Parr, Daily Review/San Jose Mercury News] More: A Debra Saunders column. And I mention this episode, along with the one linked below about a California law combating off-books contractors, in a new Cato post about how licensed and compliant businesses often support making government more powerful and invasive so as to go after the other kind.


  • We’re from the government and we’re here to help.

  • While I feel bad for the family that owned the winery, I have to agree with Coyoteblog’s feeling on this story. They own a business in California, they know the state has complicated labor laws. Just because every other winery uses volunteers doesn’t mean it isn’t against the law.

  • @Xmas

    Just because it’s against the law, doesn’t mean it should be against the law. We will never get rid of unjust laws if no one ever complains about them.

  • @MattS,

    I totally agree. The law is overcomplicated and arbitrarily applied, which is unjust. We should definitely complain about California’s labor laws and their application.

  • If only they’d volunteers $1 for a “Wine Making Experience” course, they’d be fine instead of fined.

  • Why all the complaints? All the owners have to do is sell their winery to a developer, who will turn the land into vacation homes which can be purchased by the same bureaucrats who put the winery out of business, and trust-fund yuppies from the Bay Area. Transplant some of the vines so they grow around the new homes. People who used to work for the winery for pay, will have employment opportunities as min wage, no benefit, part time gardners for the new home owners. Somthing for everyone, and the winery owners might even be able to afford one of the new homes, and can tend a few of the remaining vines.

    If God wanted you to grow grapes to make wine, you’d have been born in France.

  • We must punish capitalism every chance we get. How else to reassure ourselves of our superiority?

  • To me the irony here is that we just passed 9/11, the “Day of Service and Remembrance.”

    Apparently that “service” means we can’t volunteer our time, our labor and our talents to others of our choosing.

    If a person wants to help a friend get his small business computer back up and running, well, sorry… you can’t do that. If a designer wants to donate time to create a logo or brochure for a business….. nope. Sorry. Can’t do that either. Help fix a neighbor’s truck which he uses for his plumbing business? Get out you miscreant law breaker!

    The argument that it is wrong to have one business competing against another falls flat when one considers organizations like Habitat for Humanity take home building away from contractors, plumbers, carpenters, etc. If it is wrong for businesses to use willing volunteers because other businesses may not have access to volunteers, then the same rules should apply to charitable organizations which in some cases compete against businesses.

    I have nothing against volunteering. I enjoy it in my life as I find it enriching, life affirming, fun and educational. “Volunteering” is not the point.

    My talents, time, expertise should go to where *I* deem it proper for them to go. It is not up to government to say “you can volunteer here, but not here.”

    What else is there for us to own when the direction of our labor, the place of our labor and the fruits of our labor are determined the government?

  • […] the right to volunteer one’s labor (earlier), from frequent Overlawyered commenter Gitarcarver at his blog [Raised on […]