California Tries to Legalize Wine (and Beer) Volunteers Based on R Street Recommendation

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Small wineries and breweries throughout the country often use volunteers to help produce and package their products. Doing so both supplies these small producers with extra labor and allows the volunteers (who are often craft beverage enthusiasts) to learn more about the production process. In California, however, the use of volunteers is technically a violation of the state’s labor code, and the state’s Department of Industrial Relations has previously slapped hefty fines on California wineries for using volunteers. R Street’s Western Region Director Steven Greenhut wrote about this issue back in 2014, and now, directly inspired by Steve’s column, state lawmakers are trying to fix the problem. Their new bill would exempt small wineries and microbreweries from this provision of the state labor code, and Steve submitted a letter of support on behalf of R Street for the reform:

I write you in support of S.B. 448, legislation that “would exempt a small winery or small microbrewery … that utilizes volunteers who perform part-time labor in exchange for hands-on training, from having these volunteers classified as employees or apprentices.”

These small wineries and breweries clearly deserve an exemption from this section of the labor code given that many people like the opportunity to volunteer at these businesses to learn about the trade. Such volunteers typically are older people who enjoy the wine and brewery culture. They aren’t interested in the money, but in learning about the fascinating process of making wine and beer. In fact, I’ve volunteered at a winery before with my church group where we picked grapes and made our own wine as part of an indescribably enjoyable afternoon…

Read the letter of support here, and Steve’s 2014 column that inspired the law here.