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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

WHD News Release: [06/07/2012]
Contact Name: Deanne Amaden
Phone Number: (415) 625-2630
Release Number: 12-0985-SAN

US Labor Departmentís Wage and Hour Division launches initiative to strengthen labor law compliance in Southern Californiaís landscaping industry

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has launched an enforcement initiative in Southern California's landscaping industry to remind workers of their rights and increase employer compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions.

The initiative aims to promote sustained compliance, particularly among contractors and subcontractors providing landscaping and maintenance services to public properties such as city parks, roads, sidewalks, watershed facilities and river improvement projects. Increasingly, large companies such as landscape developers and contractors coordinate production but subcontract the work out to smaller companies. These subcontractors either employ workers on-site or further subcontract out skilled trades such as landscape construction and maintenance, lawn services, and tree planting and trimming services. Due to intense competition, the subcontractors may face intense pressure to keep costs low — often at the expense of workers' wages and employment conditions.

Seventy-seven percent of all landscaping companies investigated nationwide by the Wage and Hour Division in federal fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were found in violation of the FLSA. Those violations resulted in back wages totaling more than $4.8 million recovered for more than 6,000 workers.

"The U.S. landscaping industry employs many low-wage, vulnerable workers and is characterized by historically high rates of labor violations," said Kenneth Morrison, director of the Wage and Hour Division's San Diego District Office, which is coordinating the initiative. "Our initiative in Southern California aims to remedy common violations such as workers not being paid minimum wage or overtime, not being compensated for all hours worked and having illegal deductions taken out of their paychecks."

Wage and Hour Division investigators will be making unannounced visits to prime contractors, landscaping companies and work sites to interview employees and conduct thorough reviews of employment practices, pay records and circumstances of joint employment in order to identify and remedy labor violations. Investigators also will reach out to upper-tier contractors to seek their assistance in ensuring compliance among subcontractors.

When violations are found, the division will use all available enforcement tools — including back wage recovery, litigation, civil money penalties, liquidated damages and joint-employment liabilities — to obtain compliance, ensure accountability among all responsible parties and deter future violations. The agency will refer findings of federal wage and hour violations to the state's Contractors State Licensing Board, as well as local agencies, for further investigation under appropriate state and local laws.

The Wage and Hour Division also will engage key employer associations, such as the California Landscape Contractors Association, to help provide employers with compliance assistance information and secure their cooperation in promoting industrywide compliance. Similarly, the division will conduct outreach to workers and community groups to inform them of available services, engage them in dialogue about local compliance problems and encourage vulnerable workers to come forward with potential violations.

Most landscaping employers, whether licensed or not, are subject to the FLSA, which requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In general, "hours worked" includes travel time between job sites, time spent working before and after shifts, and time spent in training. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.

Information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division is available by calling the division's San Diego office at 619-557-5110 or its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.