WHD News Release: [06/07/2012]
Contact Name: Ted Fitzgerald
Phone Number: (617) 565-2075
Release Number: 12-1078-BOS
US Labor Department seeks more than $400,000 in back wages and damages from Whately, Mass., agri-business that underpaid low-wage workers
Chang & Sons Enterprises also faces penalties exceeding $15,000 for willful, repeated violations
BOSTON The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against Whately-based Chang & Sons Enterprises Inc. and Sidney Chang for alleged violations of the minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The defendants operate a business that grows, harvests and packages bean sprouts and other agricultural products, and distributes them throughout New England, New York and New Jersey.
An investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division found that 14 employees, most of whom worked approximately 90 hours per week planting, harvesting, processing and packaging bean sprouts and soy beans, were not paid the required wages. Instead, they were paid a flat salary averaging $350-$425 per week for all hours worked, which amounted to less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In addition, one agricultural employee who performed some nonagricultural work each week did not receive overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a week, in violation of the FLSA.
"Chang & Sons Enterprises completely disregarded the basic rights of these vulnerable, low-wage workers. Employers should know that we will use all available enforcement tools, including litigation and the assessment of liquidated damages, to recover workers' wages and ensure a level playing field for law-abiding employers," said George A. Rioux, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Boston District Office.
The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts by the department's Regional Office of the Solicitor, seeks more than $200,000 in back wages plus an equal amount in liquidated damages, both payable to the affected workers, and to have the defendants permanently prohibited from future FLSA violations. Due to the willful and repeated nature of the violations, the department also is seeking civil money penalties of $15,400 from the defendants. In 2009, the defendants paid an employee $4,184 in back wages for similar FLSA violations following an earlier investigation.
"Employers cannot ignore a law that has been in effect since 1938, especially when they are well aware of its requirements due to a previous violation," said Carlos Matos, the division's assistant district director in Boston. "These defendants agreed to comply with the FLSA in 2009 and have reneged on that promise."
In addition, the suit seeks an injunction to prevent the future shipment of "hot goods" by the employer. Whenever goods are produced in violation of the FLSA's minimum wage, overtime or child labor provisions, the Labor Department can prevent those products, commonly referred to as "hot goods," from being shipped via interstate commerce.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Nonagricultural and other nonexempt employees are entitled to time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. 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. The FLSA provides that employers who violate the law are, as a general rule, liable to employees for back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.
The department has a smartphone application to help employees independently track the hours they work and determine the wages they are owed. Available in English and Spanish, users can track regular work hours, break times and any overtime hours for one or more employers. This new technology is significant because, instead of relying on their employers' records, workers now can keep their own records. This and other Labor Department apps are available at http://www.dol.gov/dol/apps/.
For more information on the FLSA, contact the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Boston office at 617-624-6700. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
Solis v. Chang & Sons Enterprises Inc. and Sidney Chang
Civil Action Number: 3:12-CV-30103
- Read this news release en Espaņol.