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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

WHD News Release: [06/27/2011]
Contact Name: Michael D’Aquino or Michael Wald
Phone Number: (404) 562-2076 or x2078
Release Number: 11-0845-ATL

US Labor Department’s initiative in South Florida results in nearly $800,000 in back wage and fines for violations affecting about 590 farmworkers

Wage and Hour Division compliance initiative aims to protect workers, educate employers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is conducting an enforcement initiative focusing on the agricultural industry, beginning in South Florida and continuing up the East Coast, to increase compliance among employers and remind workers of their rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act's Field Sanitation Standard.

"The agricultural industry employs a large number of low-wage and vulnerable workers who are susceptible to exploitation and disparate treatment. These workers include minors, migrant workers, seasonal employees and temporary nonimmigrant farmworkers," said Oliver Peebles III, southeast regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. "Employers in the agricultural industry cannot escape their legal responsibilities to provide safe working conditions and accurate compensation to employees for all hours of their hard work. In addition, we are ensuring that employers who follow the rules are not placed at a competitive disadvantage because of a few employers who break the law."

Under this initiative, begun in the fields of Homestead in March during the green bean harvest, the division already has conducted more than 20 investigations, recovering $670,770 in back wages for about 590 agricultural workers, and assessing more than $128,850 in penalties. Additional penalties are expected as cases are reviewed with the department's attorneys for possible further legal actions. Common violations found include paying workers less than the federal minimum wage, and paying workers at packing sheds who did not qualify for the FLSA's agricultural exemption "straight time" for all hours worked, rather than time and one-half their regular rates of pay for overtime work hours as required.

Major violators include the following businesses: FT&T Bean Line, A&J Farms, JNJ Growers, T-N-T Farms and Homestead Organic Farms, as well as farm labor contractors Juan Luna, Maria Sanchez, Elvira Cepeda, Joseph Fisteac and L&J Farm Picking.

Teams of investigators are visiting fields and packing houses in South Florida to assess compliance among facility owners, growers, farm labor contractors and all other business entities associated with these agricultural operations. Thorough inspections of transportation, field sanitation facilities, employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with all applicable child labor and agricultural labor standards. Other successful strategies being employed by the division include surveillance of possible violating employers, mass interviewing of workers at selected sites, having large numbers of investigators cover significant geographic areas in the same day and involving the Labor Department's attorneys early in developing cases to pursue possible future litigation or debarment when necessary.

In addition, the Wage and Hour Division is conducting outreach to inform domestic, seasonal and migrant workers of their rights under federal labor laws, and is meeting with community groups, state investigators, employer organizations and local officials to enlist their cooperation in influencing noncompliant employers to improve worker safety and compliance with wage laws. As migrant and seasonal farmworkers move northward for the harvest of other crops, the division will continue to encourage growers, contractors and workers to spread information on labor laws and encourage workers to report abuses to investigators.

The FLSA sets standards for minimum wage, overtime payments and limitations on child labor. It prohibits the employment of most individuals under age 16 in hazardous occupations. It allows, with restrictions, the employment of farmworkers between ages 12 and 16. There are no restrictions on workers age 16 and older employed in farm jobs. Youths of any age may work at any time and perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. Otherwise, individuals under age 12 may not be employed in farm activities.

Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Labor Department. The department maintains a list of individuals and corporations whose authorization to operate as farm labor contractors has been revoked. To determine whether a potential contractor has been declared ineligible, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/mspa_debar.htm.

Field sanitation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act require covered employers to provide toilets, potable drinking water, hand-washing facilities and information regarding good hygiene practices.

This initiative is being organized and coordinated by the Southeast Regional Office of the Wage and Hour Division in coordination with the Labor Department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta. The division's Southeast Regional Office can be reached at 404-893-4525. Information on the FLSA and MSPA is available to workers and employers by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.