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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

WHD News Release: [08/04/2011]
Contact Name: Michael Shimizu
Phone Number: (206) 553-7620
Release Number: 11-1116-SEA

US Department of Labor finds child labor and minimum wage violations at 3 Southwest Washington berry farms, assesses $73,000 in penalties

PORTLAND, Ore. — The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has fined three berry farms in Southwest Washington a total of $73,050 for violating provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, including employing children as young as six years old as farm laborers.

Columbia Fruit LLC of Woodland was assessed $16,350 for employing two underage workers, George Hoffman Farms of Ridgefield was assessed $32,350 for employing four underage workers and Berry Good Farms of Ridgefield was assessed $24,350 for employing three underage workers. Other violations include failing to maintain proof-of-age records and failing to pay the required minimum wage.

"Agricultural employers must understand that the Labor Department will vigorously enforce federal labor laws, especially when it comes to protecting vulnerable workers such as children," said Jeffrey Genkos, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Portland District Office, which conducted the investigations. "Agricultural employment is particularly dangerous for children, and the rules for their employment must be followed."

Due to the severity of the child labor violations, the agency invoked the "hot goods" provision of the FLSA, which precludes the farmers from shipping the strawberries that were produced in violation of the child labor laws. All three employers took immediate steps to come into compliance by removing the underage workers, signing consent judgments permanently enjoining them from violating the FLSA in the future, and requiring them to attend training conducted by the Wage and Hour Division for the next three years.

The division is pursuing a number of strategies to promote compliance with the agricultural labor standards for which it has enforcement responsibility. These include conducting investigations on the weekend and in the evenings when children are most likely to be working illegally in the fields, and by using the FLSA's "hot goods" provision.

The division enforces worker protection laws that include the FLSA, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act's field sanitation and temporary labor camp provisions. The FLSA sets standards regarding the minimum wage, overtime compensation and child labor. The law allows, with restrictions, the employment of individuals between ages 12 and 16 as farmworkers. There are no restrictions on workers 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, most individuals under 12 may not be employed in farm activities.

Information on the FLSA, MSPA and OSH Act is available by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) and can be found on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.