WHD News Release: [02/23/2012]
Contact Name: Michael D’Aquino or Michael Wald
Phone Number: (404) 562-2076 or x2078
Release Number: 12-0332-ATL
US Department of Labor sues South Florida farmer and labor contractors; seeks back wages, liquidated damages, fines and permanent injunction
Labor Department alleges federal labor law violations during 2011 green bean harvest in Miami-Dade County
MIAMI The U.S. Department of Labor is suing farm labor contractors and a South Florida farmer over alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act that occurred during the 2011 green beans harvest in Miami-Dade County. The department is also asking the court for a permanent injunction against Elvira Cepeda, Juan Jose Luna and Maria Sanchez to prevent future violations of the MSPA by the defendants.
In a separate lawsuit, the department is asking that Fisteac Farm Labor Inc., Joseph Fisteac, Ledford Farms and Troy Ledford pay farmworkers three years of back wages and an equal amount of liquidated damages, and that the court impose a permanent injunction against future violations of the FLSA. The department is also pursuing an administrative judgment that would enforce a Wage and Hour Division civil money penalty order against Fisteac Farm Labor for MSPA violations during last year's harvest.
The suits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, and the additional legal action filed with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, occur as teams of division investigators return to the 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.
During last year's Wage and Hour Division enforcement initiative in Homestead, investigators found that Elvira Cepeda, acting as a farm labor contractor, failed to have a certificate of registration authorizing such activities, failed to disclose to migrant workers in their own language the terms and conditions of employment, failed to keep accurate payroll records and provide workers with itemized written statements of such payroll information, and ignored an order issued by the secretary of labor denying Cepeda a farm labor contracting certificate. Between February 2010 and March 2011, Juan Jose Luna and Maria Sanchez allegedly violated the MSPA by allowing Elvira Cepeda to engage in farm labor contracting activities using their certificates. The department seeks a permanent injunction barring the defendants from violating any provision of the MSPA, including acting as a farm labor contractor without a farm labor contractor certificate.
Division investigators found that Fisteac Farm Labor, Joseph Fisteac, Ledford Farms and Troy Ledford allegedly failed to pay employees the applicable federal minimum wage, and to keep and preserve accurate payroll records of employees working for them in violation of the FLSA. The agency also levied $14,750 in civil money penalties against Fisteac Farm Labor for MSPA violations.
"These actions put agricultural employers on notice that the Labor Department is committed to protecting the large number of low-wage and vulnerable agricultural workers who are susceptible to exploitation and unfair treatment," said Oliver Peebles III, southeast regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. "Agricultural employers must understand that the department will vigorously enforce federal labor laws. It's important that consumers know the food reaching their tables was produced by employees paid fairly for their work. These lawsuits underscore the department's commitment to using any and all enforcement strategies at our disposal, including engaging the public, to protect the rights of these employees, and to level the playing field for employers who obey the law."
As occurred during the initiative last year, division investigators are currently conducting thorough inspections of transportation, field sanitation facilities, employment practices and pay records to ensure compliance with all applicable child labor and agricultural labor standards.
In addition, the 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 circulate information on labor laws, and workers to report abuses to investigators.
The FLSA 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 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.
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, which 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.
These investigations were 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.
Accessible and searchable information on enforcement activities by the U.S. Department of Labor is available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov/search. Publicly available enforcement data are also available through the free mobile application "Eat Shop Sleep," which enables consumers, employees and other members of the public to check if a hotel, restaurant or retail location has been investigated by the Wage and Hour Division, and whether FLSA violations were found. Information on the FLSA and the MSPA is available to workers and employers by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) and online at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
- Read this news release en Español.