Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
TAMPA, Fla. -- An ongoing enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division that focused on the agricultural industry in central Florida has uncovered widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the field sanitation standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Under this initiative, the division’s Tampa District Office conducted 144 investigations of agricultural industry employers in 2012, recovering more than $135,000 in back wages for 926 workers and assessing approximately $228,000 in civil money penalties. The division also conducted more than 40 outreach sessions, providing valuable education and compliance assistance to hundreds of employers, employees and stakeholders regarding the requirements of the law.
“Our investigations have uncovered egregious labor violations in Florida’s agricultural industry—violations that cause many vulnerable workers to suffer substandard wages, unsafe housing and transportation, and harsh working conditions,” said James Schmidt, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Tampa District office, which is coordinating the initiative. “The Wage and Hour Division will continue its enforcement effort in this industry and is focused on ensuring compliance among agricultural employers, farm labor contractors and housing providers associated with the upcoming citrus, strawberry and melon harvests.”
The Wage and Hour Division is particularly concerned about the severity of noncompliance found at operations involving hand-harvested crops. Investigations conducted during the harvest of last year’s citrus crops revealed that many workers were required to perform intense physical labor, such as handpicking fruits and cleaning trees, for long periods of time without being compensated, in accordance with federal law.
Common violations found included paying workers piece-rate wages below the federal hourly minimum wage; failing to pay for all hours worked; failing to disclose employment terms and conditions, and inform workers of their rights; failing to maintain legally required employment and payroll records; and failing to meet federal health and safety standards for employer-furnished transportation and housing facilities, as required under the MSPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Teams of investigators will continue to visit fields and packing houses throughout central Florida to assess compliance among facility owners, growers, farm labor contractors and other business entities providing services to these agricultural operations. Thorough inspections of migrant housing units, vehicles, employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with all applicable child and agricultural labor standards.
When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including litigation, liquidated damages and civil money penalties, to recover workers’ wages and ensure accountability under the law. In addition, the division is conducting outreach to inform agricultural workers of their rights under federal labor laws. It is collaborating with community groups, state agencies, employer and industry organizations, and local officials to provide industrywide compliance assistance with all applicable agricultural labor standards, child labor restrictions, H-2A regulatory requirements and joint employer responsibilities.
Accessible and searchable information on enforcement activities by the Department of Labor is available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov/search.
Most employees engaged in agriculture are covered by federal law because they produce goods for interstate commerce. 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. A fact sheet on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf.
The FLSA sets standards for the minimum wage, overtime payments and limitations on child labor. The field sanitation provisions of the OSH Act require covered employers to provide toilets, potable drinking water, hand-washing facilities and information regarding good hygiene practices.
The Wage and Hour Division’s Tampa office can be reached at 813-288-1242. Information about all of the federal labor laws enforced by the division is available in English and Spanish by calling its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or by visiting its Web site at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
U.S. Department of Labor releases are accessible on the Internet at www.dol.gov. The information in this news release will be made available in alternate format (large print, Braille, audio tape or disc) from the COAST office upon request. Please specify which news release when placing your request at (202) 693-7828 or TTY (202) 693-7755. The Labor Department is committed to providing America’s employers and employees with easy access to understandable information on how to comply with its laws and regulations. For more information, please visit www.dol.gov/compliance.