Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
HURRICANE, Utah -- The U.S. Department of Labor has reached an agreement with Southern Utah Pecan Ranch Ltd., a Nevada limited liability company, to ensure that its labor contractors are compliant with federal labor laws, following media reports that possible child labor violations were occurring on its pecan grove in Hurricane.
News reports of the December 2012 pecan harvest showed young children working in the fields in possible violation of the child labor and minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. While an investigation into those conditions and Southern Utah Pecan Ranch’s contractor, Paragon Contractors Corp., by the department’s Wage and Hour Division continues, the grower has agreed to take steps to prevent any future violations.
“We are pleased that this grower has agreed to take responsibility to make sure the contractors it hires to harvest pecans on its ranch operate in compliance with federal labor laws,” said Cynthia Watson, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “Vulnerable agricultural employees, particularly minors, too often are exploited for a wide variety of reasons. The department remains committed to the vigilant protection of those workers’ safety and rightful wages, and to the enforcement of all applicable labor laws. Agreements such as this one significantly help us advance toward that goal.”
While the alleged violations during the recent harvest at Southern Utah Pecan Ranch may not violate Utah labor law, which exempts agricultural work from age limitations, federal labor laws including the FLSA may still apply. When both state and federal youth employment laws apply, the law setting the most protective standard must be observed.
Southern Utah Pecan Ranch voluntarily agreed to hold the shipment of pecans picked during the time of the suspected violations, pending the signing of this agreement. The grower was able to legally ship its goods once the agreement was signed.
The agreement calls for Southern Utah Pecan Ranch to pay any civil money penalties, back wages and/or liquidated damages assessed by the department as a result of the ongoing investigation of Paragon, up to the amount of proceeds from the sale of the pecans. The agreement also requires the grower to include language in future contracts that requires contractors to comply with federal and state laws; to post informational posters on the ranch regarding labor laws; to hire a third party to conduct annual audits evaluating its compliance with all applicable regulations for the next three years; to alert the Wage and Hour Division prior to beginning its harvest for the next three years; to require any companies with which it contracts in the future to resolve any outstanding issues with the Labor Department prior to entering into the contracts; and to require those companies to provide records, including proof of age, of all employees who will be used in the harvesting process.
The Wage and Hour Division previously cited and penalized Paragon Contractor Corp. of Hildale for multiple child labor violations. The department also filed an injunction in federal court in 2006 to combat future violations.
The FLSA sets standards for minimum wage, overtime compensation and child labor restrictions. The act’s “hot goods” provision prohibits employers from shipping any goods produced in violation of the act’s minimum wage, overtime or child labor requirements. In agricultural employment, the law allows youths ages 14 and 15 to work outside of school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the secretary of labor. Youths 12 and 13 years of age may work outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs on farms that also employ their parent(s) or with written parental consent. Youths under 12 years of age may work outside of school hours in nonhazardous jobs with parental consent but only on farms small enough that none of the employees are subject to the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA. Youths 16 and above may work in any farm job at any time.
For more information on state child labor laws, including Utah, see http://www.youthrules.gov/law-library/state-laws/index.htm.
For more information about the FLSA or other federal labor laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/whd. Additional information on child labor rules can be found at http://www.youthrules.dol.gov.
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