Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
SEATTLE -- The U.S. Department of Labor has obtained two consent judgments and corresponding court orders against a Whatcom County blueberry grower and a farm labor contractor, each of which has agreed to pay $32,000 in penalties for “oppressive child labor.” The judgments and orders resolve a lawsuit filed by the department that was based on an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.
The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, names as defendants PTM Berry Farms LLC in Custer and Marvin Van Mersbergen, an owner and manager of PTM Berry Farms, as well as Alvaro Vicente, doing business as Vicente Labor Contractor of Ferndale, and Juan Vicente.
Investigators found four children between the ages of 8 and 11 working as farm laborers harvesting blueberries. Under the FLSA, children under 12 may only work in agriculture outside of school hours in nonhazardous work, and only with parental consent and on small farms where no employees are subject to the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA.
Additionally, investigators found that 188 workers were not paid the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act or required wages under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. According to the judgments, the grower and farm labor contractor will pay these employees a total of $12,100 in back wages and liquidated damages. Finally, the employers failed to maintain required records regarding the workers employed, including the number of hours worked and wages paid.
“The Labor Department will not hesitate to pursue appropriate legal action to protect vulnerable workers, especially children,” said Donna Hart, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Seattle District Office. “Agricultural employment is particularly dangerous, and federal labors laws must be followed to the letter.”
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Individuals who are not employed in agriculture and are not otherwise exempt from overtime compensation are entitled to time and one-half their regular rates of pay for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. Additionally, the FLSA’s “hot goods” provision prohibits employers from shipping any goods produced in violation of the act’s minimum wage, overtime or child labor requirements. Finally, the law 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 provides additional protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. Information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.htm and http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.
The case was litigated for the Labor Department by its Regional Office of the Solicitor in Seattle. For more information about the FLSA, contact the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Seattle office at 206-398-8039. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
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