Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
HONOLULU -- An enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division that focused on coffee growers and producers in Hawaii found widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. As a result of the initiative, many employers and an industry association have taken proactive steps to ensure future compliance.
Investigations conducted by the division’s Honolulu District Office in 2012 resulted in more than $63,000 in back wages for 150 workers and the assessment of more than $42,000 in civil money penalties. Employers may file a timely exception to the penalty assessment; civil money penalty appeals are heard by a department administrative law judge.
The division also conducted outreach to workers and provided compliance assistance to employers and industry associations regarding the requirements of laws. For example, the division has established a cooperative relationship with the Kona Coffee Council, which represents more than 170 coffee farmers, processors and others involved in the Hawaiian coffee industry.
As a result of the division’s outreach and compliance assistance efforts, the Kona Coffee Council has agreed to promote labor law compliance among its membership and has established a code of conduct that sets standards for lawful employment practices and working conditions. A key provision of the code of conduct is the agreement that members will not knowingly ship or receive goods that were produced in violation of the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime and child labor requirements.
“We have found widespread labor violations among Hawaii’s investigated coffee farms and farm labor contractors. While we are pleased to have recovered back wages for a substantial number of workers, we will continue our effort to promote awareness and improve compliance in this industry,” said Terence Trotter, director of the division’s Honolulu District Office. “We applaud the Kona Coffee Council for its commitment to protecting farm workers and for promoting responsible employment practices among its members. The council’s code of conduct serves as a model for other agricultural industries in Hawaii and nationwide.”
Investigations conducted under the initiative in 2012 revealed that many workers who hand-harvested or processed coffee cherries were not paid proper wages, in accordance with the FLSA.
Common FLSA violations found included paying workers piece-rate wages below the federal hourly minimum wage; improperly classifying nonexempt employees as exempt from receiving overtime pay; failure to pay employees for all hours worked; and failure to maintain records of employees’ wages and work hours, as required by law.
Several employees working as coffee pickers were also misclassified as independent contractors, and thereby denied proper wages in violation of the FLSA. Additionally, investigators found two 5-year-old children picking coffee cherries at a coffee plantation. The department assessed $16,000 in civil money penalties against farm labor contractor Tomasita Farm Service for the child labor violations.
Common MSPA violations found included failure to register as a licensed farm labor contractor; failure to disclose employment terms and conditions and provide wage statements and inform workers of their rights; failure to maintain legally required employment and payroll records; failure to provide safe transport vehicles; and failure to obtain prescribed insurance coverage for transportation vehicles, as required by law.
The operations investigated are all located in the Kailua-Kona coffee growing and production region on Hawaii’s Big Island. Violators include the following businesses: Gold Coffee Co., Greenwell Farms, Koa Coffee Plantation, Bird Feather Hawaii, Mountain Thunder Coffee Inc., Kona Blue Sky Coffee and farm labor contractor Tomasita Farm Service, which provided farm workers to Koa Coffee Plantation and Bird Feather Hawaii.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Earnings may be determined on a piece-rate basis, but overtime pay must be computed using the employee’s average hourly rate. 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.
Under the FLSA, children under 12 may only work in agriculture on small farms where no employees are subject to the minimum wage requirements of the FLSA. Additionally, such employment requires the permission of the parent of the child and is confined to nonhazardous work performed outside of school hours. 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.
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.
For more information about the FLSA, MSPA and other federal wage laws, call the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Honolulu office at 808-541-1361. Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
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