Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department takes legal action to protect migrant workers in Michigan
Files complaints to ensure that Berrybrook Farms, Darryl Howes Farms and Howes Co. comply with wage laws and housing standards
DOWAGIAC, Mich. -- The U.S. Department of Labor is taking legal action to protect migrant workers at three Michigan farm operations in Cass and Manistee counties following investigations conducted by its Wage and Hour Division. A civil contempt petition has been filed against Berrybrook Farms in Dowagiac alleging violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Additionally, a separate complaint has been filed against D. Howes LLC – operating as Darryl Howes Farms – and Howes Co., both in Copemish, alleging violations of the MSPA and the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage provisions.
“Farm owners and operators who repeatedly fail to ensure that their camps meet the minimum standards for migrant worker housing established by law demonstrate a disregard for workers and their families,” said Karen Chaikin, regional administrator of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in the Midwest. “The violations allegedly committed by these companies are intolerable and inhumane. The Labor Department will use every enforcement tool available to ensure compliance with safety and health standards.”
The department filed a petition for civil contempt against Berrybrook Enterprises and its owner, Joseph Hassle Sr., after Wage and Hour Division investigators determined that the company and Hassle were in contempt of a June 2010 consent judgment because they failed to comply with six of the MSPA’s housing standards.
Berrybrook Enterprises, and Joseph Hassle Sr. and Harriet E. Hassle, two of the farm’s four family-member owners, had entered into the consent judgment to resolve the findings of a 2009 Wage and Hour Division investigation. The judgment ordered that they must not house or permit the housing of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in facilities that do not comply with applicable state and federal safety and health standards, including the provisions of the MSPA. As part of a separate settlement approved in 2010 by an administrative law judge, Berrybrook Enterprises and Joseph and Harriet Hassle paid $6,400 in penalties.
The department’s current petition seeks an order requiring Berrybrook Enterprises and Joseph Hassle Sr. to show cause why they should not be held in civil contempt of court for failing to comply with the 2010 consent judgment. The petition also asks that the judge set a reasonable period for discovery, find the defendants in contempt of court and assess a compensatory fine to reimburse the secretary of labor for expenses incurred during the investigation.
Berrybrook Enterprises, an 11,600-acre fruit and vegetable farm in Dowagiac, operates housing facilities in Cass County for migrant agricultural workers and their families known as Hull Camp, Northrup Camp, Spudco Camp and Steinke Camp. Since 2001, the Wage and Hour Division has found MSPA housing violations during five different investigations conducted in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The violations found during the most recent inspection in 2011 (which led to the current petition) include a lack of sanitary facilities for storing and preparing food, an inadequate supply of hot running water for bathing and laundry, and infestations by rodents and insects. All of these violations also had been cited in 2009.
The complaint filed against D. Howes LLC also names company owner Darryl Howes and Ron Howes, who operates Howes Co., for violations at their cucumber and strawberry operations on 60 acres in Manistee County.
At the time of the division’s investigation, Darryl Howes Farms employed approximately 58 workers and Howes Co. employed 24 workers. The migrant and seasonal agricultural workers were mainly from Texas and Florida, and were incorrectly classified as independent contractors instead of as regular employees.
The complaint alleges 11 violations of the MSPA’s housing standards including failing to provide adequate shelters, prevent infestations by insects or pests, provide an adequate supply of hot running water (including facilities for heating water and the required amount of bathing facilities per capacity), and maintain toilets in a sanitary condition.
The minimum wage violations were, in part, the result of the employers paying workers on a piece-rate basis that did not add up to the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour during all workweeks. The company also failed to maintain records that show, among other things, the names of all persons engaged in the harvesting process, the hours worked each workday, the total hours worked each workweek and the regular wage rates at which the workers were employed.
In addition to the labor violations, the complaint also alleges interference with the investigation. The complaint specifically mentions four instances when interviews of agricultural workers had to be terminated because Darryl Howes or one of his employees attended the interviews with video cameras and refused to leave.
The Wage and Hour Division enforces the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The division also enforces the FLSA, which requires covered employers to pay nonexempt farmworkers at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked. For more information about the MSPA and FLSA, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd or call the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.
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