Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
Judge orders Darryl Howes Farms to stop misclassifying migrant workers as independent contractors and comply with the FLSA and the MSPA
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A federal judge has ordered Darryl Howes and his business, Darryl Howes Farms, located in Copemish, to stop misclassifying his migrant workers as independent contractors, to comply with the record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and housing standards of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, and to cease interfering with U.S. Department of Labor investigations.
When investigated, Darryl Howes Farms employed approximately 38 workers for the 2011 harvest. The migrant agricultural workers were incorrectly classified as independent contractors rather than employees entitled to minimum wage and other provisions of the FLSA and MSPA.
The opinion and accompanying order, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Gordon J. Quist, upholds the department’s findings of record-keeping and housing violations at Howes’ 60-acre cucumber farm and migrant housing camp during the 2011 harvest. The department filed a complaint in federal court in 2012 alleging minimum wage, record-keeping, and housing violations following investigations conducted by the Wage and Hour Division. The minimum wage violations remain in litigation now that the threshold issue of employment status has been determined.
“The nature of migrant agricultural work makes the migrant farm worker vulnerable to unfair and unsafe labor practices. The misclassification of these workers as independent contractors cheats them of their rightfully earned wages and gives the employer an unfair competitive edge in the marketplace,” said Karen Chaikin, regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division in the Midwest. “These actions put agricultural employers on notice that the department is committed to protecting the many low-wage and vulnerable migrant workers, who are susceptible to exploitation and unfair treatment.”
The court also found that Howes controlled a housing camp, known as the “Green Camp,” and provided substandard housing to migrant workers, in violation of the MSPA’s housing standards. The violations include failure to provide adequate shelter; prevent insect or pest infestation; remove standing wastewater; repair broken screen doors and showers; and maintain toilets in a sanitary condition. The court has ordered Howes to ensure all MSPA housing he owns or controls complies with the MSPA.
In addition to the labor violations, the court also found that Howes had interfered with the department’s investigation. The complaint mentioned four instances when interviews of agricultural workers had to be terminated because Howes or one of his employees attended the interviews with cameras and refused to leave. The order requires Howes to not interfere with future investigations.
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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