Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Department of Labor fines Newport, Tenn., tomato grower more than $205,000 for violations of agricultural labor laws
Fish Farm Partnership also owes more than $50,000 in back wages to workers
NEWPORT, Tenn. -- The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Fish Farm Partnership, a Newport-based tomato grower, $205,250 in penalties after an investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division disclosed numerous violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act as well as provisions of the H-2A temporary nonimmigrant visa program. The division also found that 59 employees are owed a total of $50,727 in back wages.
"The vulnerable, low-wage migrant and H-2A workers in this case traveled to Tennessee in search of honest work and were dependent on the farmer for wages, safe transportation and housing," said Sandra Sanders, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Nashville District Office. "Federal law establishes certain standards in order to protect the rights of foreign workers – who are often vulnerable to exploitation – as well as similarly employed U.S. workers, so they are not adversely affected by the employment of foreign workers. In addition to pursuing corrective action when illegal practices are found, the Wage and Hour Division is scheduling meetings with farm groups in eastern Tennessee to inform farmers of their responsibilities under federal law."
Investigators found multiple safety and health violations related to housing, including an inadequate or nonexistent water supply for some housing units. Some units suffered from low water pressure or lacked hot water for as many as three days at a time, many allowed rain and insects to enter living areas through missing or ill-fitting windows and doors, some were overcrowded and one was located near standing sewage. Workers were not provided with laundry facilities, which forced some to do their laundry in a nearby river. In addition, workers were not provided with the required transportation between the housing units and the farm.
The investigation also revealed that employees were not offered the opportunity to work at least three-fourths of the hours required by regulatory and contractual obligations. Additionally, pay statements did not show hours worked, hours offered and hourly or piece rates of pay, which also are required. Finally, the employer retaliated against a number of workers for exercising their rights under the H-2A program, and as a result, additional sanctions are being considered.
Fish Farm Partnership is appealing the findings and penalties to the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges. However, management has agreed to perform substantial work on the housing units and to inspect housing weekly, keep accurate records and pay transportation costs for workers, pay all employees the minimum required wage for hours worked and provide all legally required disclosures to workers.
The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers is not available and that the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. Employers using the H-2A program must meet a number of specific conditions for recruiting, paying, housing, feeding and transporting workers. More information about H-2A requirements is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs26a.htm.
Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. Under the MSPA, each person or organization owning or controlling a facility or property used for housing migrant workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Department of Labor. More information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/mspa.
This case was investigated by the Wage and Hour Division's Nashville office, with support from other offices in its Southeast region. For more information about H-2A rules and the MSPA, call the division's Nashville office at 615-781-5343 or its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
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