Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department fines Washington agricultural employer more than $11,000 for substandard migrant farmworker housing
SEATTLE -- A Washington state agricultural employer has agreed to pay $11,100 in penalties following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division that found multiple violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act’s provisions regarding housing safety and health. Azzano Orchards in Omak signed consent findings that have been approved by the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges in San Francisco.
Azzano Orchards farms and harvests apples, pears and cherries. The employer provided housing to migrant workers who were recruited, hired and employed to harvest its crops. Azzano Orchards sold the crops harvested by these workers to a fruit packing establishment in Oroville, which then sold the fruit to consumers in other states and overseas.
The investigation found that Azzano Orchards provided migrant workers with housing units that were not inspected prior to use, as required, and that the housing was unsanitary and in poor repair. Units did not have adequate drainage, safe wiring and lighting, fire extinguishers, or adequate lighting for yards and pathways. Three of the units did not have any windows, and the water supply did not meet state health department standards. In addition to violating housing standards, the employer failed to disclose employment conditions to workers – such as rates of pay, periods of employment, crops to be harvested and other terms and conditions – as required.
“Azzano Orchards initially refused to correct the violations and to comply with housing and safety laws for its migrant employees, but ultimately paid a significant penalty,” said Donna Hart, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Seattle District Office, which conducted the investigation. “We are pleased the employer ceased using the worst of its housing facilities in response to our investigation, and has certified that it is now and will remain in compliance with the law. This investigation, and the resulting consent judgment and penalty, underscores the Labor Department’s commitment to using all enforcement tools available to protect the rights of our nation’s agricultural workers.”
The agricultural industry employs many low-wage and vulnerable workers – such as minors, seasonal employees and temporary nonimmigrant farmworkers – who are particularly susceptible to labor violations and disparate treatment. The Wage and Hour Division has several ongoing enforcement initiatives in Washington and throughout the nation to identify and remedy widespread noncompliance issues that are common in the agricultural industry. The division is particularly focused on helping employees who are not likely to come forward with complaints when subject to violations.
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 Labor Department. Information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf and http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.
Additional information on federal labor laws is available by calling the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Seattle office at 206-398-8039. Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
U.S. Department of Labor releases are accessible on the Internet at www.dol.gov. The information in this news release will be made available in alternate format (large print, Braille, audio tape or disc) from the COAST office upon request. Please specify which news release when placing your request at (202) 693-7828 or TTY (202) 693-7755. The Labor Department is committed to providing America’s employers and employees with easy access to understandable information on how to comply with its laws and regulations. For more information, please visit www.dol.gov/compliance.