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News Release

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.


Employment Standards Administration

ESA Press Release: U.S. Department of Labor Finds 36 Young Children Illegally Employed in Texas Agriculture; Four Growers Agree to Compliance Monitoring [04/17/1998]

For more information call: (202) 219-8211

Children as young as 6 were found picking onions earlier this month in Texas' Rio Grande Valley in violation of the federal child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the U.S. Department of Labor announced today.

The Department's Wage and Hour Division has assessed civil money penalties totaling $34,200 against six growers as a result of finding nine farm labor contractors illegally employing children in the fields during the first two weekends in April. Four minors were 6 years old, six were 7 years old, two were 8 years old, seven were 9 years old, five were 10 years old and eleven were 11 years old. One 12-year-old was working without a parent or guardian present.

"Young children should not be working in the fields even if they are with a parent," said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "Children should be doing homework, not farm work. I am committed to ensuring that our children not be exploited in any workplace. The Department of Labor will enforce the laws and issue penalties when companies and contractors are found exploiting children."

The children were working for farm labor contractors Oziel Reyes, Oscar Reyes, Jose Carmen Gonzalez, Guillermo Diaz , Julia San Miguel, Sara Lopez, Juanita Gonzales, Lee Bustos, and Jose Jesus Martinez. The contractors were working for Starr Produce Company of Rio Grande City, Sharyland Plantation of Mission, J.S. McManus Produce Co., Inc. of Weslaco, B. Burns Farms of Faysville, Pemelton Farms of Mercedes, and Val Verde Farms of McAllen.

The Wage and Hour Division found the companies jointly responsible for the violations. All but one of the growers have paid the civil money penalties. Starr paid $2,700, Sharyland Plantation $3,600, McManus $7,200, B. Burns Farms $5,400, and Val Verde $6,300. The department is pursuing collection of $9,000 in civil money penalties from Pemelton Farms.

This was the second time in three weeks that the department found children illegally employed in operations involving Sharyland Plantation. In southern New Mexico, Sharyland Plantation was assessed a $900 penalty for a child illegally employed to plant onions in late March.

In addition to paying the fines, four of the six growers (Sharyland Plantation, B. Burns Farms, McManus and Val Verde) have signed agreements with the U.S. Department of Labor stipulating they will comply with the minimum wage and child labor provisions of the FLSA and will not ship produce harvested in violation of the FLSA. The four growers have also agreed to institute compliance programs that require them to:

  • check for child labor compliance at least twice a day when crews are planting or harvesting;
  • prescreen farm labor contractors before entering into contractual agreements;
  • notify the Wage and Hour Division immediately upon a child labor violation, and cooperate or take appropriate steps to remediate the violation;
  • train their employees and farm labor contractors about the child labor requirements before each planting or harvesting season; and,
  • report semiannually to the Wage and Hour Division the results of their monitoring activities.

A fifth grower, Starr Produce Company, had already implemented significant compliance safeguards on its own and reaffirmed its commitment to preventing the illegal employment of children.

"I am encouraged that Sharyland Plantation, B. Burns, McManus, and Val Verde have agreed to take these steps to prevent the illegal employment of minors in the future," said Secretary Herman. "I hope that the positive steps taken by these growers will serve as a model for others. We are finding that monitoring of contract shops by manufacturers in the garment industry is helping to improve compliance in that industry. We hope to replicate that in agriculture."

The FLSA generally prohibits the employment of minors under the age of 12 to work in agriculture. Minors, aged 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in farm jobs not declared hazardous when they are employed on the same farms as their parents or have written parental consent to work elsewhere.

These cases arise from an enforcement initiative that is part of the Wage and Hour Division's targeted enforcement program in "salad bowl" commodities including onions, garlic, lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. As part of this initiative, Wage and Hour will conduct more than 50 enforcement sweeps nationwide this year in agriculture with a special emphasis on child labor compliance.

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.

Employment Standards Administration
April 17, 1998
Media Contact: David Roberts
Phone Number