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News Release

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.


Employment Standards Administration

ESA Press Release: Department of Labor Finds Young Children Illegally Employed in Agriculture near Las Cruces, New Mexico [06/24/1998]

For more information call: (202) 219-8305

Two 10-year-old children were recently found harvesting onions in a field outside Las Cruces, New Mexico in violation of the federal child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the U. S. Department of Labor announced today.

Investigators of the Department's Wage and Hour Division observed the children working on a farm owned by Charlie Tharp of Las Cruces. The children were part of a crew being supervised by Ruben Dan Sosa, a farm labor contractor providing services to the grower as well as a packing shed operated by Charlie Johnson Company. The Wage and Hour Division found all three organizations to be joint employers of the crew -- including the illegally employed children -- and responsible for the violations.

"The Department of Labor is committed to enforcing this nation's child labor laws,"said Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman. "We're determined to root out abuses of child labor laws and when we find children being exploited we will use all the powers of the department to stop it. We hope that targeted investigations like the salad bowl' initiative will help us eliminate abusive child labor."

Civil money penalties of $1800 were assessed as a result of the violations. Neither the packing shed operator, farm labor contractor, or grower have disputed the employment of the children, and the farm labor contractor has paid the penalty.

In addition to paying the fine, Ruben Dan Sosa, Charlie Johnson Company, and Charlie Tharp have signed agreements with the Department of Labor stipulating future compliance with the minimum wage and child labor provisions of the FLSA and agreeing not to ship "hot goods" in violation of the FLSA. Under the hot goods provisions of the law, goods produced in violation may not be shipped in interstate commerce. In addition, the agreement calls for the parties to institute an effective compliance monitoring program:

  • requiring training in the provisions of the FLSA all field personnel and farm labor contractors before each and every planting season or harvest;
  • performing monitoring activities for compliance at least twice daily when agricultural crews are working in the fields, and making records of the monitoring available to the Department;
  • ceasing all production activity upon any finding of child labor violations, until such children are removed from the field and the Department is notified to coordinate the correction of all violations.

This case arose from an enforcement initiative that is part of the Wage and Hour Division's targeted enforcement program in the "salad bowl" commodities including onions, lettuce, garlic, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The Division is conducting more than 50 enforcement sweeps nationwide this year in agriculture with a special emphasis on child labor compliance. In April, the Department fined 6 growers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley for hiring 36 children, four as young as 6, to pick onions. Earlier, the Department cited a grower in southern New Mexico for hiring children to set onions.

The FLSA generally prohibits the employment of minors under the age of 12 to work in agriculture. Minors, aged 12 and 13 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. Fourteen and 15-year-old youth can be legally employed in any nonhazardous farm jobs outside of school hours.

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

Employment Standards Administration
June 24, 1998
Media Contact: David Roberts
Phone Number