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Philadelphia-based farm labor contractor sued for alleged federal labor violations at Medford, New Jersey, nursery
PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit against Philadelphia-based farm labor contractor Heng Heng Agency Inc. and its president and owner Visith Oum for wage violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and wage, record-keeping, registration and transportation violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The lawsuit, filed by the department's Regional Office of the Solicitor with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, seeks $146,100 in civil money penalties because of Heng Heng's willful and repeat violations of the FLSA and violations of the MSPA. The suit follows an investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division.
Investigators from the division's Southern New Jersey District Office found that Heng Heng failed to pay the federal minimum wage, as required by the FLSA, a violation for which the company was previously cited in 2012. Investigators also found that the farm labor contractor failed to keep proper records, to provide safe transportation vehicles and to obtain the required insurance coverage, as required by the MSPA.
The Wage and Hour Division's findings were the result of an investigation at Medford Nursery, of Lumberton, New Jersey, where Heng Heng supplied 125 temporary employees to work cultivating and harvesting nursery stock. The investigation revealed that the workers were jointly employed under the FLSA by Medford Nursery and Heng Heng, and that the companies are individually and jointly responsible for complying with the law's requirements, including paying not less than the minimum wage for all hours worked during the workweek and, if applicable, overtime compensation for all hours worked over 40 in the workweek. Medford Nursery has paid $36,505 in back wages to the 125 workers and has settled its involvement in this matter.
"Visith Oum, who served as the farm labor contractor in this case, has a history of labor law violations and employs vulnerable South Asian and Hispanic workers in the Philadelphia area, who are transported to various farms and nurseries," said Charlene Rachor, director of the agency's Southern New Jersey District Office. "The nature of seasonal agricultural work makes the seasonal farm worker vulnerable to unfair and unsafe labor practices. However, as this case demonstrates, we will not tolerate employers that fail to meet their obligations under federal law."
Accessible and searchable information on enforcement activities by the department is available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.
Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which provides additional protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the department. Information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.
The division's Southern New Jersey District Office can be reached at 609-538-8310. Information on the FLSA and other wage laws is available by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or by visiting http://www.dol.gov/whd/.