Please note: As of January 20, 2021, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.
US Department of Labor's agricultural enforcement initiative impacts hundreds of workers in northern and central Florida
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An ongoing enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division that focused on the agricultural industry in northern and central Florida has uncovered widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the field sanitation standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These laws include provisions that set minimum standards for wages and disclosure of working conditions, basic standards for safe and clean housing and safe transportation, and standards for access to clean drinking water and toilet facilities in the field.
Under this initiative, the division's Jacksonville District Office conducted investigations of agricultural industry employers. To date, the initiative has resulted in more than $100,000 in back wages for 277 workers and more than $25,000 in civil money penalties assessed.
"The impact of our work cannot be measured only in dollars and cents, but rather by the lives that are saved or improved by having safer housing and transportation and better working conditions," said Daniel White, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Jacksonville District Office. "The Wage and Hour Division's ongoing enforcement effort among agricultural employers, farm labor contractors and housing providers has brought about more housing, transportation and field sanitation that is in compliance with safety standards and back pay and fair wages for workers who desperately need every penny they earn."
Recently, the division conducted an investigation of Steven Davis Farms LLC in La Crosse, after the farm refused to pay back wages to workers or comply with FLSA or MSPA regulations. The Regional Office of the Solicitor of Labor secured a settlement agreement with the firm in which it agreed to comply with the FLSA, MSPA and the field sanitation standards of the OSH Act. Additionally, department attorneys secured a Stipulation of Compliance in which the firm agreed to pay all workers that it employed or jointly employed the required state or federal minimum wage on a weekly basis.
The Wage and Hour Division's initiative across northern and central Florida routinely found violations related to transportation, housing, unregistered farm labor contractors, wage underpayments and record-keeping issues. The division is particularly concerned about the severity of noncompliance found at operations involving hand-harvested crops. Investigations conducted during the harvest of pine straw and citrus crops revealed that many workers were required to perform intense physical labor, such as hand raking, baling straw, handpicking fruits and cleaning trees, for long periods without being compensated in accordance with federal law.
Additionally, investigators found farm labor contractors who were unauthorized to transport workers or did not have legally required levels of vehicle insurance. The investigations identified farm labor contractors, who were unauthorized to provide housing, performing such functions, and substandard housing conditions that did not comply with required standards. Other issues include unlawful deductions for substandard housing, piece rates that do not meet the promised wage and overtime violations for nonexempt employees under the FLSA. Where joint employment was established between the growers and the farm labor contractors, both parties were held responsible for payment.
Teams of investigators will continue to visit fields and packing houses throughout northern and central Florida to assess compliance among facility owners, growers, farm labor contractors and other businesses providing services to these agricultural operations. Thorough inspections of migrant housing units, vehicles, field sanitation facilities, employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with applicable child and agricultural labor standards.
When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including litigation and the assessment of liquidated damages and civil money penalties, to recover workers' wages and ensure accountability under the law. The division has also focused on educating all stakeholders in the agricultural industry and has conducted outreach sessions, which provided valuable education and compliance assistance to hundreds of employers, employees and other groups regarding the requirements of the law. It is collaborating with community groups, state agencies, consulates, employer and industry organizations, and local officials to provide industrywide compliance assistance with all applicable agricultural labor standards, child labor restrictions, H-2A regulatory requirements and joint employer responsibilities.
Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which provides 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 FLSA sets standards for the minimum wage, overtime payments and limitations on child labor. The field sanitation provisions of the OSH Act require covered employers to provide toilets, potable drinking water, hand-washing facilities and information regarding good hygiene practices.
The Wage and Hour Division's Jacksonville District Office can be reached at 904-359-9292. Information about federal labor laws enforced by the division is available in English and Spanish by calling its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or by visiting its Web site at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.