Please note: As of January 20, 2017, information in some news releases may be out of date or not reflect current policies.
U.S. Labor Department’s ongoing enforcement effort protects Washington farmworkers’ wages, rights; ensures employers comply with federal labor laws
SEATTLE – The next time you enjoy an apple, a pear, a cherry or some other fruit, think for a moment about the people whose labor brought it to your table. From sun-up to sundown, these men and women exchange low wages earned in fields and packing houses for hard work and sore bodies.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division ensures workers like these receive the wages, protections and benefits to which they are entitled by law. Since 2014, the division has engaged in an ongoing enforcement initiative focused on ensuring that agricultural employers in the Northwest comply with federal labor laws.
In Washington State, results of those efforts to date include the recovery of $318,000 in unpaid wages and damages for thousands of farmworkers. In dozens of agricultural facilities statewide, investigators have found growers and fruit packing facilities violating federal pay and recordkeeping requirements. The division has recouped back wages and damages from some of Washington’s largest fruit processing facilities, including Wenatchee’s Stemilt Growers, Yakima’s Borton Fruit and Cowiche’s Strand Apples. In these cases, the division has also collected $25,000 in penalties.
“Employers need to pay these hardworking men and women, who help put food on the tables of millions of American households, what they have rightfully earned,” said Jeanette Aranda, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Seattle. “When these workers are shorted, it not only hurts them and their families, it also creates a competitive disadvantage for growers who pay their employees properly and play by the rules. We remain committed to protecting the rights of these often vulnerable workers, and to ensuring a level playing field.”
At peak harvest, packers and sorters work six to seven days per week readying cherries, apples, pears and other produce to ship to market. Federal investigators found many employers failed to pay workers for time spent prepping boxes or waiting for machines to be repaired. They also found employers denying pay to farmworkers for time spent traveling to and from the orchards during the workday, and for time spent in required training.
In addition to wage violations, investigators have found many growers failed to notify workers of federal worksite rights and to provide migrant farmworkers with written terms and conditions of employment when they recruited them.
The division administers many laws that extend various protections to different types of agricultural workers. They include:
- The Fair Labor Standards Act contains federal minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and child labor requirements for covered employers.
- The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act protects agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping. The act also requires farm labor contractors and their employees to register with the U.S. Department of Labor and to obtain special authorization before housing, transporting or driving covered workers.
- The H-2A visa program establishes standards related to recruitment, wages, housing, transportation and recordkeeping for employers of temporary non-immigrant agricultural workers admitted to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
For more information about federal wage laws administered by the Wage and Hour Division, call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
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