U.S. Department of Labor Debars North Carolina Farm Labor Contractor, Assesses $321,400 Penalty for Wage, Worker Protection Violations
STANTONSBURG, NC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has revoked the farm labor contractor certificate of registration for Marisa Garcia-Pineda and has debarred the contractor for three years because of violations of federal laws related to wages and worker protections. WHD found that Garcia-Pineda owed $195,735 in back wages to 287 employees while working at Ham Farms in Snow Hill, North Carolina. In addition to the farm labor registration revocation and H-2A debarment, WHD also assessed the company a civil money penalty of $321,400.
Garcia-Pineda is an H-2A labor contractor based in Stantonsburg, North Carolina, who - WHD investigators found - violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), and labor provisions of the H-2A visa program.
WHD investigators determined Garcia-Pineda violated H-2A requirements by failing to reimburse employees for their inbound transportation expenses from their home countries as the law requires, which also resulted in FLSA minimum wage violations during the first week of employment. The employer also failed to pay transportation expenses to employees for their return home, and failed to record the hours offered to employees as available for work in payroll records as required under H-2A provisions.
The company further violated H-2A requirements by failing to pay the H-2A employees the legally required wage rate for the hours that they worked and by charging them recruitment fees.
Garcia-Pineda violated MSPA provisions by failing to provide a written disclosure to migrant workers explaining their working conditions, failing to post a MSPA poster at the worksite, and failing to post housing conditions in employer-provided housing.
“The Department of Labor will fully and fairly enforce the law, which includes pursuing revocation and debarment of farm labor contractors that willfully violate the law,” said Richard Blaylock, Wage and Hour Division District Director in Raleigh, North Carolina. “This action is an example of the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to protect workers, and to level the playing field for employers who play by the rules. We encourage employers to reach out to us if they have questions related to compliance.”
Marisa Garcia-Pineda utilized the services of Monica Saavedra - a Douglas, Georgia farm labor contractor – to process the H-2A applications, advertise for employees, and process the paperwork. In October 2017, the Department’s Employment and Training Administration debarred Saavedra for H-2A violations including failing to comply with the employer's obligations to recruit U.S. workers.
Before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can approve an employer’s petition for H-2A visa workers, the employer must file an application with the Department stating that:
- An insufficient number of U.S. employees are able, willing, qualified, and available to work; and
- The employment of non-immigrant, temporary workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
For more information about the FLSA, MSPA, H-2A and other laws enforced by the Division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at https://www.dol.gov/whd.