U.S. Department of Labor Debars North Carolina Farm Labor Contractor for Wage and Worker Protection Violations; Assesses $174,614 Penalty
CLINTON, NC – The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has debarred Ruben V. Serna – owner of Serna Harvesting, a farm labor contractor – from participation in the H-2A visa program for three years for violations of federal wage and H-2A program requirements. WHD found that Serna owed $194,109 in back wages to 181 employees certified to work at 15 North Carolina farms for which the contractor provides H-2A workers. WHD also assessed Serna a civil money penalty of $174,614 for the violations.
WHD investigators found the Clinton, North Carolina, contractor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the labor provision of the H-2A visa program. Serna violated H-2A requirements by failing to provide housing for H-2A workers at no cost to them and failing to reimburse employees for their inbound transportation expenses from their native countries as the law requires. Workers paying those costs out of pocket resulted in FLSA minimum wage violations during their first week of employment. In addition, Serna failed to pay employees' transportation expenses for their return trips home, and failed to properly record hours in payroll records as the H-2A program requires.
"Any employer seeking H-2A workers must be ready and willing to abide by all of the program's requirements, and must not attempt to shift any of the employer's costs onto the workers," said Wage and Hour Division District Director Richard Blaylock, in Raleigh, North Carolina. "This case demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers, and protect workers from being paid less than they are legally owed."
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.