Federal Judge Orders Arizona Farm Labor Contractors to Pay Employees Back Wages, Comply with Safe Transportation Laws
PHOENIX, AZ – The U.S. District Court in Arizona has banned one local farm labor contractor from doing business as a contractor permanently and ordered another to comply with all applicable laws in the future after a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigation revealed systemic violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) and the labor provisions of the H-2A foreign guest worker program.
U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich ordered Agro Cargo LLC and Christian Gomez Bueno to pay $48,771 in civil penalties and $26,229 in back wages they owe their employees. The judge also barred Jose Carlos Gomez, who is Gomez Bueno’s father and did business as Union Harvest, from ever again serving as a farm labor contractor. Finally, the judge defined clear requirements for future compliance for both father and son under MSPA and the H-2A program.
WHD investigators found that the defendants failed to provide employees with safe transportation, to pay employees all the wages they had earned when due, to maintain accurate records of hours employees worked under the H-2A program and MSPA, and to register all persons performing farm labor contractor activities on their behalf, among other violations. The investigation found egregious transportation safety violations, including that the buses used by Union Harvest had worn tires, missing mirrors, faulty lights, and inoperative horns. The investigation also found the employer used duct tape to hold together the steering column of one of the buses.
“The court sent a clear message to these contractors to either abide by the law or have their licenses revoked,” said Regional Solicitor Janet Herold, in San Francisco, California. “These two contractors endangered employee safety while also failing to pay them their full wages. The U.S. Department of Labor engages in extensive outreach and education efforts to provide employers in this industry the tools and information they need to comply with the law.”
The consent judgment requires the defendants to provide notices to employees about their rights; permit WHD investigators to enter the fields to read the notices to employees and answer employees’ questions on company time; provide for annual and bi-annual trainings for supervisors; and to cooperate with the Department to secure liens on property.
MSPA protects migrant and seasonal agricultural employees by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures, and recordkeeping. For general information on MSPA, please see the Employment Law Guide or the Wage and Hour Division’s MSPA fact sheet.
To operate legally as farm labor contractors, individuals and companies must register with the U.S. Department of Labor. Farm labor contractors that intend to house, transport, or drive a migrant or seasonal agricultural employee must meet special requirements. Application materials and instructions are available online.
Employees and employers with questions about MSPA or any of the federal laws administered by the Division should call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). All calls are confidential. More information also is available online at https://www.dol.gov/whd/.