U.S. Department of Labor Investigation Results in Judge Ordering New Jersey Farm to Pay $556,745 in Back Wages and Penalties
SWEDESBORO, NJ – After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD), a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge (ALJ) has ordered Sun Valley Orchards, LLC – a farm in Swedesboro, New Jersey – to pay $344,945 in back wages and $211,800 in civil money penalties. Sun Valley Orchards, LLC will pay the back wages to 147 farmworkers, including 96 temporary foreign workers on H-2A visas.
Specifically, the ALJ found that the employer violated the H-2A provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act when they:
- Failed to provide workers with sanitary housing, and transported workers from their housing to the fields each day using unlicensed drivers and unsafe vehicles;
- Terminated more than 20 workers without cause, in the middle of the growing season. The employer then attempted to coerce those workers to waive their right to employment for the time commitment required by the H-2A regulations by directing them to sign false statements; and
- Denied workers access to the company's kitchen to cook their own food, and instead charged workers for meals and drinks, at a profit, resulting in illegal deductions from workers' wages.
"Sun Valley Orchards failed to honor its legal obligations and took advantage of these employees," said Wage and Hour District Director Charlene Rachor, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "The Wage and Hour Division offers employers a wide range of tools to help them understand their responsibilities, and provides direct support in person, by phone, and online for anyone that has specific questions about how to comply."
"The outcome of this case goes a long way in making these employees whole, and puts other employers in the industry on notice that they must abide by their obligations under the H-2A program," said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff, in New York.
The WHD's Southern New Jersey District Office investigated the case, and Jason Glick and Jacob Heyman-Kantor of the Department's Regional Solicitor's Office litigated it.
The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the lawful admission of temporary, nonimmigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. H-2A employers must provide housing at no cost to H-2A workers and to workers in corresponding employment who are not reasonably able to return to their residence within the same day. If the employer elects to secure rental (public) accommodations for such workers, the employer is required to pay all housing-related charges directly to the housing's management. In addition, employers are required to either provide each covered worker with three meals per day at no more than a Department-specified cost, or to furnish free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities where workers can prepare their own meals. Employer-provided or secured housing must meet all applicable safety standards. For more information about the laws enforced by the WHD, call the Division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
The mission of WHD is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation's workforce. WHD enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WHD also enforces the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration related statutes. Additionally, WHD administers and enforces the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act and other statutes applicable to federal contracts for construction and for the provision of goods and services.
The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.