US Department of Labor investigation results in judge debarring North Carolina farm labor contractor for numerous guest worker visa program violations
SMITHFIELD, NC – Temporary foreign workers are essential contributors to America’s agricultural workforce, and laws enforced by several federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Labor, govern their hiring, wages and working conditions.
Following an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, Administrative Law Judge Dana Rosen has issued an order debarring Francisco Valadez Jr. LLC – a Smithfield-based farm labor contractor – from applying for certification to request temporary foreign workers under the H-2A temporary agricultural program for 2 years. The order also assessed a $17,892 civil penalty for Valadez’s violations of the program’s labor provisions.
Division investigators found Valadez, who provided H-2A workers to harvest blueberries at Winzeler Farms LLC in Kelly and Sleepy Creek Farms in Harrells, failed to:
- Pay some workers required wages.
- Reimburse workers’ travel expenses from their home countries to the employer’s facility.
- Reimburse workers for their visa costs and border crossing fees.
- Forbid cost shifting, allowing seven workers in Mexico to pay recruiting fees to be placed on a list of workers to come to the U.S.
- Meet transportation safety requirements by transporting workers without required driving authorization, driving workers with a suspended license.
- Provide housing free of waste material and kept in sanitary condition.
The employees filed private action lawsuits for back wages owed through Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center, and the Indiana Legal Services.
Sleepy Creek Farms provides berries to retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Harris Teeter, Driscoll’s, and Food Lion, among others.
“The H-2A program specifically requires employers and contractors to provide workers with safe working conditions, housing and transportation. It also demands that they pay workers the wages they have legally earned,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Richard Blaylock, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “This program protects low-wage, vulnerable guest workers at the same time it protects U.S. farm workers. Our enforcement ensures these protections and prevents employers who do not follow the rules from gaining an unfair advantage over other H-2A employers. We strongly encourage growers against hiring known debarred labor contractors who may attempt to continue to offer their services using another name or newly-formed company names and LLCs. The Wage and Hour Division will continue to investigate any allegations made regarding these debarred H-2A employers.”
Federal law empowers the division to suspend, revoke or withhold renewal of farm labor certificates for contractors that commit multiple violations under the Migrant Seasonal Protection Act or that fail to comply with a final order requiring the payment of a civil money penalty for a violation. Employers are encouraged to review the MSPA eligible farm labor contractor and H-2A debarment lists prior to contracting for labor.
The division offers multiple compliance assistance resources, including an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit, to provide employers the information they need to comply with the law. For more information about 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 http://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd. For additional information regarding the ongoing lawsuits with legal aid, please call (919) 523-6665 for the Legal Aid of North Carolina or (317) 762-4253 for the Indiana Legal Services.
Read this news release En Español.