Three citrus farm labor contractors pay $76K in back wages, penalties after US Department of Labor finds violations of guest worker program
TAMPA, FL – When three Arcadia citrus farm labor contractors failed to comply with the requirements of the federal H-2A agricultural worker visa program, they shortchanged 123 employees – owing them $72,609 in total wages.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found that Benjamin M. Ramirez Harvesting Inc., AO Harvesting LLC and Gustavo Cisneros Harvesting Inc. failed to provide H-2A employees with at least three-quarters of the work hours guaranteed on their work contracts, and failed to pay them the wages required by law under the program. The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. legally to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature when domestic workers are in short supply.
Investigators found that Benjamin M. Ramirez Harvesting violated the program’s required three-quarters guarantee and owed $30,915 in back wages to 31 employees. The agency also assessed a $1,429 civil penalty for the violation. AO Harvesting violated the same requirement and owed $37,005 in back wages to 38 employees. In that case, the agency also assessed a $1,429 civil penalty for the violation.
Labor contractor, Gustavo Cisneros Harvesting, violated the three-quarters guarantee and also failed to properly reimburse workers for inbound transportation costs as required by law. As a result, the employer paid $4,688 to the 13 employees affected and paid a $1,250 civil penalty assessed by the agency.
“The Wage and Hour Division will continue to protect the rights of essential agricultural workers, both domestic and H-2A visa workers, by conducting robust investigations of labor contractors and grove owners,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Nicolas Ratmiroff in Tampa, Florida. “Sadly, these types of violations are all too common in the citrus industry. We urge employers to review the many tools available on our website to understand their obligations and reach out directly to our offices with questions.”
All three employers used the services of Yolanda B. Celaya, an agent with CCH Bookkeeping Inc., and harvested citrus for Alico. Benjamin M Ramirez Harvesting Inc. also harvested for Oakley Groves. These growers sell their citrus to processors including Tropicana and Peace River.
For more information about the H-2A visa program and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.
Read this news release En Español.