US Department of Labor investigation recovers $1.3M in back wages, finds Texas potato farm denied nearly 500 farmworkers full wages, overtime
DALHART, TX – Each year, hundreds of agricultural workers enter the U.S. with an H-2A visa and make the long trip toward the Texas Panhandle’s far northwest corner. In the small town of Dalhart at Larsen Farms – a sprawling potato farm operated by one of the nation’s largest growers – they work under an open sky, some spending long days in the hot sun harvesting the crop and repairing farm equipment while others keep warehouses operating.
A recent U.S. Department of Labor investigation found the farm’s operator, Blaine Larsen Farms Inc. failed to pay workers with H-2A visas, in addition to workers from the U.S., all of the wages they are legally due. Specifically, the department’s Wage and Hour Division found Larsen Farms failed to pay warehouse workers time and one-half of their regular rate of pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Investigators also determined Larsen Farms violated the H-2A provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act by providing incomplete pay statements to H-2A workers and allowing drivers to transport workers without the proper license. They also found that the employer violated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s temporary labor camp standards by failing to properly report communicable disease after an outbreak of coronavirus at the farm.
The investigation led to the recovery of $1,345,960 in back wages for the warehouse workers, and assessment by the division of $10,900 in civil money penalties to the employer for violating the law.
This investigation is the latest in a series of departmental actions related to Larsen Farms. Following a joint racketeering and fraud investigation with the Department of Homeland Security, the department’s Office of the Inspector General’s Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations filed a criminal complaint in July 2020 alleging a company manager demanded that workers from Mexico pay as much as $1,500 each to get work visas. In August 2020, OSHA opened investigations at two other Texas farms operated by Blaine Larsen Inc. after COVID-19 infections killed two farmworkers amid allegations that federal workplace safety requirements were ignored.
“The pandemic highlighted the essential contributions agricultural workers – including workers in the H-2A visa programs – make every day to feed the nation and support our economy. In return for their hard work, they must be paid all of their wages and protected from workplace hazards,” said Acting Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman. “The Wage and Hour Division found that Blaine Larsen Inc. failed to meet its legal obligations, and the Office of the Inspector General determined that the employer subjected its workers to discrimination and intimidation when they asserted their rights. These actions will not be tolerated, and the agency will use all available tools to hold the employer accountable.”
One of the nation’s largest potato growers, Blaine Larsen Inc. is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Its operations serve retail and food service customers worldwide.
For more information about the H-2A visa program, the FLSA 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, and use its search tool if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division. Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.