US Department of Labor administrative judge orders Frostproof farm labor contractor to pay $249K in back wages, penalties in settlement agreement
FROSTPROOF, FL – A federal judge approved a settlement with a Frostproof farm labor contractor – Jose M. Gracia Harvesting Inc. – who the U.S. Department of Labor found shortchanged workers and failed to provide them with safe and sanitary living conditions – a practice that will require him to pay back wages and a civil money penalty.
The department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges affirmed the findings of an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division and litigation by the Solicitor of Labor involving the farm labor contractor Jose M. Gracia Harvesting Inc., owned by Jose M. Gracia, and doing business at Jose M. Gracia Harvesting. Investigators found the farm labor contractor violated multiple requirements of the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection, and Fair Labor Standards Act in Georgia and Florida.
The judge ordered Gracia Harvesting to pay $69,372 in back wages to 152 workers and pay $180,000 in civil money penalties. Gracia Harvesting must also employ a department-approved third-party to conduct audits and monitor any H-2A contracts in which Gracia is involved within the jurisdiction of the Atlanta or Tampa District Offices over the next 3 years.
“Farmworkers help put food on tables in homes and restaurants across the U.S. and the U.S. Department of Labor vigorously protects the rights of these essential workers, including those employed as part the H-2A guest worker program,” said Southeast Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta. “When an employer exploits or mistreats workers, as found in this federal investigation, the Wage and Hour Division holds the employer accountable.”
Division investigators found Jose M. Gracia Harvesting, Inc. failed to provide and maintain adequate housing standards for 80 women and men he employed. Specifically, the division determined Gracia Harvesting violated the following housing and transportation safety requirements when he failed to:
- Prevent rodent and fly infestation in worker housing.
- Secure meals for workers or offer sufficient kitchen facilities. As a result, some workers had to purchase meals at an average cost that exceeding the maximum amount allowed.
- Provide a sufficient number of beds, resulting in overcrowding and workers sleeping on the floor.
- Ensure workers had heated housing during winter months.
- Provide toilets within a quarter of a mile from the work site, and failure to provide soap, potable water and single-use towels for handwashing.
- Failed to provide adequate storage for workers’ personal belongings.
Investigators also found that Gracia Harvesting failed to pay workers, maintain wage records and keep contract obligations required by law. The employer did not:
- Reimburse some H-2A workers for visa costs by their first paycheck.
- Offer at least three-fourths of the worker’s contract hours.
- Pay the required hourly H-2A wage.
- Record or pay for all hours of work.
- Provide accurate pay stubs to workers.
- Share working conditions in writing with H-2A and U.S. workers.
- Offer employment to U.S. workers first or petition U.S. workers for certain positions.
- Prevent a worker without required certification to transport employees.
Jose M. Gracia Harvesting Inc. provides workers for the harvesting of agricultural commodities in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Jose M. Gracia Harvesting Inc. contracts with Melon 1, one of the nation’s largest melon distributors.
For information about the laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or learn more about the Wage and Hour Division online and review our Compliance Assistance Toolkit for the Agriculture industry. Workers can call the division confidentially, regardless of immigration status, and have questions answered in over 200 languages. Check the Wage and Hour Division search tool if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.