US Department of Labor recovers $131K in back wages for workers, assesses $13K in penalties after finding multiple H-2A violations, missed payroll
ATLANTA – A call to the “Employment, Education and Outreach” hotline maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor led federal investigators to find a Baxley farm labor contractor – who violated several federal laws related to the employment of migrant and seasonal workers previously – had broken the law again, this time for missing a payroll.
After a worker called the “EMPLEO” hotline – a contact center for Spanish-speaking workers – alleging City Pinestraw & Harvesting LLC missed a scheduled payroll – investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division were able to verify the claim, and to later recover $42,338 in wages owed to 171 affected workers.
“Regardless of their immigration status, Spanish-speaking workers can use the Wage and Hour Division’s EMPLEO program to get answers about their workplace rights without cost while remaining anonymous,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven Salazar in Atlanta. “Just as farmworkers do the hard labor it takes to put food on our tables, the U.S. Department of Labor works vigorously to protect the rights of these essential workers, and hold their employers accountable when they violate the law.”
Prior to the investigation related to the missed payroll, a division investigation found City Pinestraw & Harvesting had shortchanged workers’ wages and moved four farm workers from an approved work site to work at the employer’s restaurant. These actions and others led to multiple violations of the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and Fair Labor Standards Act.
On Sept. 30, 2021, the employer signed an enhanced compliance agreement. This agreement committed the employer to future compliance with the provisions of the FLSA, MSPA, and H-2A regulations, along with payment of $89,168 in back wages for 78 workers, and a civil money penalty of $13,418.
Specifically, the division found – over the course of its investigations, that City Pinestraw & Harvesting violated federal H-2A regulations as follows:
- Did not ensure a fixed work site by pulling H-2A employees from their approved work site to work in the employer’s restaurant.
- Failed to pay travel costs from the workers’ homes countries to the work site, required inbound transportation expenses, at the halfway point of the contract. Workers paid out-of-pocket for bus tickets to get from their homes to the worksite.
- Did not offer at least three-fourths of the workers’ contract hours and failed to reimburse them for the shortfall. Hours worked in the employer’s restaurant did not count toward the three-fourths guarantee, as this was not agricultural work.
- Failed to pay workers reimbursement for visa expenses.
- Failed to keep earnings records, including earnings, hours statements, and rate and frequency of pay.
- Unlawfully employed four H-2A agriculture workers in a restaurant, and paid them below the required H-2A wage.
The employer also violated the Fair Labor Standards Act as follows:
- By failing to maintain records for workers to include the numbers of hours worked, pay period, the amount and reason for withholdings and net pay for a local farm worker.
- By not meeting minimum wage and overtime requirements for agricultural workers while they were unlawfully employed in a restaurant.
Finally, City Pinestraw & Harvesting violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act by failing to keep employee records and provide wage statements to workers, as required.
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. The EMPLEO alliance is a collaboration of community and nongovernmental organizations, including state, local, and federal agencies and Hispanic consulates that provides information and assistance to Spanish-speaking employees and employers regarding workplace rights and responsibilities. Workers and employers can reach EMPLEO by calling (877) 522-9832 or (877) 55-AYUDA.