Investigation finds federal contractor misclassified employees who fought 2020, 2021 wildfires, denied them $152K in overtime wages, benefits
SUMMERVILLE, OR – A federal contractor in Oregon misclassified dozens of workers – who battled some of the nation’s worst wildfires an average of 70 hours a week in 2020 and 2021 – as independent contractors and denied them their full wages and benefits as a result, the U.S. Department of Labor has found.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division determined KL Farms/Fire LLC of Summerville paid a flat daily rate of between $200 and $250 to 57 firefighters and truck drivers, regardless of their total hours worked. From June 2019 through October 2021, the U.S. Forest Service contracted the company to provide fire engines, firefighters, trucks and driver services for fire suppression and firefighting in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington.
In 2020, the wage standard for firefighters – established by provisions of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract and Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards acts – was set at a minimum of $9.38 an hour plus an additional $4.22 in fringe benefits, and the minimum for truck drivers was $18.20 an hour and an additional $4.22 in fringe benefits. The acts’ provisions establish wage rates and benefits for work funded by federal contracts.
By paying a flat daily rate, KL Farms/Fire LLC also incurred overtime violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Investigators also identified violations of the FLSA’s recordkeeping requirements.
As a result of its investigation, the division recovered $152,003 in overtime wages and fringe benefits, as well as an additional $12,577 in liquidated damages for the affected workers. Back wages recovered ranged from $101 to $14,783 per worker. In addition, the company paid $16,981 in civil money penalties assessed by the department for the employer’s violations.
“Fighting wildfires demands people work long hours and face real dangers as they try to save other people, homes, businesses and natural resources,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Carrie Aguilar in Portland, Oregon. “The workers accepted these risks and deserve to be paid every dollar and fringe benefit they’ve earned, especially under very specific requirements that KL Farms/Fire agreed to meet.”
The division’s investigation of the company also determined the employer violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act by failing to pay workers’ wages when due, provide wage statements and register as a farm labor contractor. KL Farms/Fire employees working as firefighters and engine bosses are covered by the MSPA as their duties constitute predominantly manual forestry work, and many of the employees travel from other parts of the U.S. to fight these fires.
“Our investigators are seeing a significant number of companies paying daily, instead of hourly, rates as hundreds of firefighters are hired to fight unpredictable wildfires for days and sometimes months,” Aguilar explained. “No employer – especially a federal contractor – should mistake the urgent need or uncertain length of employment as a reason to misclassify employees as independent contractors, and deny them full wages, benefits and other worker protections.”
For more information about federal contractor wage laws and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact the division’s toll-free helpline confidentially 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. Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for Android and Apple devices, now available in English and Spanish, to ensure hours and pay are accurate.