Department of Labor recovers $505K for Mississippi Delta farmworkers after dozens of employers violated workers’ rights, assesses $341K in penalties
INDIANOLA, MS – In the summer of 2022, U.S. Department of Labor leaders heard from a group of Black farmworkers in the Mississippi Delta about allegations of abuse and exploitation of Black farmworkers in some of the nation’s poorest counties, including egregious violations of their workplace rights.
Today, the department’s Wage and Hour Division announced that, to date, it has conducted investigations and identified violations by 44 employers and recovered $505,540 in back wages for 161 workers. Employers also paid an additional $341,838 in civil money penalties.
The division’s completed investigations found employers, in violation of program requirements when they did the following:
- Showed preferential treatment towards temporary H-2A agricultural workers and failed to pay the required rate of pay to U.S. workers in corresponding employment.
- Did not disclose all conditions of employment.
- Failed to provide accurate anticipated hours of work and bonus opportunities.
- Made illegal pay deductions.
- Did not reimburse travel-related expenses as required.
- Failed to comply with federal recordkeeping requirements.
“The outcome of these investigations confirms that employers in the Mississippi Delta denied a large number of marginalized farmworkers their lawful wages, and in some cases, violated the rights of U.S. workers by giving temporary guest workers preferential treatment,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Audrey Hall in Jackson, Mississippi. “Though we were alarmed by the allegations from Black farmworkers in the Mississippi Delta, we applaud them for their willingness to come forward and shed light on these widespread violations. The courage they showed has helped workers across the Delta finally receive their long overdue wages.”
In addition to its enforcement efforts, the division conducted multiple outreach events for the Mississippi Delta Council, an area economic development organization representing 19 Delta and part-Delta counties of Northwest Mississippi. These events provided local agricultural, business and professional leaders with opportunities to work together to enhance compliance throughout the region.
“The Wage and Hour Division protects the rights of workers of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and faced with persistent poverty and inequality,” said Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta. “Collaboration with trusted partners, like the Mississippi Center for Justice, is critical to protecting these workers’ rights. The center provided important help in our efforts to protect the rights of workers whose employers denied them their full wages and protections.”
Currently, Southeast employers host the largest number of H-2A workers in the nation. In addition to the Wage and Hour Division, the expanded agriculture enforcement in the Delta region brought together federal experts from the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Employment and Training Administration and Office of the Solicitor; as well as with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and regional stakeholders, such as the Mississippi Center for Justice and the NAACP.
For more information about workers’ rights enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can call the division confidentially with questions and the division can speak with callers in more than 200 languages. 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 iOS and Android devices – free and now available in Spanish – to track hours and pay.