Department of Labor recovers $540K for 268 guest workers after father, son farm labor contractors denied them full wages, provide unsafe housing
RALEIGH, NC – Two federal investigations have recovered $540,221 in wages for 268 H-2A workers from a father and son, then operating as North Carolina farm labor contractors, and whose violations of federal laws included failing to pay some workers their full wages, to provide safe and adequate housing and to reimburse workers’ transportation costs.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A program, which enables agricultural employers to employ temporary non-immigrant workers, protect all people working in the U.S., including American citizens and others, regardless of immigration status.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined Becerra Enterprises Inc., owner Luis A. Becerra and his son, Luis A. Becerra Jr., who are based out of Arcadia, Florida, recruited, hired, housed and transported H-2A workers to harvest sweet potatoes, cucumbers and tobacco at Blake Edwards Roberson Farms and Taylor Grimes Farms in Robersonville and Anderson Farms in Tarboro, North Carolina.
Specifically, investigators found the employers violated H-2A regulations by failing to do the following:
- Provide employees with copies of their work contracts.
- Satisfy job orders’ requirements by including the actual terms and conditions of employment.
- Provide employees with meals or access to kitchen facilities.
- Pay the required adverse effect wage rate to two H-2A workers performing as cooks in non-agricultural duties not listed in the contract.
- Provide pay stubs to H-2A employees working as cooks; instead, the employer paid them in cash, in violation of earning records requirements.
- Disclose daily meal deductions in the H-2A contract.
The division found Becerra Jr. failed to reimburse H-2A workers for their inbound transportation expenses by the contract’s halfway point. His father failed to meet housing safety and health requirements by failing to furnish workers’ housing with first aid kits, smoke alarms and flushing toilets, exposing the workers to potential harm.
In addition to wages recovered, the division assessed $12,526 in civil money penalties to Luis A. Becerra Jr. and $21,257 in civil money penalties to Becerra Enterprises for their violations. All penalties have been fully paid. Becerra Enterprises was also debarred from participating in the H-2A program for three years.
“Farm laborers are among our nation’s most essential workers and are often vulnerable to illegal and unsafe labor practices,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Richard Blaylock in Raleigh, North Carolina. “U.S. law guarantees workers’ rights regardless of the place they call home. The Wage and Hour Division will hold employers who jeopardize agricultural workers’ safety and health and deny them their full wages accountable.”
During fiscal years 2022 to 2023, the division identified violations in over 92 percent of the 14 investigations completed in the North Carolina sweet potato agriculture industry. These investigations recovered more than $545,000 in back wages for nearly 300 workers and assessed employers over $70,000 in penalties for violations.
“The H-2A temporary agricultural program provides farmers with the additional workers they may need to put food on America’s tables,” Blaylock added. “However, this must not come at the expense of the safety and well-being of those workers. We urge growers to take proactive steps to ensure the labor contractors they hire comply fully with all regulations.”
The Wage and Hour Division offers multiple compliance assistance resources, including an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit, to provide employers the information they need to comply with the law. Employers and workers can call the division confidentially with questions using the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). The division can communicate with callers in more than 200 languages, regardless of where they are from.
The Wage and Hour Division makes every effort to locate and notify all employees due back wages. If they are unable to find an employee, those wages are held in a continued effort to locate them. If anyone believes they may be owed back wages collected by the division, they can search the division’s online database – available in English and Spanish – of workers who have been previously unlocated and may have money waiting to be claimed. Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for iOS and Android devices – free and available in English and Spanish – to ensure hours and pay are accurate.
Read this news release En Español.