WHD News Release: [11/14/2011]
Contact Name: Michael D’Aquino or Michael Wald
Phone Number: (404) 562-2076 or x2078
Release Number: 11-1518-ATL
US Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division conducts Mississippi enforcement initiative to protect rights of farmworkers, educate employers
Initiative also focuses on cotton gins, supporting operations during annual harvest
JACKSON, Mississippi The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is conducting an enforcement initiative focused on Mississippi's agricultural industry and related operations, such as cotton gins, in which the division previously has found widespread labor violations. The goal of this multi-year initiative is to increase employer compliance and remind workers of their rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A temporary nonimmigrant worker program.
Significant and persistent noncompliance has affected many vulnerable workers, including migrant or seasonal laborers, low wage earners and those with limited English language proficiency. Since 2008, the division's Gulf Coast District Office in Birmingham, Ala., has conducted nearly 150 investigations of agricultural and supporting operations in its jurisdiction, which includes Mississippi, recovering $271,332 in back wages for 571 employees.
Based on the findings of these investigations, the division is particularly concerned about the severity of noncompliance in Mississippi's cotton ginning industry. Investigators discovered that many employees worked long hours often 12 hours a day for up to seven days a week during the fall cotton ginning season without receiving proper overtime compensation, as required under the FLSA. Other common violations found included failing to inform employees of their rights under the law, maintain accurate records of pay and hours worked, pay overtime to non-agricultural workers, provide wage statements or pay wages when due, post housing conditions on employer-furnished migrant housing units, and ensure such facilities meet federal housing safety and health standards as required under the MSPA.
"The goal of these enforcement efforts is to protect agricultural workers and those in related industries who are often denied the pay legally guaranteed to them by the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal labor laws," said Ken Stripling, the director of the division's Gulf Coast office who also oversees the Jackson District Office in Mississippi. "These investigations also help ensure a level playing field and protect the interests of law-abiding employers who play by the rules and pay fair wages."
Under this initiative, teams of Wage and Hour Division investigators are assessing compliance among facility owners, operators, farm labor contractors and all other business entities providing support to these agricultural operations throughout Mississippi. Thorough inspections of migrant worker housing units, transportation vehicles, employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with all applicable agricultural labor standards. When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action including litigation, civil money penalties and 'hot goods' embargos to recover workers' wages and ensure accountability under the law.
In addition, the division is conducting outreach to inform agricultural workers of their rights, and is collaborating with community groups, state agencies, employer organizations and local officials to do so. The division also is committed to providing compliance assistance and education to employers and industry associations, such as the Delta Council and the Southern Cotton Ginning Association, on all applicable agricultural labor standards, child labor restrictions, H-2A regulatory requirements and joint-employer responsibilities. In July, investigators participated in the Delta Council's annual meeting and presented compliance information and materials to its members.
Most employees engaged in agriculture are covered by federal law because they produce goods for interstate commerce. In addition, nonexempt agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Labor Department.
The FLSA sets standards for the minimum wage, overtime payments and limitations on child labor. It requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked. Covered, nonexempt workers employed in non-agricultural occupations must be paid time and one-half their regular rates of pay, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also are required to keep accurate records of all hours worked by covered employees. Workers under the age of 18 may not be employed in any non-agricultural occupations that the Labor Department has declared hazardous. These dangerous tasks are identified by 17 hazardous occupation orders.
Additionally, whenever goods are produced in violation of the FLSA's minimum wage, overtime or child labor provisions, the Labor Department can invoke the "hot goods" provision to prevent those goods from being shipped as interstate commerce.
Information about the MSPA, FLSA and H-2A program is available by contacting the division's Jackson office at 601-965-4347 or its Gulf Coast office at 205-397-7100.
Additionally, information about all of the labor laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division is available in English and Spanish by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), or by visiting its website at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
- Read this news release en Español.