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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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News Release

WHD News Release: [01/25/2012]
Contact Name: Jose A. Carnevali or Deanne Amaden
Phone Number: (415) 625-2631 or x2630
Release Number: 12-0030-SAN

US Department of Labor prevents shipment of strawberries following investigation of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based labor contractor Jorge Castro Farms

Back wages recovered and penalties assessed for violations of federal laws

SAN FRANCISCO — An investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division of Santa Cruz-based farm labor contractor Jorge Castro Farms in the Salinas Valley found multiple violations of federal labor laws, including the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the housing, safety and health provisions of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Jorge Castro Farms employs migrant and seasonal agricultural workers for area strawberry growers. In this case, workers employed by the contractor harvested strawberries for Pezzini Berry Farms of Salinas, which then sold the fruit to Cal Pacific Specialty Foods in Moss Landing for sale to consumers throughout the U.S. Upon discovery of the violations, the Labor Department invoked the FLSA's "hot goods" provision to preclude the shipment of 10,000 pounds of strawberries by Cal Pacific Specialty Foods. The department released its objection to the shipment once Jorge Castro Farms had paid $34,650 in back wages owed to 25 workers and $13,900 in penalties assessed for the violations, and submitted a plan to ensure future compliance with the laws.

Investigators determined that back wages were owed after finding that Jorge Castro Farms had charged workers for rent, which had not been disclosed prior to employment as required by the MSPA and caused their wages to fall below the promised rate. Investigators also found violations related to overcrowding, electrical hazards, a substandard cooking facility and unsanitary conditions at the housing provided for the workers. Finally, a 13-year-old boy was employed during school hours to harvest strawberries with other family members. The FLSA permits children ages 12 and 13 to be employed on farms that also employ their parents, or with written permission from the parents, but only outside of school hours.

"Migrant, seasonal and temporary nonimmigrant farmworkers are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged employees we see," said Susana Rincon, director of the Wage and Hour Division's San Francisco District Office, which conducted the October investigation. "Agricultural employers must understand that the Labor Department will vigorously enforce federal labor laws, especially when it comes to minors. It's important that consumers know the food reaching their tables has been produced by employees legally old enough to work, and who were paid and treated fairly. If violations are found, we will intervene in the shipment of goods when necessary."

Whenever goods are produced in violation of the FLSA's minimum wage, overtime or child labor provisions, the Labor Department can prevent those goods from being shipped via interstate commerce, which was the case with Jorge Castro Farms. This action is commonly referred to as invoking the "hot goods" provision and is an enforcement tool that the department uses to ensure the nation's workers receive fair pay and treatment.

Most 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. Under the MSPA, each person or organization owning or controlling a facility or real property used for housing migrant workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Department of Labor. Information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf and in the Employment Law Guide at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.

Additional information on federal laws such as the MSPA and the FLSA, including child labor provisions, is available by calling the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its San Francisco office at 415-625-7720. Information also is available on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.