Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department sues Manistee County-based Grossnickle Farms for alleged wage, safety and health standards violations
KALEVA, Mich. -- The U.S. Department of Labor is taking legal action to protect migrant workers at Grossnickle Farms in Manistee County following an investigation conducted by its Wage and Hour Division. A complaint has been filed in federal court against the farming operation and its two owners, Allen and Corinne Grossnickle, alleging violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and record-keeping provisions.
Wage and Hour Division investigators determined that, since at least May 1, 2012, Grossnickle Farms has failed to maintain its migrant agricultural housing facilities, Camp in the Pines, in accordance with the MSPA. Inspections of the housing facilities disclosed evidence of several safety and health standards violations, including failing to maintain toilets in a sanitary condition and to clean them daily, not providing an adequate supply of hot water for bathing and laundry, failing to ensure all camp shelters provided protection from the elements and that all exterior openings were effectively screened with mesh material. Additionally, floors in the laundry and shower facilities were not constructed of nonslip material, and leaking water caused rotting wood and a slipping hazard.
“Allowing migrant workers to live in unsanitary facilities without sufficient hot water for bathing and laundry signals a lack of regard for the workers and puts their health and safety at risk,” said Mary O’Rourke, district director for the department’s Wage and Hour Office in Grand Rapids. “The department will use every enforcement tool available to ensure compliance with safety and health standards.”
Grossnickle Farms also allegedly violated the FLSA by paying many employees’ wages at rates less than $7.25 per hour. The violations were the result, in part, of defendants misclassifying employees as independent contractors and paying employees on a piece rate basis which, in some workweeks, was less than the minimum wage per hour. Investigators also found that the employers failed to maintain required records of employees’ names, wages and work hours, as required by the FLSA.
Grossnickle Farms is a strawberry, asparagus and cucumber farm. The company utilized 49 migrant and seasonal farm workers during the 2012 cucumber harvest. The migrant agricultural workers were mainly from Texas and Florida. The department’s lawsuit seeks to recover unpaid minimum wages owed to the affected employees and requests the court to permanently enjoin the defendants from violating the FLSA and MSPA in the future.
The Wage and Hour Division enforces the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The division also enforces the FLSA, which requires covered employers to pay nonexempt farm workers at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked.
The misclassification of workers as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers, and to the economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to state and federal Treasuries, and to the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds. More information is available on the department’s misclassification Web page at http://www.dol.gov/misclassification.
Under the FLSA, employers must distinguish employees from bona fide independent contractors. An employee, as distinguished from a person who is engaged in a business of his own, is one who, as a matter of economic reality, follows the usual path of an employee and is dependent on the business that he serves. For more information, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm.
For more information about the MSPA and FLSA, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd, or call the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.
Perez v. Grossnickle Farms LCC, Allen Grossnickle, Corinne Grossnickle
Civil Action Number 1:13-cv-00910
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