Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.
Date: April 4, 2013
Contact: Michael D'Aquino
U.S. Department of Labor
Wage and Hour Division
Release Number: 13-146-ATL (71)
US Department of Labor investigation uncovers unsafe housing and transportation, wage violations at two South Carolina farms
Farm labor contractor and growers assessed more than $16,000 in civil money penalties
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has uncovered wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act and violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act’s wage, housing and transportation standards following investigations at J. Robert Griggs Farms, R.D. King Farms and Jean Fisteac, a farm labor contractor. These employers were growing tobacco harvested for various cigarette brands, including Philip Morris International, Altria, doing business as Philip Morris USA, and R.J. Reynolds.
Investigators found that J. Robert Griggs Farms failed to meet minimum housing, health and safety conditions, as required by the MSPA. Among other violations, housing provided to migrant workers lacked working bathroom facilities and hot water. As a result of the violations, the department has assessed this employer $15,225 in civil money penalties.
The investigations also disclosed that farm labor contractor Fisteac failed to pay employees the required minimum wage when he paid them less than the $7.25 per hour. Fisteac has agreed to pay 33 employees $9,388 in MSPA back wages, and the department has assessed the employer $1,325 in civil money penalties.
R.D. King Farms was assessed a civil money penalty for unsafe transportation of workers, a violation of MSPA. The investigation disclosed that the grower transported migrant workers on public roadways in the open cargo bed of a pickup truck.
“This investigation should put agricultural employers on notice that the department is committed to protecting the large number of low-wage, vulnerable agricultural workers susceptible to exploitation and unfair treatment,” said Michelle Garvey, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Columbia District Office. “These workers, who are away from their families for months at a time, deserve a safe work environment and to be paid every penny they rightfully earn. Imagine trying to feed your family on less than the minimum wage. Employers in this industry need to understand that the department will use every enforcement tool at our disposal to enforce federal labor laws and to ensure an honest day’s work receives an honest day’s pay.”
The employers have agreed to future compliance with MSPA standards and to pay all back wages and civil money penalties owed.
Teams of investigators will continue to visit South Carolina fields and packing houses to assess compliance among facility owners, growers, farm labor contractors and other business entities providing services to these agricultural operations. Thorough inspections of migrant housing units, vehicles, employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with all applicable child and agricultural labor standards.
When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including litigation, liquidated damages and civil money penalties, to recover workers’ wages and ensure accountability under the law.
In addition, the division is conducting outreach to inform agricultural workers of their rights under federal labor laws. It is collaborating with community groups, state agencies, employer and industry organizations, and local officials to provide industrywide compliance assistance with all applicable agricultural labor standards, child labor restrictions, H-2A regulatory requirements and joint employer responsibilities.
Accessible and searchable information on enforcement activities by the department is available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov/search.
Most employees engaged in agriculture are covered by federal law because they produce goods for interstate commerce. 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. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the department. A fact sheet on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf.
The investigation was conducted by the Wage and Hour Division’s Columbia District Office. For more information about FLSA and other federal labor laws, call the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Columbia District Office at 803-765-5981. Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
U.S. Department of Labor releases are accessible on the Internet at www.dol.gov. The information in this news release will be made available in alternate format (large print, Braille, audio tape or disc) from the COAST office upon request. Please specify which news release when placing your request at (202) 693-7828 or TTY (202) 693-7755. The Labor Department is committed to providing America’s employers and employees with easy access to understandable information on how to comply with its laws and regulations. For more information, please visit www.dol.gov/compliance.