The U.S. Department of Labor has launched a crackdown on unscrupulous employers taking advantage of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in California vineyards.
Why it matters: Recent investigations of two farm labor contractors – including Next Crop Inc. of Los Banos – and a grower by the department’s Wage and Hour Division collectively found employers failed to safely transport agricultural workers to and from the fields, violated numerous requirements of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the H-2A temporary agricultural program.
- Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the H-2A temporary agricultural program and allowed a 14-year-old child to work during school hours illegally.
- The investigations led the division to assess more than $231,881 in civil money penalties and to recover $129,081 in back wages for 353 agricultural workers.
- In fiscal year 2022, the Wage and Hour Division recovered more than $5.8 million in back wages for 8,260 workers employed in the agricultural industry.
- After 879 investigations, the division assessed employers more than $7.9 million in civil money penalties for violations of federal regulations.
- The division offers farmworker rights information, compliance assistance resources for employers and an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit to ensure compliance with the law.
- Next Crop Inc. employed an unlicensed, unauthorized and uninsured driver to transport workers. Investigators learned that while driving under the influence, he had been involved in an earlier accident in which a vehicle rollover injured several farmworkers.
- The Department of Labor also found Next Crop illegally employed a 14-year-old to work during school hours, illegally charged workers for transportation costs, did not disclose conditions of employment to workers, and failed to keep employer records or provide wage statements and pay wages when due. The division recovered $36,764 in back wages for 105 employees and assessed the labor contractor $99,067 in penalties.
What they’re saying: “The U.S. Department of Labor is determined to protect the rights of people whose labor allows California’s agricultural industry to prosper and provide products consumed throughout the U.S. and around the world,” said Wage and Hour Division Assistant District Director Alberto Raymond
- “From making sure workers are paid and treated as the law requires to make sure safe drivers transport them in safe vehicles, we are committed to holding employers accountable.”
- “As the harvest season approaches, the Wage and Hour Division is available to offer compliance assistance and answer questions from employers and workers to help them understand the federal laws that govern agricultural industry wage practices and operations,” Raymond added.