Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division Recovered Back Wages and Assessed Penalties for Violations of Various Labor Laws by Agricultural Industry in Florida

 
Friday, November 21, 2014
 

A multiyear enforcement initiative conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has uncovered widespread labor violations in the central Florida agricultural industry. The initiative focused on hand-harvested crops — including citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries and watermelons — where many vulnerable migrant workers are employed and recovered average back wages of $340 per worker, more than enough to buy a week's worth of groceries.

The initiative found migrant workers were often required to perform intense physical labor for long periods without compensation in violation of federal law. Other labor violations exposed these workers to unsafe transportation and unsanitary housing conditions. The investigations also found that employment conditions were not disclosed to workers. During fiscal year 2014, the division's Tampa District Office conducted 155 agricultural investigations and recovered more than $131,000 in back wages for 387 workers. The division also assessed approximately $196,000 in civil money penalties.

Under the ongoing initiative, investigators will continue to visit fields and packinghouses to assess compliance among agricultural employers, facility owners, growers, farm labor contractors and other businesses providing services to these agricultural operations. Thorough inspections of migrant housing units, vehicles, field sanitation facilities, and employment practices and pay records are being conducted to ensure compliance with applicable child and agricultural labor standards. When violations are found, the division will pursue corrective action, including litigation and the assessment of liquidated damages and civil money penalties, to recover workers' wages and ensure accountability under the law. 

These violations were committed under federal labor laws that set minimum standards for wages and disclosure of employment conditions to workers, basic standards for employers to provide safe and clean housing and safe transportation to workers, and standards for workers' access to clean drinking water and toilet facilities in the field. 

During FY14, the division is focused on educating stakeholders in the agricultural industry and continues to conduct educational outreach sessions, which provide valuable education and compliance assistance to agricultural employers, farm labor contractors and employees. 

Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which provides protections for 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. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that covered workers be paid at least the national minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. The field sanitation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act require covered employers to provide toilets, potable drinking water, hand washing facilities and information regarding good hygiene practices to their employees.

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