$457,000 in Back Wages and Penalties to be Paid by Agricultural Employer in Wage and Hour Violation Case

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sierra-Cascade Nursery Inc. has agreed to pay $287,800 in back wages to 430 temporary workers and $169,200 in civil money penalties following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. Investigators found that the Susanville-based agricultural employer did not pay its workers properly under the H-2A temporary nonimmigrant worker program, and violated federal housing safety and health regulations required under the program. The employer signed consent findings that have been approved by the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges in San Francisco.

"All employers must honor their legal obligations not only to domestic workers but also to workers coming into the U.S. under the H-2A visa program," said Richard Newton, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Sacramento District Office, which conducted the investigation. "Migrant, seasonal and temporary nonimmigrant farmworkers are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged employees we see. It's important that consumers know the food reaching their tables was produced by employees paid fairly for their work. This investigation, and the resulting back wages, consent findings and penalties, underscore the department's commitment to using any and all enforcement tools at our disposal to protect the rights of employees."

Sierra-Cascade used the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program to hire temporary workers to sort, count and trim strawberry seedlings and plants at the company's Tulelake and Susanville facilities. Sierra-Cascade grows seedlings in California and Oregon, and ships the plants to growers for replanting throughout the United States, Mexico and Spain.

The investigation found that Sierra-Cascade gave the workers an incomplete copy of their work contracts and changed the conditions of employment originally promised. Workers were not consistently paid for the time they were required to wait to board buses to and from the work sites. The employer also did not maintain records of daily start and end times for the workers, and did not pay required wages when due. In some instances, only records of production were kept, without any records of hours worked.

The investigation further determined that Sierra-Cascade discriminated against 23 of the workers at its Tulelake facility for asserting on their own behalf rights or protections afforded by the Immigration and Nationality Act and applicable regulations. Finally, the employer was cited for failure to ensure housing safety and health when the investigation disclosed that provided housing did not have heat at a time when outside temperatures were below freezing, for employing H-2A workers in positions outside of those included in their job orders and for employing H-2A workers without first conducting required recruitment of U.S. workers.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that there are not sufficient domestic workers available and that the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. Employers using the H-2A program must meet a number of specific conditions for recruiting, paying, housing, feeding and transporting workers. 

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