Farm Labor Contractor Owes $79K Penalty After Fatal Crash

The California Highway Patrol determined that a blown tire combined with a missing seatbelt led to the tragedy where one farm worker died and six were injured.

U.S. Department of Labor
Farm Workers Labor Istock

SAN DIEGO, CA – Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD), the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has entered a consent judgment requiring Healthy Harvesting Inc. and Fernando Pineda Garcia to pay $79,153 in civil penalties for violations of the Migrant Seasonal Workers Protection Act (MSPA). The action stems from a vehicle accident where a van overturned, killing one worker and injuring six others in March 2017, near Calexico, California.

WHD investigators found Healthy Harvesting Inc. - a farm labor contractor - and owner Fernando Pineda Garcia failed to provide safe transportation to and from the fields for workers at Fisher Ranch. Under MSPA, farm labor contractors are required to protect workers from unqualified drivers and travel in unsafe vehicles.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) determined that a blown tire combined with a missing seatbelt led to the tragedy. Investigators found that a second van tire was bald, and that two wheels were missing lug nuts leaving two wheels not fully secured to the vehicle. CHP also found the driver lacked a commercial driver's license and operated the vehicle with a suspended personal driver's license.

In addition to the payment, the consent judgment also requires Healthy Harvesting Inc. and Fernando Pineda Garcia to:

  • Provide a notice to workers about their rights;
  • Train supervisors and foremen on their obligations under MSPA; and
  • Hire an independent monitor to report on defendants' compliance with MSPA.

"Farm labor contractors must provide safe transportation to workers to prevent these types of tragic and avoidable deaths in the future," said U.S. Department of Labor Regional Solicitor Janet Herold, in Los Angeles, California. "Farmworkers should not be putting their lives on the line simply by going to work, being transported to and from the fields by unqualified drivers using unsafe vehicles."

"The Wage and Hour Division provides multiple tools for agricultural employers describing their responsibilities to ensure they understand how to comply with the law," said Rodolfo Cortez, Wage and Hour Division District Director in San Diego, California. "We encourage all employers to reach out to us for confidential assistance at any time."

This is the second consent judgment entered by the court in this case. In July 2018, the court ordered Fisher Ranch LLC to pay $21,168 in back wages and $49,104 in civil money penalties.

To operate legally as farm labor contractors, individuals and companies must register with the U.S. Department of Labor. Farm labor contractors that intend to house, transport, or drive a migrant or seasonal agricultural worker must meet special requirements. Application materials and instructions are available online.

Employees and employers with questions about the MSPA or any of the federal laws administered by the Division should call the agency's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). All calls are confidential. More information also is available online.

WHD's mission is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation's workforce. WHD enforces the federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WHD also enforces the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration related statutes. Additionally, WHD administers and enforces the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act, and other statutes applicable to federal contracts for construction and for the provision of goods and services.