SEATTLE – A U.S. Department of Labor investigation that uncovered a farm labor contractor’s already costly failures to protect migrant and seasonal agricultural workers took an unexpected turn when investigators found the same employer had denied 165 farm laborers more than $80,000 in overtime wages for hours spent cleaning the popular Gorge Amphitheater.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found Espinoza Contractor LLC – owned by Guillermo Espinoza – violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act when they did not pay 49 workers their wages when due, failed to disclose working conditions to the migrant workers in writing and did not record transportation fees deducted from workers’ pay accurately. Espinoza also transported workers without authorization and failed to ensure drivers who transported workers had required documents. The employer also did not register as farm labor contractor or register the workers as required.
Part of the division’s nationwide enforcement and outreach initiative to protect agricultural workers’ rights, the investigation led the division to assess Espinoza $61,896 in civil penalties.
During its investigation, the division learned Espinoza Contractor LLC was under contract to provide farm laborers to clean the Gorge Amphitheater in George. Investigators determined that the employer failed to pay 165 workers, some who worked up to 90 hours each week, overtime rates for hours over 40 in a workweek, a Fair Labor Standards Act violation.
The investigation into the unpaid wages led the division to recover $83,298 in back wages for the affected underpaid workers.
“Our investigation found that Espinoza Contractor LLC failed to meet its legal obligations to its workers to provide them safe transportation in an industry with a history of farmworkers being hurt or killed while being transported, and, failed to pay them their rightful wages as farmworkers and cleaning workers at the Gorge Amphitheater,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Thomas Silva in Seattle. “This case is an egregious example of how scofflaws, such as Espinoza, take advantage of some of our economy’s most vulnerable workers, The U.S. Department of Labor will hold such violators accountable and is committed in protecting and defending workers’ rights.”
In fiscal year 2021, the division recovered more than $8.4 million for more than 10,000 agricultural industry workers, which the department ranks 5th on its list of 15 low-wage, high violation industries, based on back wages recovered.
Based in Othello, Espinoza Contractor LLC is a farm and general labor contractor that has provided hundreds of workers to 185 clients over the last three years.