ALBANY, N.Y. – The U.S. Department of Labor has recovered $37,103 in back wages for 86 workers employed by three agricultural industry employers — a Wayne County farm, a Michigan farm labor contractor and a Genesee County warehouse operator — whose employment practices shortchanged their wages and denied monies owed to them under federal regulations protecting temporary farmworkers.
The wage recovery began with an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division at Lake Breeze Fruit Farms Inc. in Sodus, where the division determined the employer did not pay certain salaried employees — non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act — the proper overtime rate for hours over 40 in workweeks when they handled other farms’ goods. Investigators also found the employer failed to keep accurate records of salaried non-exempt employees’ work hours, as required. To resolve its FLSA violations, Lake Breeze Fruit Farms paid $6,177 in back wages to 54 workers.
The division also learned that workers at the farm under the federal H-2A temporary agricultural program labored seven days a week but the employer did not pay them overtime for working on their day of rest, a violation of Lake Breeze’s promise to follow New York state law as part of its H-2A obligations. Investigators also determined that, while Lake Breeze kept a record of total weekly hours worked, they failed to record daily hours worked, an H-2A program requirement. The employer paid an additional $4,339 in back wages to 54 employees for these violations.
During their investigation, division investigators met workers from D Perez Harvesting LLC, a Three Rivers, Michigan, labor contractor that supplied the farm’s H-2A workers. They learned the contractor paid workers a piece rate for the number of bushels of apples picked which led the workers to be paid less than federal adverse effect wage rates.
The division also found D Perez Harvesting did not pay H-2A workers required expenses for travel from its Michigan location to the New York job site. The contractor also failed to reimburse workers fully for the cost of transportation back to their place of residency at the work contract’s end and did not pay for workers’ required expenses for their trips home. To resolve these H-2A violations, D Perez Harvesting paid $25,201 owed to 78 employees.
In yet another finding, investigators encountered people employed by Farm Fresh First LLC of Oakfield working in the office and grading shed at Lake Breeze. The division found the employer, a farm product warehousing and storage company, failed to pay overtime to one salaried non-exempt employee and to keep records of their work hours. Farm Fresh First paid $1,385 in back wages to one worker to resolve the FLSA violations.
In addition to the back wage recoveries, the division assessed Lake Breeze Fruit Farms Inc. with $1,636 in civil money penalties and D Perez Harvesting LLC with $4,703 in civil money penalties for their H-2A violations, which both employers have paid.
“Employers who benefit from the H-2A temporary agricultural program must know and follow lawful, established pay practices. Workers in this program provide critical labor for New York’s agriculture industry needs. Their employers must pay H-2A workers as their contracts require and provide them with what they need to live and work safely,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Jay Rosenblum in Albany, New York.
“Violations like those found in these investigations are preventable with knowledge and due diligence,” Rosenblum added. “Employers unsure of their responsibilities under the H-2A program and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division should feel free to contact us.”
The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Learn more about the H-2A program’s requirements and worker protections.
The Buffalo Area Office of the division’s Albany, New York, District Office conducted the investigation.