ATLANTA – An administrative law judge has entered a consent order following a U.S. Department of Labor investigation that determined a wholesale plant nursery in Miami gave foreign visa workers preferential treatment over U.S. workers, and housed workers in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in Greensboro, Georgia.
The action by the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges counters Pure Beauty Farms Inc.’s attempt to challenge an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, which identified several violations of the federal H-2A program that allows U.S. agricultural employers to temporarily hire foreign workers to meet labor demands when U.S. workers cannot fill positions.
Pure Beauty Farms grows more than 1,000 different varieties of plants in Greensboro and in Houston, and supplies large retailers, such as the Home Depot, and other independent garden centers and retailers, as well as landscapers and theme parks in eight states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
The division’s investigations found the employer:
Gave preferential treatment to H-2A program workers by requiring U.S. applicants to have certain nursery work experience and to provide references, steps not required for foreign workers. The employer rejected 29 U.S. applicants as a result, including several who previously performed the same job for Pure Beauty.
Failed to satisfy requirements of the job order by not stating actual contract terms and conditions by failing to disclose the address of the workers’ housing camp.
Neglected to provide two employees with copies of the Georgia work contract.
Excluded work hours and the federal tax identification number required on pay stubs.
Provided housing that violated safety and health requirements. Investigators found living quarters with excessive debris, fire alarms without batteries, water and mold damage, floors with holes, unclean restrooms and food storage, and a lack of proper lighting.
To resolve the H-2A violations, the department assessed Pure Beauty Farms $182,811 in penalties and required the employer to enter into a consent judgment. The agreement commits the employer to future compliance with the H-2A provisions, including oversight by an independent, third-party consultant to monitor and audit all Pure Beauty H-2A labor contractor and H-2A activities for a period of three years. The department also recovered $17,651 in back wages that investigators found was owed to one worker.
“Retailers and consumers may be troubled to learn how some agricultural employers treat the people whose hard work produces the products they purchase,” said Wage and Hour Division Director Steven Salazar in Atlanta. “The federal H-2A program exists to help employers fill jobs in the agricultural industry when they can’t find U.S. workers. Too often, our investigators discover violations and abuses, and find U.S. workers have been illegally bypassed in the recruitment and hiring process.”
“In this case, we also found the employer housed workers in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, which is unacceptable, and which contributed to significant penalties for the Pure Beauty Farms,” Salazar added. “Clearly, the consequences of violating the law can be very costly. We encourage employers to contact us with questions and to seek assistance to prevent infractions.”
The division offers multiple compliance assistance resources, including an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit, to provide employers the information they need to comply with the law.
For more information about the FLSA and other employee rights enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions regardless of where they are from and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages. Help ensure hours worked and pay are accurate by downloading the department’s Android and iOS Timesheet App for free, also available in Spanish.