ATLANTA – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is currently engaged in an education and enforcement initiative to increase compliance with federal labor laws in the Southeast’s agricultural industry. In addition to enforcement activity, the initiative provides compliance assistance to employers and educates workers and other stakeholders.
The division, together with industry stakeholders in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee is exploring a variety of methods to raise industry awareness and provide information and tools to increase compliance. Outreach by division representatives has included regional educational events hosted by local fruit and vegetable growers’ associations. In the months ahead, outreach will extend to various commodity groups, trade associations, and farmworker advocates. Compliance assistance and enforcement work hand-in-hand, and data supports the need for the division’s focus on both fronts.
In calendar year 2020, investigators in the division’s Southeast Region found violations in 78 percent of the more than 280 investigations they completed of agricultural employers. These investigations found that the employers owed more than $2.7 million to more than 4,400 employees, and led the division to assess more than $3 million in civil money penalties. During the same period, the division debarred seven Southeast growers and farm labor contractors from eligibility to participate in the H-2A temporary labor certification agricultural guest worker program. In addition, the department liquidated more than $250,000 in employer surety bonds to secure back wages owed to workers.
“Vulnerable, low-wage farm workers deserve to be paid every penny they have earned, and to work in safe environments,” said Wage and Hour Division Regional Administrator Juan Coria, in Atlanta. “These workers have kept our country moving forward under very difficult circumstances. Our work ensures that they are both protected and respected, and levels the playing field for employers throughout this vital industry. No one should gain an unfair economic advantage by skirting the rules.”
Federal law empowers the division to suspend, revoke or withhold renewal of farm labor certificates for contractors that commit multiple violations under the Migrant Seasonal Protection Act or that fail to comply with a final order requiring the payment of a civil money penalty for a violation. Employers are encouraged to review the MSPA eligible farm labor contractor and H-2A debarment lists prior to contracting for labor.
The Wage and Hour 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 MSPA, H-2A and other laws enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd.