Two Turlock agriculture businesses have been fined by the U.S. Department of Labor for violations of the temporary worker program, including failing to pay them the full amount and provide safe housing.
A recent investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor found numerous violations of the H-2A agricultural worker program by Roberto Perez Farms and Perez Bros Farms Inc. in Turlock.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found the employers: Illegally rejected domestic workers; failed to pay the required H-2A rate to workers hired alongside H-2A visa workers; did not provide H-2A workers with at least three-quarters of the work hours guaranteed on their contracts, and pay them the wages the program requires; failed to reimburse H-2A workers for inbound and outbound transportation, visa and border crossing fees, as the law requires; made illegal deductions from pay; and failed to maintain complete records, as required.
The division also determined that the employers transported workers in unsafe vehicles with bald tires and inoperable lights, and housed workers in unsafe and overcrowded conditions. Investigators also found Roberto Perez Farms and Perez Bros Farms Inc. failed to disclose all conditions of employment, provide wage statements to workers and pay wages when due, all violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
The investigation recovered $82,616 in back wages for 92 workers and led the department to assess $36,765 in civil money penalties against the two California agricultural employers for multiple violations of the H-2A guest worker program.
Section 218 of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the lawful admission into the United States of temporary, nonimmigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can approve an employer's petition for such workers, the employer must file an application with the Department’s Employment and Training Administration stating, among other things, that there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available, and that the employment of aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers similarly employed in the U.S.
Any employer using H-2A workers must have initially attempted to find U.S. workers to fill these jobs. H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment must be paid special rates of pay that vary by locality, must be provided housing and transportation from that housing to the job site if their employment requires them to be away from their residence overnight, and must be guaranteed an offer of employment for a total number of hours equal to at least 75% of the work period specified in the contract.
“Agricultural employers violate basic labor laws when they reject domestic workers and instead use, abuse and steal the hard-earned wages and limited funds of guest workers,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Cesar Avila in Sacramento. “These violations are all too common in the agricultural industry. The Wage and Hour Division will continue to use every enforcement tool available to hold accountable those taking advantage vulnerable farmworkers and putting their health at risk.”
In fiscal year 2021, the Wage and Hour Division conducted 1,000 investigations of agricultural employers, recovering more than $8.4 million in back wages for 10,000 and assessing $7 million in penalties.