A North Carolina farm labor contractor that hired temporary workers to pick and pack melons violated federal law when it employed them in jobs not listed in its application to hire foreign guest workers, failed to provide required kitchen facilities or meals, paid insufficient wages and housed workers in overcrowded living quarters, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has found.
Division investigators found Jose Gracia Harvesting Inc., based in Four Oaks, violated several provisions of the H-2A temporary agricultural workers visa program, which allows employers to hire temporary, nonimmigrant workers for seasonal agricultural work.
The investigation led the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges to approve a settlement in which Garcia paid $13,996 in back wages to 47 workers to resolve the wage violations. The contractor has also paid a $6,861 civil penalty.
Specifically, the division found Gracia failed to:
– Comply with H-2A recruitment requirements by employing workers in supervisor, cook and bus driver positions when the job order listed only farmworkers and laborers positons.
– Provide kitchen facilities or meals to the workers as required. Instead, the contractor required workers to purchase their meals and the average daily cost of meals exceeded the maximum amount allowed.
– Pay the wage rate as offered. The contractor paid a piece rate instead of an hourly rate. As a result, total wages did not always meet the required minimum rate of $11.66 per hour.
– Keep accurate records of employees’ hours and earnings.
– Provide or secure housing for workers as required. The contractor housed workers in an overcrowded motel that lacked sufficient beds for the workers.
“Farmworkers are among the nation’s most essential workers and unfortunately some of the most vulnerable to unfair and unsafe labor practices,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Jim Cain. “This investigation underscores the department’s commitment to using any and all enforcement strategies at our disposal to protect the rights of these employees, and to level the playing field for employers who obey the law. Other employers should use the outcome of this investigation as an opportunity to review their own practices to make sure they comply with the law, and avoid violations like those found in this case.”
Jose Gracia Harvesting Inc. contracts with Melon 1, one of the nation’s largest melon brokers. Once harvested, buyers ship and distribute the melons throughout the country.
For more information about the FLSA, the H-2A program and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.