HARRISONVILLE, NJ – A judge in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) has ordered a Harrisonville, New Jersey, tomato farm to pay $49,423 in back wages to 62 farmworkers, the majority of which the employer recruited from Mexico as temporary foreign workers on H-2A visas. The judge also ordered the employer to pay $7,634 in civil money penalties.
The order affirms an investigation by the Department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) that found Bald Eagle Farms violated the labor provisions of the H-2A visa program. Specifically, the employer failed to reimburse workers for the reasonable cost of daily subsistence incurred during their travel from their home country to the farm. Bald Eagle Farms also failed to provide free and convenient access to kitchen facilities, forcing workers to buy meals from the employer’s agent. The employer also failed to provide workers with a copy of their work contracts before they applied for their visas, as the law requires. Bald Eagle Farms also housed workers in unsanitary conditions, with insect infestation, broken windows and other hazards found present during WHD’s inspection.
“The H-2A program specifically requires employers to ensure workers have appropriate, clean and safe housing and working conditions, and that they are paid the wages they have legally earned,” said Wage and Hour District Director Charlene Rachor in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “The Wage and Hour Division offers employers a wide range of tools to help them understand their responsibilities, and provides direct support by phone and online for anyone with specific questions about how to comply.”
“The outcome of this case goes a long way in making these employees whole, and puts other employers in the industry on notice that they must abide by their obligations under the H-2A program,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff, in New York.
Stay in Compliance
As employers utilizing the program are held to increasingly high standards, H-2A compliance is more crucial than ever. While many employers believe themselves to be in compliance, a third party may be able to provide a more accurate picture. The expert team at Phoenix Labor has over 30 years of H-2 experience, meaning we can help to ensure you are taking all of the right steps and that all of your pieces are in place.