A Nebraska farm has been found in violation of federal law and will pay nearly 100 workers almost $70,000 in unpaid wages and pay nearly $90,000 in civil penalties for violating federal wage laws.
The United States Department of Labor reports Heldt Produce of Ashland did not pay temporary foreign guest workers properly and paid their American counterparts even worse.
Heldt Produce raises melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash.
The department’s Labor Wage and Hour Division found that Heldt paid 94 workers $68,898 less than they earned. The farm will also pay $89,700 in civil penalties for willful violations of wage laws.
“The agricultural industry employs many low-wage, vulnerable and transient workers of whom employers take advantage. These workers are often victims of labor violations and disparate treatment,” said Karen Chaikin, regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division in Chicago, in a written statement released by the Department of Labor. “The department is committed to protecting the rights of all workers employed in this country. This case shows we will use all tools available, including penalty assessments, to remedy violations, promote accountability and ensure a level playing field for law-abiding employers and legitimate users of foreign-worker programs.”
Investigators from Des Moines and Omaha District Offices found Heldt violated the following H-2A temporary agricultural employment program provisions and the Fair Labor Standards Act:
-Unlawfully allowing a labor broker to demand and receive recruitment fees. Some workers paid a fee to a recruiter in Mexico to obtain a job.
-Failing to pay workers the rates stated in their contracts for all hours worked during the certified period of employment.
-Neglecting to pay travel expenses for foreign workers’ trips to and from the U.S. to perform the job.
-Failing to provide employees copies of work contracts.
-Collecting an illegal transportation fee from workers.
-Failing to pre-inspect temporary housing units to ensure they were safe.
-Not keeping accurate records of all hours worked.
-Failing to provide earnings statements to employees for each pay period.
-Neglecting to pay wages due to foreign and U.S. workers.
The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the lawful admission of temporary, nonimmigrant workers to the United States to work in agriculture or other seasonal or temporary services.
Employers must pay according to applicable wage rates and furnish housing. Transportation must be provided to the workers.