The Department of Labor (DOL) announced on March 8th that a California nursery has agreed to pay $457,000 in back pay and penalties following an investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division that found violations of the H-2A temporary worker program.
Sierra-Cascade Nursery Inc., of Susanville, Calif., agreed to pay $287,800 in back wages to 430 temporary workers and $169,200 in civil money penalties after WHD concluded the employer did not pay its workers properly and violated federal housing safety and health regulations required under the H-2A program.
“All employers must honor their legal obligations not only to domestic workers but also to workers coming into the U.S. under the H-2A visa program,” said Richard Newton, director of WHD’s Sacramento district office, which conducted the investigation. “Migrant, seasonal and temporary nonimmigrant farmworkers are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged employees we see. It’s important that consumers know the food reaching their tables was produced by employees paid fairly for their work.”
Sierra-Cascade grows seedlings in California and Oregon and ships the plants to growers for replanting throughout the United States, Mexico, and Spain, according to DOL. The company used the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program to hire temporary workers to sort, count, and trim strawberry seedlings and plants at its facilities in Tulelake, Calif., and Susanville, DOL said.
The investigation found that Sierra-Cascade gave the workers an incomplete copy of their work contracts and changed the conditions of employment from those it originally promised. WHD also determined that Sierra-Cascade did not pay workers consistently for the time they were required to wait to board buses to and from the worksites and that the employer failed to maintain records of the workers’ daily start and end times and did not pay required wages when due.
The investigation further determined that Sierra-Cascade discriminated against 23 workers at its Tulelake facility for asserting protections afforded by the Immigration and Nationality Act and applicable regulations.
Sierra-Cascade also was cited because the housing it provided lacked heat; it employed H-2A workers in positions outside those included in their job orders, and it hired H-2A workers without first recruiting U.S. workers.
The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes the requirements under which agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of U.S. workers may bring nonimmigrant foreign workers into the country to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. 03.19.2012