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Judge Orders New Jersey Farm to Pay Back Wages and Penalties Following Labor Investigation

-Editorial

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.

The WHD’s Southern New Jersey District Office investigated the case, and Amanda Wilmsen and Allison Bowles of the Department’s Regional Solicitor’s Office litigated.

The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the lawful admission of temporary, nonimmigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. H-2A employers must provide housing at no cost to H-2A workers and to workers in corresponding employment who are not reasonably able to return to their residence within the same day. If the employer elects to secure rental (public) accommodations for such workers, the employer is required to pay all housing-related charges directly to the housing’s management. In addition, employers are required either to provide each covered worker with three meals per day at no more than a Department-specified cost or to furnish free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities where workers can prepare their own meals.

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