Nev. onion grower to pay $2.3M in back wages

Michael P. Tremoglie Jul. 12, 2012, 6:00am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - The Department of Labor has announced that a Nevada onion grower will pay a record total of $2,338,700 in back wages to 1,365 workers, along with a civil penalty of $500,000, for alleged violations of the H-2A visa program.

DOL Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin in San Francisco signed the order granting the consent findings.

"We are pleased to have reached this record agreement to pay workers the wages and expenses they are due," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said. "In order for the H-2A program to operate as intended, all employers must comply with the law."

An investigation by DOL's Wage and Hour Division determined that workers employed involved in irrigation, as well as harvesting, packing and shipping onions sold in grocery stores nationwide, were not paid properly for work performed.

All were Mexicans who came to the USA using the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. Generally, their earnings were less than the hourly wage required by the program, as well as below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for a brief period of time. The workers were allegedly not paid for time spent in mandatory pesticide training or reimbursed for subsistence expenses while traveling to and from the U.S. Additionally, their return transportation costs at the end of the contract period were not paid, as was required, it is alleged.

According to the DOL, theH-2A temporary agricultural worker program assists employers who anticipate domestic worker shortages to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the USA to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work. Employers must declare that domestic workers are not available and that the foreign workers are not adversely affecting wages and working.

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