Migrant workers in the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program provide critical seasonal labor on farms across California, spending weeks away from home doing the grueling work needed to support the state’s $49 billion agricultural industry.
The H-2A program allows employers who anticipate a shortage of U.S.-based workers to bring workers here from other countries to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. An ongoing U.S. Department of Labor effort has revealed some California vegetable farms have not been providing H-2A workers with the pay and benefits, and personal protections the law requires.
In a series of investigations from April 2020 to February 2022 by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, several farms were found to be failing to meet their responsibilities under the H-2A program. The investigations found five farmers failed to provide meals or kitchen facilities, did not pay required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs, and allowed workers to be transported unsafely. The division also determined some farms shortchanged workers’ wages and failed to provide a contract to workers as required or did not abide by the terms of workers’ contracts.
The five investigations led to the recovery of $225,114 in back wages for 588 workers, and assessments of $54,617 in penalties. They also yielded findings and administrative settlements with the following employers:
- Adam Bros Farming in Santa Maria: Failed to provide meals or kitchen facilities, transportation and meal costs. Did not provide contract at time of hire, failed to pay all required wages and unlawfully deducting meal costs, including when meals were not provided. Failed to comply with other state and federal law. The employer paid $94,146 in back wages to 30 employees, and $7,862 in penalties.
- Boavista Farms in Santa Maria: Failed to pay required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs. Did not provide contract at time of hire and failed to pay all required wages and comply with other state and federal law. Boavista Farms was ordered to pay $43,297 in back wages to 28 employees, and $5,361 in penalties.
- Profresco Inc. in Santa Maria: Failed to pay all required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs, and transportation failed to meet safety requirements. Failed to satisfy requirements of the job order by not stating actual terms and conditions and failed to comply with other state and federal law as applicable. Profresco Farms paid $50,789 in back wages to 471 employees, and $7,505 in penalties.
- SARC in Nipomo: Failed to pay inbound transportation and meal costs and made improper deductions for meals and unpaid hours worked. Did not ensure health and safety standards, and prepared meals failed to meet local health standards causing some workers to become ill after consuming spoiled lunch. SARC also failed to provide personal protective equipment and supplies to workers. The employer paid $34,996 in back wages to 42 employees, and $13,160 in penalties.
- Togliatti Farms LLC in San Martin: Failed to pay for required inbound transportation and did not pay the required rate of pay. Failed to maintain required records and did not comply with pay statement requirements. Failed to contact former U.S. employees to solicit their return to the job as required and did not post H-2A information visibly for workers to see. Provided housing that failed to meet safety and health requirements. Togliatti Farms was ordered to pay $1,885 in back wages to 17 workers, and $20,729 in penalties. The employer also agreed to future compliance and paid all monetary liabilities.
“Employers that benefit from the H-2A guest worker program must be aware of all their responsibilities,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “Agricultural workers employed under the H-2A program must be paid as their contracts require and be provided with what they need to live and work safely while contributing critical labor to California’s agriculture industry.”
Nationally, the Wage and Hour Division investigated 735 cases with H-2A violations in the last two fiscal years.These investigations recovered $9,092,624 in back wages for 13,408 workers and assessed $9,520,624 in civil penalties from employers for violations of federal labor laws.
For more information about farmworkers’ rights and laws enforced by the division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). The division enforces the law regardless of a worker’s immigration status and can speak confidentially with callers in more than 200 languages. Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.