Throughout the pandemic, farmworkers have remained on the job throughout the nation despite potential exposures to feed Americans and support U.S. exports. As the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes National Farmworker Awareness Week March 25-31, the department’s Wage and Hour Division has launched a nationwide education, outreach and enforcement initiative to ensure workplace protections for these frontline, low-wage workers.
The initiative includes targeted outreach and education efforts to ensure that farmworkers and their advocates understand their rights and that they should contact the division to file a complaint if violations occur. The effort also focuses on educating growers, farm labor contractors, other agricultural employers and industry stakeholders to ensure that they understand their responsibilities, and that the division is available to answer their questions.
“The pandemic has had disproportionate impact on low-wage, essential workers, including the agricultural workers whose work feeds all of us,” said Wage and Hour Division Principal Deputy Administrator Jessica Looman. “National Farmworker Awareness Week honors the vital contributions these workers make and reminds us of the issues they face. The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to ensuring industry employers comply with federal labor laws and that they pay farmworkers all of their hard-earned wages.”
In addition to education and outreach, the initiative’s compliance component seeks to reduce agricultural industry violations through enforcement. In fiscal year 2020, the Wage and Hour Division conducted more than 1,000 investigations in agriculture and found more than $7 million in back wages owed to more than 11,000 workers. In its investigations, the division assessed employers with more than $6 million in civil money penalties.
In addition to recovering back wages and assessing penalties, the division takes other enforcement actions. When appropriate, the division will suspend, revoke or withhold renewal of contractor’s farm labor certificates after multiple violations of the Migrant Seasonal Protection Actor if they fail to comply with a final order requiring the payment of a civil money penalty. The division may also debar H-2A employers that fail to comply with program requirements from participation for up to three years.
For more information about MSPA, H-2A and other laws enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available at http://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd, including an Agricultural Compliance Assistance Toolkit.