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Getting Hard-Earned Wages into the Hands of Farmworkers

Wage and Hour investigator Juan Coria stands in a field. Workers are visible on a tractor behind him.

To highlight our efforts to make sure farmworkers get the wages they earn, acting Wage and Hour Division Administrator Jessica Looman is on the road this week in the Southeast region, one of America’s most productive agricultural areas. She’s here to visit agricultural stakeholders and provide compliance assistance as the division’s enforcement of agricultural labor laws ramps up for the summer.

There’s no better place for her to emphasize farmworkers’ rights than in the Southeast, which employed more H-2A workers than any other region in the country as of March 2022. Because of the Southeast’s large agricultural industry and its extensive use of the H-2A visa program, our agency has made enforcement of labor laws in agriculture a priority for the region.

To carry out its mission to protect workers’ rights, the Wage and Hour Division uses every available tool to ensure workers receive the wages they are owed. In certain agriculture cases, we have an additional tool to help us get wages into the hands of the farmworkers who earned them: liquidating H-2A labor contractor surety bonds.

Under the H-2A visa program, every H-2A labor contractor must obtain a surety bond based on the number of workers to be employed. The bond is a contract in which a surety, typically an insurance or bonding company, assumes liability for the H-2A labor contractor’s unmet financial obligations to its workers. The Wage and Hour Division can – and does – liquidate these surety bonds to recover wages owed to H-2A workers, farmworkers engaged in corresponding employment, and U.S. workers improperly rejected, laid off, or displaced because of H-2A violations. To date, we have collected nearly $1 million nationwide from liquidating surety bonds with additional collection actions pending.

I’m proud to say that our Southeastern offices have been pioneers in the use of liquidated surety bonds to get back wages into the hands of agricultural workers. From Florida to Georgia to North Carolina, we have liquidated surety bonds to collect significant amounts of back wages for many farmworkers. Not only that, but we have assessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties and debarred multiple farm labor contractors from participating in the H-2A visa program after discovering violations of workers’ rights.

These efforts ensure that workers owed back wages are compensated when an employer fails to meet their responsibilities. During the past five years, the amount of back wages owed and the number of workers owed back wages increased significantly in H-2A investigations. In 2021, we assessed more than $5.8 million in back wages for 7,430 workers in H-2A cases alone.  

With the agricultural industry in full swing as summer begins, it’s a great time to think about the rights of farmworkers who work so hard to cultivate the fruits and vegetables on our kitchen tables. Farmers, farm labor contractors and farmworkers can check out the free resources available on our website – in English and Spanish – to learn about workers’ rights and the responsibilities of agricultural employers and labor contractors. Employers should review the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act eligible farm labor contractor list and H-2A debarment list before contracting for agricultural labor.

To speak with a trained professional about farmworkers’ rights, call our toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). We answer calls confidentially and in more than 200 languages, regardless of a caller’s immigration status.

Juan Coria is the Southeast regional administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.

Sourced from Us Dept of Labor

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