DOL: Arizona grower housed workers in “inhumane” conditions
An Arizona agricultural company that made its workers sleep in dangerously overcrowded and overheated converted school buses -- instead of the mobile housing units it promised on its H-2A visa application – has been hit with a preliminary injunction by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
G Farms, its owner, and three other defendants are accused of providing illegal and life-threatening living conditions to agricultural workers in El Mirage, Arizona.
Temps in buses exceeding 100 degrees
G Farms claimed in its H-2A visa application that it would provide shelter for its workers in mobile housing units. Instead, G Farms appears to have forced its workers to sleep in converted school buses and semi-truck trailers in violation of numerous safety, sanitation and fire code regulations. The buses and trailers also appeared to be dangerously overcrowded, with beds stacked end-to-end, and had inadequate ventilation systems, which allowed daytime temperatures to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“What G Farms is accused of doing is simply inhumane,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “No worker deserves to be treated this way. And honest employers cannot compete against those who break the law by underpaying and mistreating their workers.”
Workers were lied to
“The conditions here were truly shocking and posed a serious threat to the lives of these farmworkers, who appear to have been expressly lied to before they arrived about the nature of their accommodations. The carelessness shown for the ability of these workers to survive until the next work day is as troubling as the abuse by this employer and recruiting agents of the strict requirements of the H-2A visa program. Violation of this federal law also hurts American workers who might well want these jobs if the employers provided safe housing and fair wages, and harms law-abiding employers who pay and treat workers fairly,” said Janet Herold, regional solicitor in San Francisco.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona granted the preliminary injunction on May 19, 2017, following a request submitted May 12, 2017, by the department’s Office of the Solicitor. The department continues to investigate the violations and has also been in contact with its Office of Inspector General.
What the H-2A program is
The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers, who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers, to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature.
The program requires an employer to attest to the department that it will offer a wage that equals or exceeds the highest of the following: the prevailing wage for the occupation and geographic area, applicable federal minimum wage, state minimum wage or local minimum wage. This wage will be paid to the H-2A workers and certain similarly employed U.S. workers during the entire period of the approved labor certification. The program also establishes recruitment and displacement standards to protect similarly employed U.S. workers.
For more information about the H-2A program, the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.