The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has fined nine farms and 17 farm labor contractors doing business in Bladen and Craven counties, N.C., for violating federal labor law, including employing children as young as eight years old as farm laborers.
The investigation is part of the agency's ongoing agricultural initiative aimed at protecting the rights of farm workers under provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).
Five of the nine agricultural employers were found to have employed underage workers. They are: Blueberry Hill Farms, Carter Farms, Morris Bros. Blueberry Farms, Nelson's Blueberry Farm and Thomas Milton Smith. Two of the 17 farm labor contractors â€” Macendonio Hernandez and Jesus Moto Serrano â€” were also cited for child labor violations.
Other employer violations include failure to disclose terms and conditions of employment as required by MSPA, recordkeeping violations and violations of federal minimum wage law. Penalties imposed against the 26 employers total $31,445 in addition to $40,010 in back wages owed to 428 farm workers.
"Agricultural employers in North Carolina must understand that the Labor Department will vigorously enforce federal labor laws whenever we find that employees are illegally employed," said Richard Blaylock, district director of the Wage and Hour Division in Raleigh. "Agricultural employment is particularly dangerous for children, and the rules for their employment must be followed," he added.
Under federal law, youths ages 16 and above may work in any farm job at any time, and youths of any age may work at any time in any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. Other youths aged 14 and 15 may work outside school hours in jobs not declared hazardous by the secretary of labor. There are special requirements for employing youths under age 14.
In July, the Wage and Hour Division cited an Arkansas farmer for illegally employing children to pick blueberries. That case, involving Caston Blueberry Partnership, was resolved when the employer paid $2,282 in fines.
Laborers as young as eight-years-old discovered working N.C. farm fields (8/11)
August 11, 2009