A New Jersey farm’s use of children younger than 12 years of age to do agricultural work was just one of the violations found during investigations conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
Those violations – which included a number of safety and health issues – resulted in administrative law judges ordering Anthony DiMeo and William DiMeo, owners of Columbia Fruit Farms Inc. and crew leader Sorel Rinvil to pay $28,449 plus interest in civil penalties.
The division investigated the Hammonton blueberry farm as part of its annual inspection of migrant farms in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and cited violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, including the farm's failure to post housing conditions and ensure housing safety and health, use of an unregistered crew leader, overcrowding, failure to provide safe transport, failure to ensure drivers were licensed and failure to register employees. The farm also was cited for employing individuals under the age of 12 and not maintaining a record of these minor employees, which is required under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as failing to meet field sanitation requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
An order approving settlement was signed on Jan. 20, 2011, by Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney. The matter before the commission was prompted by a Wage and Hour Division investigation under the field sanitation standards of the OSH Act. A second order was signed by Department of Labor Chief Administrative Law Judge Stephen L. Purcell on May 20, 2011, also after investigation and findings of violation by the Wage and Hour Division. Under the orders, in addition to paying the civil money penalties, Anthony and William DiMeo have agreed to ensure that any facility or real-property they own or control that is used as housing for migrant agricultural workers complies with federal and state safety and health standards applicable to that housing; ensure that facilities they own or control which are used as housing for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers are certified by state or local authority as meeting applicable safety and health standards and have a certificate of occupancy; and ensure that vehicles used to transport migrant or seasonal agricultural workers comply with federally mandated motor safety standards. In addition, they must ensure that farm labor contractors or any other people who drive vehicles used to transport migrant and seasonal agricultural workers have a valid and appropriate state-issued driver's license; that each vehicle used to transport migrant and seasonal agricultural workers has an insurance policy; and that any farm labor contractor or employee of a farm labor contractor is registered.
Rinvil, a farm labor contractor who led a crew of farm workers for Columbia Farms, has agreed that he will not perform any farm labor contracting activity without first obtaining a certificate or registration from the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division or perform any farm labor contracting activity that is not authorized by the certificate of registration.
"This precedent-setting agreement will go a long way in protecting the interests of workers employed by this farm, as well as others in the industry," said Patrick Reilly, director of the division's Southern New Jersey District Office. "The Labor Department is committed to using all legal options to ensure that violators of federal laws are held accountable."
In working with the Wage and Hour Division, in an effort to address the violations, Columbia Fruit Farms has taken several steps to ensure full compliance with MSPA. The farm has constructed five new buildings for migrant housing and purchased an additional farm with housing facilities, bringing the total number of housing units to 400 occupants. Also, as part of a three-year plan that began in 2007, the farm constructed new bathroom and kitchen facilities, adding 28 showers, 48 washtubs and a new kitchen at one of the camp sites. Lockers were installed at all facilities in direct response to a deficiency noted in the Wage and Hour Division's inspection.
The Wage and Hour Division enforces worker protection laws that include the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act's field sanitation and temporary labor camp provisions. The FLSA sets standards for minimum wage, overtime compensation and child labor. The law allows, with restrictions, the employment of individuals between ages 12 and 16 as farmworkers. There are no restrictions on workers age 16 and older employed in farm jobs. The FLSA prohibits the employment of most individuals under age 16 in hazardous occupations. Youths of any age may work at any time and perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. Otherwise, individuals under age 12 may not be employed in farm activities.