Ag workers forced to live in unsanitary, windowless housing
A Washington state agricultural employer has agreed to pay $11,100 in penalties following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division that found multiple violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act's provisions regarding housing safety and health. Azzano Orchards in Omak signed consent findings that have been approved by the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges in San Francisco.
Azzano Orchards farms and harvests apples, pears and cherries. The employer provided housing to migrant workers who were recruited, hired and employed to harvest its crops.
The investigation found that Azzano Orchards provided migrant workers with housing units that were not inspected prior to use, as required, and that the housing was unsanitary and in poor repair. Units did not have adequate drainage, safe wiring and lighting, fire extinguishers, or adequate lighting for yards and pathways. Three of the units did not have any windows, and the water supply did not meet state health department standards. In addition to violating housing standards, the employer failed to disclose employment conditions to workers — such as rates of pay, periods of employment, crops to be harvested and other terms and conditions — as required.
"Azzano Orchards initially refused to correct the violations and to comply with housing and safety laws for its migrant employees, but ultimately paid a significant penalty," said Donna Hart, director of the Wage and Hour Division's Seattle District Office, which conducted the investigation. "We are pleased the employer ceased using the worst of its housing facilities in response to our investigation, and has certified that it is now and will remain in compliance with the law. This investigation, and the resulting consent judgment and penalty, underscores the Labor Department's commitment to using all enforcement tools available to protect the rights of our nation's agricultural workers."
Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. Under the MSPA, each person or organization owning or controlling a facility or property used for housing migrant workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Labor Department. Information on the MSPA is available at www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf and www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.