A Michigan farmer that houses his temporary workers in substandard buildings with broken toilets, showers and screen doors, standing water and pest infestations has been ordered by a federal judge to clean up his act.
The court found that the housing camp operated by Darryl Howes Farms in Copemish violated standards set forth in the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). Howes was ordered to make repairs and improvements in the “Green Camp,” which was home to approximately 38 workers employed for the 2011 harvest.
Howes interfered with interviews of workers
The judge also ordered Hawes to stop interfering with U.S. Department of Labor investigations. In at least four instances, interviews of agricultural workers had to be terminated because Howes or one of his employees attended the interviews with cameras and refused to leave.
Additionally, Howes incorrectly classified the migrant agricultural workers as independent contractors rather than employees entitled to minimum wage and other provisions of the MPSA and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The opinion and accompanying order, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Gordon J. Quist, upholds the department’s findings of record-keeping and housing violations at Howes’ 60-acre cucumber farm and migrant housing camp during the 2011 harvest. The department filed a complaint in federal court in 2012 alleging minimum wage, record-keeping, and housing violations following investigations conducted by the Wage and Hour Division. The minimum wage violations remain in litigation now that the threshold issue of employment status has been determined.
Migrant workers are vulnerable to unfair practices
“The nature of migrant agricultural work makes the migrant farm worker vulnerable to unfair and unsafe labor practices. The misclassification of these workers as independent contractors cheats them of their rightfully earned wages and gives the employer an unfair competitive edge in the marketplace,” said Karen Chaikin, regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division in the Midwest. “These actions put agricultural employers on notice that the department is committed to protecting the many low-wage and vulnerable migrant workers, who are susceptible to exploitation and unfair treatment.”
For more information about the MSPA and FLSA, visit www.dol.gov/whd or call the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.