A California grape grower will pay $54,935 in back wages for 14 workers — and $21,257 in civil penalties — after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found it gave more hours and better wages to workers employed through the H-2A agricultural worker program, the agency said in a release Oct. 18.
“The H-2A program provides agricultural employers the ability to hire foreign farmworkers after attempts to hire U.S.-based workers are unsuccessful,” Susana Blanco, a district director for DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, said in the release. “The agricultural community must understand that the wages and hours afforded to migrant workers in the H-2A program cannot shortchange U.S. workers.”
The H-2A program allows for the temporary employment of nonimmigrant workers to perform agricultural labor, and is intended to be used when sufficient U.S. workers are unavailable. The program is meant to employ workers for no longer than a year in most circumstances and must not adversely affect the wages and hours of U.S. workers, DOL noted in guidance.
DOL recently amended its H-2A regulations to improve program protections for workers and enhance enforcement against fraud and abuse, while modernizing the application and labor certification process, the agency stated. The change also strengthens protections for both U.S. and foreign workers, improves DOL enforcement capabilities, modernizes the prevailing wage determination process and clarifies elements of the program for employers, the agency said. The rule takes effect Nov. 14.
DOL pays attention to violations of the H-2A program — affecting both foreign workers and U.S. workers. In February, the agency found an Idaho potato farm threatened H-2A workers, underpaid them and provided substandard housing.
According to DOL’s release, the agency investigated 735 H-2A cases in FY2020 and 2021, and recovered more than $9 million in back wages for more than 13,000 workers.