The U.S. Department of Labor fined five California farm businesses — including four on the Central Coast — for underpaying migrant workers by more than $200,000, according to a news release.
The H-2A temporary agricultural workers program allows employers to bring workers from other countries to provide critical labor that supports the country’s agriculture — a $49 billion industry in California.
Investigations by the department’s Wage and Hour Division between April 2020 and February 2022 found that a Nipomo company, three Santa Maria farms and a San Martin farm failed to provide meals or kitchen facilities, safe transportation and pay inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs — all requirements of the program.
The division also found some farms shortchanged workers, failed to provide a contract to workers or did not abide by the terms of workers’ contracts.
“Employers that benefit from the H-2A guest worker program must be aware of all their responsibilities,” San Francisco Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez said in the release. “Agricultural workers employed under the H-2A program must be paid as their contracts require and be provided with what they need to live and work safely while contributing critical labor to California’s agriculture industry.”
Investigation: Nipomo farm business served spoiled food to workers
According to the Department of Labor, the investigations recovered a total of $225,114 in lost wages for 588 workers. The five businesses also paid a total of $54,617 in penalties.
SARC Inc. in Nipomo paid $13,160 in penalties for failing to pay for inbound transportation and meal costs, making improper deductions for meals and unpaid hours worked, and not following health and safety standards, the labor department said.
Federal investigators also found that the farm served spoiled food to workers — causing some to become ill — and did not provide personal protective equipment and supplies.
SARC paid 42 employees $34,996 in back wages in addition to the fine.
According to California Secretary of State business filings, SARC is a farm labor contracting business owned by Carlos Castaneda of Grover Beach.
Castaneda did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Tribune and SARC Inc. did not have anyone else available to comment.
3 Santa Maria farms fined for labor law violations
Three Santa Barbara County farms were also penalized for labor law violations.
According to the Department of Labor, Adam Bros Farming in Santa Maria did not provide laborers with meals, kitchen facilities, transportation or contracts at the time they were hired.
The farm also did not cover transportation and meal costs, failed to pay all required wages and unlawfully deducted meal costs from paychecks, including when meals were not provided, the release said.
Adam Bros Farming owes 30 employees $94,146 in back wages, according to the release, and the farm paid $7,862 in penalties.
Boavista Farms in Santa Maria also did not provide workers with contracts when they were hired and failed to pay all required wages, federal officials said.
In addition, the labor department said, the farm failed to pay for inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs. Boavista Farms was ordered to pay $43,297 in back wages to 28 employees and $5,361 in penalties.
Santa Maria farm Profesco Inc. paid $7,505 in penalties and $50,789 in back wages to 471 employees, according to the release.
The farm did not pay all required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs and the transportation it did provide was unsafe, federal officials said.
Profesco Inc. also did not satisfy the requirements of their participation in the H-2A program because it did not state actual terms and conditions and failed to comply with other applicable state and federal law.
In Santa Clara County, Toglatti Farms was ordered to pay $20,729 in penalties — the highest of the five farms — and $1,855 in back wages to 17 employees.
Investigators discovered that the San Martin farm did not pay for inbound transportation, underpaid hourly wages and did not maintain records or comply with pay statement requirements.
Toglatti Farms also did not contact former U.S. employees to ask if they wanted to return to their jobs, a requirement to participate in the H-2A program, federal officials said, and did not post information about the program visibly for workers to see.
The San Martin farm also provided unsafe housing, according to the Labor Department.
According to the federal agency’s Wage and Hour Division, 735 investigations found H-2A violations in the past two fiscal years across the country. These investigations recovered $9,092,624 in back wages for 13,408 workers and assessed $9,520,624 in civil penalties from employers for violations of federal labor laws.
Help available for farmworkers
For more information about farmworkers’ rights and laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).
The division enforces the law regardless of a worker’s immigration status and can speak confidentially with callers in more than 200 languages. If you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division, go to dol.gov/agencies/whd/wow.
This story was originally published May 23, 2022 3:35 PM.