In an ongoing series of investigations into allegations of wage theft and illegal displacement of U.S. workers by Mississippi Delta agricultural employers in the H-2A temporary guest worker program, the U.S. Department of Labor identified several violations by 11 employers.
In 11 reviews completed by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, investigators found that employers failed to pay the required rate of pay for U.S. workers in corresponding employment; did not disclose all conditions of employment and did not provide accurate anticipated hours of work and bonus opportunities; made illegal pay deductions and failed to reimburse travel-related expenses as required; and did not comply with federal recordkeeping requirements, all violations of the H-2A program requirements.
The division recovered $134,532 in wages for 45 workers and assessed $122,610 in civil money penalties. These investigations are part of a larger effort and are a department priority.
“The allegations made by Mississippi Delta farmworkers are alarming,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Audrey Hall in Jackson, Miss. “The outcome of these investigations confirms that employers denied many farmworkers their lawful wages and, in some cases, violated the rights of U.S. workers by giving temporary guest workers preferential treatment.”
The employers included in these 11 investigations are Clark & Co. in Shelby, Egremont Baconia Farms in Cary, White Farms AJV in Marks, Van Buren Farms II in Belzoni, Bulldog Farms LLC in Tutwiler, Custom Ag Services LLC in Isola, Bruton Farms Partnership in Anguilla, Durst Farms and Carter Plantation LTD, both in Rolling Fork, Harris Russel Farm in Moorhead, and Murrell Farms in Avon.
The division found prior violations in the Delta’s agricultural industry. In 2021, the division found H-2A violations at six fish farms in the Mississippi Delta and recovered more than $102,000 for more than 120 workers. Since 2020, H-2A investigations recovered more than $700,000 in wages for more than 500 Mississippi workers and led to assessments of $200,000 in penalties for employers.
In June 2022, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited the region and heard from a group of Black Delta farmworkers who alleged their employers violated federal law by doing the following:
- Paid them less than South African workers employed under the H-2A program.
- Tasked U.S. workers with training the H-2A workers who, in some cases, later replaced them.
- Denied Black farmworkers access to employer-provided indoor toilets—leaving them to relieve themselves outdoors—while allowing South African H-2A workers to use the indoor toilets.
“The Wage and Hour Division is determined to protect the rights of workers of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and faced with persistent poverty and inequality,” said Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta. “For the first time in 25 years, we have a permanent presence in the Delta with investigators stationed in Greenwood and Clarksdale focused on helping protect workers’ rights and holding employers who violate federal law accountable.”
Across the U.S., violations of H-2A regulations and recovery of back wages have increased significantly in the past five years. Southeast employers currently host the largest number of H-2A workers in the nation.
In addition to the Wage and Hour Division, the expanded agriculture enforcement in the Delta region is a collaborative effort with federal experts from the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Employment and Training Administration and Office of the Solicitor; as well as with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and regional stakeholders, such as the Mississippi Center for Justice and the NAACP.
For more information about workers’ rights enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can call the division confidentially with questions and the division can speak with callers in more than 200 languages. Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor