Migrant workers in the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program provide critical seasonal labor on farms across California, spending weeks away from home doing the grueling work needed to support the state’s $49 billion agricultural industry.
The H-2A program allows employers who anticipate a shortage of U.S.-based workers to bring workers here from other countries to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. An ongoing U.S. Department of Labor effort has revealed some California vegetable farms have not been providing H-2A workers with the pay and benefits and personal protections the law requires.
In a series of investigations from April 2020 to February 2022 by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, several farms were found to be failing to meet their responsibilities under the H-2A program. The investigations found five farmers failed to provide meals or kitchen facilities, did not pay required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs, and allowed workers to be transported unsafely. The division also determined some farms shortchanged workers’ wages and failed to provide a contract to workers as required or did not abide by the terms of workers’ contracts.
The five investigations led to the recovery of $225,114 in back wages for 588 workers and assessments of $54,617 in penalties. They also yielded findings and administrative settlements.
“Employers that benefit from the H-2A guest worker program must be aware of all their responsibilities,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “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.”
Nationally, the Wage and Hour Division investigated 735 cases with H-2A violations in the last two fiscal years. 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.