The federally-mandated agricultural visa program which allows foreign laborers to come to the United States for work is under increasing scrutiny because of low wages, unsafe living conditions and employee abuse.
The U.S. Department of Labor has obtained its first preliminary injunction order under the H-2A visa program after investigators discovered G Farms provided “dangerous and substandard” living conditions to Mexican farmworkers in El Mirage, Ariz.
“What G Farms is accused of doing is simply inhumane,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in a statement. “No worker deserves to be treated this way. And honest employers cannot compete against those who break the law by underpaying and mistreating their workers.”
Under the program, employers can apply for the H-2A visa program for foreign workers if the company provides the prevailing wage for the occupation and geographic area, applicable federal minimum wage, state minimum wage or local minimum wage as well as safe, sanitary living conditions. According to the DOL, G Farms lied on its H-2A application and forced its workers to sleep in converted school buses and semi-truck trailers without any windows – directly in violation of numerous safety, sanitation and fire code violations.
A Los Angeles Times article reported that once investigators confronted Santiago Gonzalez, G Farms owner, he moved them to a hotel. However, a follow-up inquiry showed Gonzalez now was charging those workers for food and shelter. Labor department investigators described conditions at G Farms as a “makeshift labor camp” that was "dangerous" and "unsanitary.”
“The conditions here were truly shocking and posed a serious threat to the lives of these farmworkers, who appear to have been expressly lied to before they arrived about the nature of their accommodations, said Janet Herold, regional solicitor in San Francisco. “The carelessness shown for the ability of these workers to survive until the next work day is as troubling as the abuse by this employer and recruiting agents of the strict requirements of the H-2A visa program. Violation of this federal law also hurts American workers who might well want these jobs if the employers provided safe housing and fair wages, and harms law-abiding employers who pay and treat workers fairly.”
The buses and trailers in which the workers lived appeared to be dangerously overcrowded, with beds stacked end-to-end, and had inadequate ventilation systems, which allowed daytime temperatures to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the DOL.
For more information about the H-2A program, the Fair Labor Standards Act and other federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.