The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on July 24 issued findings from investigations of C.J.’s Seafood Inc. in Breaux Bridge, La. OSHA cited C.J.’s Seafood, a former Wal-Mart supplier, with 11 serious and one other-than-serious safety violation for exposing workers to blocked exit, fire, electrical and chemical hazards. Additionally, the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division found that the company failed to pay minimum wage and overtime compensation to 73 workers as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, and to comply with provisions of the H-2B temporary foreign worker visa program established under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“It is imperative that employers comply with applicable laws that protect the health and safety of their workers,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Every worker deserves to go home safe at the end of a workday, and the employees at C.J.’s Seafood are entitled to nothing less.”
OSHA’s Baton Rouge Area Office conducted an investigation of the company’s facility in Breaux Bridge, where employees peel and boil seafood. Some of the serious violations cited pertain to the building not being equipped with fire extinguishers, exit signs or emergency eyewash stations. In addition, electrical breakers were not labeled, electrical outlets were not covered, an exit was blocked and temporary wiring was being used instead of permanent wiring. Finally, the employer did not have a written hazard communications program and did not make material safety data sheets available to employees to inform them of hazards in the workplace. These citations carry proposed penalties of $32,200. A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
The other-than-serious violation involves failing to maintain the OSHA 300 log, in which employee injuries and illnesses must be recorded. This citation carries a monetary penalty of $2,100. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
C.J.’s Seafood has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Baton Rouge area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Wage and Hour Investigation
The Wage and Hour Division’s New Orleans District Office conducted an investigation that found C.J.’s Seafood violated the FLSA’s minimum wage, overtime compensation and record-keeping requirements by paying “straight time” instead of the required overtime rate for hours beyond 40 in a workweek; making illegal deductions from employees’ wages for items required by their jobs, such as gloves, hairnets and aprons; and failing to maintain records of the hours employees worked. The employer also violated H-2B provisions by misrepresenting its temporary need for foreign workers, including the dates of need and number of workers needed, and also by failing to pay the required wage rate.
“This employer took illegal advantage of the H-2B program, which put it in a position to undercut its competition that plays by the rules,” said Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “American workers seeking jobs should not be compelled to accept substandard wages and working conditions due to employers’ abuse of temporary foreign worker visa programs.”
A total of $76,608 is due to the 73 workers, and the company is liable for an additional $70,014 in liquidated damages. The division also has assessed $32,120 in civil money penalties under the FLSA for willful violations of the employer’s obligation to pay overtime and $35,000 in civil money penalties for willful violations of the H-2B program.
C.J.’s Seafood has refused to pay the full amount of back wages that the division found due, and the liquidated damages and civil money penalties. The division will pursue all appropriate administrative and legal remedies to the full extent of its authority. These may include legal proceedings before the Labor Department’s Administrative Review Board and in federal district court.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates – including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay – for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records.
The H-2B guest worker program permits employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrants to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States. The employment must be of a temporary nature, such as a one-time occurrence or for a seasonal or peak load need. The program requires the employer to attest to the Department of Labor that it will offer a wage that equals or exceeds the highest of the prevailing wage, applicable federal minimum wage, state minimum wage or local minimum wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment during the entire period of the approved certification. Additionally, certain recruitment and displacement standards have been established in order to protect similarly employed workers in the United States.
Wal-Mart suspended C. J.’s as a supplier after it was discovered that C.J.'s managers made employees work 24-hour shifts, locked some workers in the plant and threatened employees and their families to discourage them from complaining to the Department of Labor.
(Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)