The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) hopes to harvest some green from Watsonville, Ca.-based Fernandez Farms. According to the DOL, the farm failed to pay the minimum wage to workers brought into the country under the H-2B visa program.
WHD also alleges the farm shook down the workers for at least $1,600 per season to pay for what it called necessary administrative expenses.
The DOL also claims the farm did not try hard enough to show that no American workers were ready, willing and able to perform the jobs the visa holders worked.
In all, investigators allege 400 farm workers were affected.
WHD is seeking $1 million in back pay for the workers and another $1 million in penalties because the infractions were willful. Additionally, WHD seeks to debar the farm from the H-2B visa program for three years, the longest term allowed by law.
Note: Investigators also found workers living in substandard housing, as well as poor time-keeping records—both the kinds of red flags that draw investigators’ attention.