The U.S. Department of Labor has penalized two farm labor contractors and a vineyard in California for numerous violations of federal labor rules. 

According to a June 1 news release, USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division found that farm labor contractors Nextcrop Inc. of Los Baños, Noble Vineyard Management Inc. of Ukiah and grower Pebble Ridge Vineyards and Wine Estates in Paicines  violated numerous requirements of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the H-2A temporary agricultural program. 

The division assessed more than $231,881 in civil penalties and recovered $129,081 in back wages for 353 agricultural workers, according to the release. 

USDOL investigations revealed the following: 

—Nextcrop Inc., which provides harvesting crews for Pebble Ridge Vineyards, employed an unlicensed, unauthorized and uninsured driver to transport workers. Investigators learned that while driving under the influence, the driver was involved in an earlier accident in which a vehicle rollover injured several farmworkers. The division also found Nextcrop illegally employed a 14-year-old to work during school hours, illegally charged workers for transportation costs, did not disclose conditions of employment to workers, and failed to keep employer records or provide wage statements and pay wages when due. The division recovered $36,764 in back wages for 105 employees and assessed the labor contractor $99,067 in penalties. 

—Pebble Ridge Vineyards and Wine Estates violated federal law by using Nextcrop’s unlicensed, unauthorized and uninsured driver to transport workers. The division assessed $66,282 in penalties to the vineyard, which produces and sells grapes used by California’s Kendall-Jackson, J. Lohr and Robert Mondavi wineries. 

—Noble Vineyard Management Inc., which provides workers for growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, violated H-2A regulations by failing to pay the contract rate of pay and failing to pay corresponding U.S. workers at least the same rate paid to H-2A workers. The division also found Noble failed to provide tools required to work and did not reimburse H-2A workers’ travel expenses, as required. Investigators also learned the employer retaliated against H-2A employees who asked about their wages by sending them back to their home countries before the contract’s end. The division recovered $92,317 in back wages owed to 148 workers and assessed the contractor $66,530 in penalties, according to the release.

The USDOL Wage and Hour Division offers farmworker rights information, compliance assistance resources for employers and an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit to ensure compliance with the law. For more information, contact the division by phone at 1-866-487-9243 (4US-WAGE). 

by Matt Milkovich