Feb 23, 2022
Idaho potato farm assessed $25K in penalties for ag labor violations

U.S. Department of Labor investigators determined that an Idaho employer violated its obligations to guest workers

Guest workers often travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles from their native countries to the U.S. to perform seasonal work, much of it in the agricultural industry. Their work is vital to the nation’s food supply, and they leave their homes and families under the belief that their employer will comply with the requirements of the H-2A program that protect their wages and well-being.

According to a news release, that was not the case on an Idaho potato farm where U.S. Department of Labor investigators determined that an employer violated its obligations to guest workers and the law, shortchanged wages and exposed workers to substandard living conditions. The investigation also found that the employer used threats and intimidation to exploit the workers.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division found Jorgensen Management Inc., a potato farm in Bancroft, intentionally violated the following provisions of the H-2A guest worker program:

  • Failure to pay the required rates to 69 domestic workers hired alongside H-2A visa workers.
  • Failure to provide H-2A workers with at least three-quarters of the work hours guaranteed on their contracts.
  • Failure to reimburse workers for inbound transportation costs.

In addition to these violations, investigators determined that the employer threatened to terminate the work contract and send workers back to Mexico if they refused to accept wages at a lower rate than legally required under the H-2A program. The division also found Jorgensen violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act by failing to meet mandatory housing safety and health standards, failing to disclose all conditions of employment, failing to provide wage statements to workers and failing to pay wages when due.

The investigation led the department to recover $159,256 in unpaid wages and assess $25,430 in civil money penalties.

“By threatening and shortchanging some of the lowest paid workers in our nation, Jorgensen Management showed a willful disregard for the law. They created a toxic workplace and victimized these vulnerable workers,” Wage and Hour District Director Carrie Aguilar in Portland, Oregon, said in a news release. “The outcome of this investigation sends a strong message to other employers that the Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate abuses of the H-2A program and will protect the rights of all people working in the U.S.”

In fiscal year 2021, the Wage and Hour Division conducted 1,000 investigations of agricultural employers, helped more than 10,000 workers recover $8.4 million in back wages, and assessed $7 million in penalties.

For more information about the H-2A visa program and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.

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