Federal Labor Standards Enforcement in Agriculture

Daniel Costa, Philip Martin, Zachariah Rutledge
Date of Publication: 
December, 2020
Source Organization: 

Farmworkers in the U.S. earn among the lowest wages of any occupational group and are more likely to experience workplace injuries, yet they are vital to maintaining the food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, unauthorized and H-2A “guest” workers – together making up approximately 60 percent of U.S. farmworkers – have limited labor rights and are susceptible to wage theft and other abuses because of their immigration status. Federal Labor Standards Enforcement in Agriculture, a report from the Economic Policy Institute, seeks to help stakeholders understand the enforcement record of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) over the last two decades, in particular where violations occurred, which laws were violated and what penalties were imposed. Drawing on WHD databases on labor violations, the study found that employers were ordered to pay $76 million in back wages to 154,000 farmworkers and $63 million in civil monetary penalties for violations between 2000 and 2019. However, the study goes on to say, underfunding and understaffing at the WHD means that back wages recovered for farmworkers “may just be the tip of the iceberg.” The probability of any single farm being investigated for federal employment law violations in a given year is only around one percent. In order to more effectively protect farmworkers, the authors recommend that policymakers provide adequate resources to fund wage and hour staffing and enforcement. The report also calls for enforcement efforts to target the most significant violators – farm labor contractors – as well as repeat violators, and to consider harsher penalties to deter future violations. (Georgia Whitaker for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)

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Costa, D., Martin, P. & Rutledge, Z. (2020, February 15). Federal Labor Standards Enforcement in Agriculture. Economic Policy Institute. https://files.epi.org/pdf/213135.pdf