The fall harvest season has always been a time for celebration when communities across the country honor the fruits of farm labor. While we enjoy things like fresh cider and pumpkin pie, it’s important to remember that all of that is made possible thanks to agricultural workers who labor through long and often hot days in the fields.
Farm labor is tough and sometimes dangerous work. That’s why there are strict laws designed to ensure workers are duly compensated and kept safe while they pick, gather and prepare fruits and vegetables for their long journey to our homes. The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor (DOL) is tasked with enforcing those laws and the WHD takes seriously the responsibility of protecting the well-being of workers. And, by enforcing the laws WHD also preserve a fair and level playing field for honest, law-abiding employers who shouldn’t have to compete against those who reduce their labor costs by not paying their workers properly and who cut corners on safety.
One recent case in Texas shows all too well how flouting the law can put lives in danger. During a recent investigation conducted in a pumpkin field outside the town of Floydada, WHD discovered a utility vehicle originally meant to seat only two people was rigged instead with loose chairs and a bench seat used to transport up to ten workers at a time. Of course there were no seatbelts and none of the seats were attached to the vehicle floor. Those workers were transported daily in dangerous and uncomfortable conditions – often up to 120 miles.
In that case, WHD acted quickly to secure a commitment from the farm labor contractors to immediately stop transporting workers in any unsafe vehicle – and they made good on that commitment. WHD action helped to ensure that those who toil in the fields to harvest the food for our families return safely to theirs at the end of a long day.
Employers and business owners, to better understand the nation’s wage and hour laws, get a copy of our FLSA Compliance Program.