On March 30, the U.S. Department of Labor announced has recovered $245,351 in back wages for 117 employees of a greenhouse tomato grower in Madison, Maine. According to DOL, it failed to comply with federal laws governing wages and working conditions for agricultural temporary guest workers, U.S. workers and workers in corresponding employment.
Backyard Farms agreed to resolve this DOL investigation in 2020 which involved a payroll error for an approximately 1 week period in February 2019 for 117 workers. This payroll error was for a period of one week and consisted of $1.83 per hour per worker, resulting in a total adjustment of approximately $7,000. The company corrected the issue and paid the workers in connection with the resolution.
Investigators with the department’s Wage and Hour Division found that Backyard Farms LLC violated the labor provisions of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Visa Program and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act .
In 2019, Backyard Farms also terminated 14 temporary contract staffing workers for performance related issues within the 30-day period prior to the H2A contract start date. Under the H2A rules, it is generally not permissible to separate employment with a worker during this 30-day period. Backyard Farms disputed the DOL’s findings that the local U.S. workers were terminated in favor of incoming foreign, H2A workers during this 30-day period. Backyard Farms ultimately resolved the dispute with the DOL and paid the workers for the entire 2019 ten-month season.
It’s a standard procedure for the Department of Labor to issue these releases when an investigation is resolved. In a response, Backyard Farms refers to their robust social compliance program audited to SMETA 4-Pillar standards (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit). The farm’s most recent audit was July 6, 2020 with zero violations. Backyard Farms says to be committed to fair and equitable treatment of their workers and continues to prefer and primarily employ local workers as opposed to the significantly more expensive and complex H2A process.