FORT MEYERS, Fla. — Employers who meet certain requirements can fill temporary agricultural jobs with foreign workers through the federal H-2A visa program. A group of such foreign workers with H-2A visas filed a class action suit against D&K Harvesting, a fruit harvester in Florida, for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The group is asking to represent all workers that the harvester hired under the H-2A program during the last two citrus harvesting seasons, which was estimated to be around 200 people. The complaint is seeking unpaid wages and other damages, along with attorneys’ fees.
Per-piece vs. Hourly Pay
The plaintiffs in the suit claim that D&K Harvesting underreported the hours that the workers spent picking oranges and paid them on a per-piece basis. Therefore, this resulted in the workers being paid less than the minimum wage that the federal government requires be paid to H-2A agricultural workers. To try to reduce the supplemental pay that would have been required to boost the workers’ wages to the minimum wage, the company allegedly underreported the number of compensable hours that the pickers worked. In some weeks, the workers’ earnings apparently fell below $7.25 per hour.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims that in contravention to their worker contracts, the company failed to promptly reimburse employees for expenses incurred with securing visas or money spent traveling from Mexico to Florida. The company is alleged to have failed to pay for the workers’ return home at the end of the harvesting season.
H-2A Wage Rules
For an employer to be able to hire foreign workers under the H-2A visa program, the Department of Labor must certify that there are insufficient U.S. workers qualified and available to perform the labor in question and that the employment of the foreign workers will not have an adverse effect on the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. The employer must pay all covered workers at least the highest of the following applicable wage rates in effect at the time work is performed: the adverse effect wage rate, the applicable prevailing wage, the agreed-upon collective bargaining rate, or the Federal or State statutory minimum wage.
Employers are allowed to calculate wages on the basis of hourly or piece rates of pay, but such piece rate must be no less than the piece rate prevailing for the activity in that same area of intended employment and, during a pay period, must average no less than the highest required hourly wage rate.
FLSA provides broad protections, and foreign workers under one of the federal work visa programs are likely entitled to minimum wage and overtime protections. If you believe your FLSA rights to minimum wage and overtime have been violated, you should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page. Our top-rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are strict time limitations for filing, so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today