Puerto Rico farmers ordered to pay $275K in back wages

Written by  //  July 30, 2013  //  Agriculture  //  No comments

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The U.S. District Court Hato Rey. (Credit: www.wikipedia.com/Jacob Uriel)

The U.S. District Court Hato Rey. (Credit: www.wikipedia.com/Jacob Uriel)

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday it has secured a consent judgment ordering two Sabana Grande farmers to pay a total of $275,000 in back wages and liquidated damages to 174 agricultural workers.

In a release, the agency identified the agricultural employers as José V. Fabre-Laboy, doing business as Bananera Fabre, and his son, Jose V. Fabre-Santiago, doing business as Finca La Plata. Both men are related to former Agriculture Secretary José O. Fabre-Laboy.

A Wage and Hour Division investigation revealed that the farmers attempted to divide the farm to avoid Fair Labor Standards Act coverage. Under the law, the two businesses were found to constitute a single enterprise.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico in September 2012 after an investigation by the division, found that the defendants willfully and repeatedly violated the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA. The defendants paid workers only $6.25 to $6.50 per hour instead of the legally required minimum of $7.25 per hour.

“As demonstrated by this consent judgment, the department will use all the enforcement tools at its disposal against employers who deprive workers of their hard-earned wages,” said José R. Vázquez, director of the division’s Caribbean District Office. “These back wages can be life changing for these workers, who have worked long hours in the fields without earning the minimum wage to which they are entitled.”

Under the judgment, the employers’ fruit and vegetable wholesalers are required to comply with the FLSA’s minimum wage and record-keeping requirements; post information on the FLSA and Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act for the employees; and inform workers of their rights and the terms of the judgment. It also prohibits the defendants from firing or retaliating against employees who disclose FLSA violations, provide information during an investigation or refuse to participate in any FLSA violations.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, as well as time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.

The division’s Caribbean District Office in Guaynabo conducted the probe, while the department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case, the agency said.

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