RALEIGH · April 6, 2018 – Legal Aid of North Carolina's Farmworker Unit negotiated $12,000 in damages for four farmworkers who alleged that a farm labor contractor cheated them by underpaying them for their work and charging them an illegal recruitment fee.
"Over the past several years, we have seen a huge growth in the use of farm labor contractors to recruit and hire workers in the H2A program," Meghan Melo, staff attorney at the Farmworker Unit, said.
The federal H2A program allows American agricultural employers to hire temporary workers from foreign countries under certain conditions. Employers can hire the workers directly or pay farm labor contractors to hire the workers for them.
"Unfortunately, some farm labor contractors try to make extra money paying workers less than what they are entitled to, charging them illegal fees and otherwise exploiting them," Melo said.
"It is important for workers employed by farm labor contractors – and all farmworkers – to know that they have legal protections if they are retaliated against for speaking to an attorney or government agency, or raising concerns with their employer about wages or working conditions," she said.
The Farmworker Unit sued the labor contractor, Filiberto Perez, in federal court in the spring of 2017. The suit alleged that, in 2015 and 2016, Perez paid the farmworkers at a per-piece rate that amounted to less than the minimum wage guaranteed under the H2A program for the hours they worked, which is illegal under federal law.
The suit also alleged that Perez charged the farmworkers a $1,000 recruitment fee to obtain their work visas. Federal law prohibits farm labor contractors from charging workers recruitment fees of any amount.
Perez denied that he underpaid workers or charged recruitment fees. He agreed to settle the case by repaying the workers' alleged unpaid wages and recruitment fees, which amounted to $12,000. He also agreed to pay a portion of Legal Aid's attorneys' fees and costs.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division also investigated Perez for similar violations.
Farmworkers employed by Perez can call Legal Aid at 1-800-777-5869 (toll-free) to see if they are eligible to claim money that the Department of Labor has already collected on their behalf.
Farmworkers can learn more about their legal rights by visiting the know-your-rights section of the Farmworker Unit's website at farmworkerlanc.org/know-your-rights.
# # #
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. The Farmworker Unit is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina that provides high-quality civil legal services to address the special legal needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in North Carolina. Learn more at LegalAidNC.org and FarmworkerLANC.org.
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, 919-856-2132, firstname.lastname@example.org