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Five Central Coast farms fined for failing to ensure farmworkers' benefits and pay

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Greta Mart/KCBX
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Five Central Coast farms like this one were fined for labor practice violations.

Recent investigations from the US Department of Labor found that five farms in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties have neglected to pay and provide the proper benefits to their workers.

Many undocumented farmworkers have benefits protected under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Employment Program, a program that allows employers to hire workers from other countries for seasonal agricultural work.

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A farm in Santa Maria, California.

Between April 2020 and February 2022, the Department of Labor checked on farms that had previously applied for the H-2A program. Under H-2A, businesses must provide transportation to and from work, housing, and three meals a day or kitchen facilities for their workers.

Francisco Ocampo, the Assistant District Director with the Department of Labor of the Wage and Hour Division said, “The employer thought they were providing the meals, but the provider of the meals wasn’t actually giving the meals to the workers, they were just not even showing up. They have to be vigilant as to what's going on in their field. they cannot just say, ‘Well I have a catering company going out there and that's it.’ They have to know the meals that are being provided. Are they nutritious meals? Are they meals that are consumable? Three meals a day, that’s all we’re asking.”

Ocampo is part of the team who investigated the farms on the Central Coast. He said they discovered five farms in the Santa Maria area that utilized the H-2A Program failed to provide proper payment, benefits, and contracts for their workers.

The Wage and Hour Division discovered all five farms in total owed over $225,000 in back pay for 588 workers, and over $54,000 in fines. The farms facing repercussions are Adam Bros Farming, Boa Vista Farms, Profresco Incorporated, SARC, and Togliatti Farms LLC.

Adam Brothers Farming, Boa Vista Farms, and Profresco Incorporated did not want to comment on the investigation. SARC and Togliatti Farms LLC did not respond in time.

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Francisco Martinez/KCBX
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Workers strike for better wages in Nipomo on July 2.

Rebeca Garcia, a Policy Advocate with CAUSE, a non-profit organization focused on social, economic, and environmental issues for working-class and immigrant communities on the Central Coast said this investigation is just the tip of the iceberg. She said, “It’s not a brand new company that doesn’t understand the rules. The responsibility very much falls on the people who are not paying attention or who are not making it a priority that the workers know what they are supposed to have. It just makes it really obvious that the program facilitates abuse and it fails to protect workers. I think that’s the bottom line.”

Hernan Hernandez, the Executive Director of The California Farmworker Foundation, said the H-2A workers are the most vulnerable type of farm workers — so more business accountability is necessary.

But Hernandez also said he has hope. He said scenarios like this are an opportunity to learn and do better. The Department of Labor says if businesses continue to not provide the correct pay and benefits for their H-2A employees, they will have to continue with litigation.

The following information is based on the Department of Labor’s findings:

  • Adam Bros Farming in Santa Maria failed to provide meals or kitchen facilities, transportation and meal costs. They did not provide a contract at the time of hire, failed to pay all required wages and unlawfully deducted meal costs, including when meals were not provided. Failed to comply with other state and federal law. The employer paid $94,146 in back wages to 30 employees, and $7,862 in penalties.         
  • Boavista Farms in Santa Maria failed to pay required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs. Did not provide a contract at the time of hire and failed to pay all required wages and comply with other state and federal law. They were ordered to pay $43,297 in back wages to 28 employees, and $5,361 in penalties.
  • Profresco Inc. in Santa Maria failed to pay all required inbound and outbound transportation and meal costs, and transportation failed to meet safety requirements. They failed to satisfy requirements of the job order by not stating actual terms and conditions and failed to comply with other state and federal law as applicable. They paid $50,789 in back wages to 471 employees, and $7,505 in penalties.
  • SARC in Nipomo failed to pay inbound transportation and meal costs and made improper deductions for meals and unpaid hours worked. They did not ensure health and safety standards, and prepared meals failed to meet local health standards causing some workers to become ill after consuming spoiled lunch. SARC also failed to provide personal protective equipment and supplies to workers. The employer paid $34,996 in back wages to 42 employees, and $13,160 in penalties.
  • Togliatti Farms LLC in San Martin failed to pay for required inbound transportation and did not pay the required rate of pay. Failed to maintain required records and did not comply with pay statement requirements. They failed to contact former U.S. employees to solicit their return to the job as required and did not post H-2A information visibly for workers to see. The provided housing failed to meet safety and health requirements. Togliatti Farms was ordered to pay $1,885 in back wages to 17 workers, and $20,729 in penalties. The employer also agreed to future compliance and paid all monetary liabilities.
Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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