San Diego, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) - The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a consent judgment ordering Fisher Ranch LLC to pay $21,168 in back wages and $49,104 in civil money penalties for violations of the Migrant Seasonal Workers Protection Act (MSPA) following a 2017 work-related motor vehicle accident that killed one worker and injured six others outside of Calexico, California. This action follows a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigation.
WHD investigators found the Blythe, California, agricultural company failed to ensure that its farm labor contractor, Healthy Harvesting, provided safe transportation to and from the fields for the workers. Under MSPA, growers are required to use "transportation authorized" farm labor contractors to protect workers from unqualified drivers or travel in unsafe vehicles.
In March 2017 a van overturned with seven farmworkers inside, killing one and injuring six others. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) determined that a blown tire and a missing seat belt led to the tragedy. The report also found that another of the van's tires was bald, and that two wheels were missing lug nuts to fully secure the wheels to the van. In addition, CHP found the driver did not have a commercial driver's license and that his personal driver's license was suspended.
"Growers must use transportation-authorized farm labor contractors to prevent these types of tragic and avoidable deaths," said the U.S. Department of Labor's Regional Solicitor Janet Herold, in Los Angeles. "Farmworkers should not be putting their lives on the line simply by being transported to and from the fields by unqualified drivers using unsafe vehicles."
"The Wage and Hour Division provides multiple tools for agricultural employers, describing their responsibilities to ensure they understand how to comply with the law," said Rudolfo Cortez, WHD's District Director in San Diego. "We encourage all employers to reach out to us for confidential assistance at any time."
In addition to the payments, the consent judgment also requires Fisher Ranch LLC to:
Contract only with farm labor contractors that are transportation authorized;
Implement an enhanced monitoring program of its farm labor contractor's transportation practices;
Ensure that their farm labor contractors use safe and properly insured vehicles to transport farmworkers; and
Pay for radio advertisements to notify farmworkers about their wages due, among other requirements.
The Department's Solicitor's Office filed a lawsuit against Fisher Ranch LLC and its owner, Bart Fisher, alleging that they violated MSPA requirements to ensure the safety of the transporting of agricultural workers. This case was resolved through a consent judgment entered on July 25, 2018.
To operate legally as farm labor contractors, individuals and companies must register with the U.S. Department of Labor. Farm labor contractors that intend to house, transport, or drive a migrant or seasonal agricultural worker must meet special requirements.