29 Jul

Darryl Howes Farms ordered to pay back wages to 36 migrant workers to resolve US Department of Labor lawsuit

July 14, 2014

Farm operation previously ordered to stop misclassifying migrant workers


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Copemish employer Darryl Howes, doing business as Darryl Howes Farms, signed a consent judgment under which he agreed to pay $11,253 in back wages to 36 migrant workers to resolve a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor. Howes has agreed to implement enhanced record-keeping procedures to ensure the business complies with the record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The consent judgment resolves a federal lawsuit filed by the department alleging minimum wage, record-keeping and housing violations and alleges that Howes unlawfully interfered with the Wage and Hour Division’s investigation. The Wage and Hour Division’s investigation revealed that Darryl Howes Farms misclassified its migrant agricultural workers as independent contractors rather than employees entitled to minimum wage and other protections of the FLSA and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The back wages due must be paid within 10 days of the consent judgment being entered by the court.

“This consent judgment sends a clear message to farm operations that denying workers their rightfully earned wages by misclassifying them as independent contractors will not be tolerated, and that wage laws will be enforced,” said Mary O’Rourke, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Grand Rapids. “The department is committed to protecting the many low-wage migrant workers who deserve the wages they earn.”

In earlier case proceedings, U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist issued an opinion and order that upheld the department’s findings of record-keeping and housing violations during the 2011 harvest at Howes’ 60-acre cucumber farm and migrant housing camp. The court ruled previously that Howes provided substandard housing to migrant workers at a housing camp he controlled, in violation of the MSPA. The violations at the housing camp included failures to provide adequate shelter; to prevent insect or pest infestation; to remove standing wastewater; to repair broken screen doors and showers; and to maintain toilets in a sanitary condition. The court ordered Howes to ensure all MSPA housing he owns or controls complies with the MSPA. The court previously held that Howes interfered with the department’s investigation by impeding the department’s confidential interviews with his employees.

The Wage and Hour Division enforces the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The division also enforces the FLSA, which requires covered employers to pay nonexempt farm workers at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked.