TX Potato Farm Paid $1.3 Million to Workers for Denying Overtime Pay

  • A farm in Texas owned by one of the US’ biggest potato growers didn’t pay overtime premiums, the DOL found.
  • The DOL says it had since recovered more than $1.3 million in back pay for almost 500 warehouse workers.
  • The farm also violated OSHA regulations by failing to properly report a COVID-19 outbreak, per the DOL.

A farm in Texas paid more than $1.3 million in back wages after an investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) found it failed to pay its workers a premium for overtime hours.

The Dalhart, Texas farm – operated by Blaine Larsen Farms, one of the US’ biggest potato growers – also failed to properly report an outbreak of COVID-19, the DOL said.

Idaho-headquartered Blaine Larsen, often known as Larsen Farms, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by not paying almost 500 warehouse staff time-and-a-half when they worked more than 40 hours a week, the DOL said. The department said that it had recovered almost $1.35 million in back wages for the warehouse workers.

The farm, situated in the northwest of Texas’ Panhandle region, also violated sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act by providing incomplete pay statements to H-2A workers and by letting drivers transport workers without the proper license, the DOL found. The H-2A program permits employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to temporarily fill agricultural jobs

The farm additionally failed to properly report an outbreak of COVID-19, violating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s temporary labor camp standards, the DOL said.

Larsen Farms didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment, made outside of regular working hours.

The labor department said it also investigated Larsen Farms twice in 2020. A criminal complaint against the company was filed by the labor department’s Office of the Inspector General’s Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations in July 2020, which alleged that a manager demanded workers from Mexico pay up to $1,500 each to get work visas.

The firm was investigated by the labor department again in August the same year after two workers at two other Texas farms operated by the company died from COVID-19, amid what the department said were “allegations that workplace safety requirements were ignored.”

While workers in some industries were able to work from home during the pandemic, farm laborers were not, and in some cases they put themselves at risk of catching COVID-19. Agricultural workers were among the groups that experienced the biggest jump in mortality rates during the first seven months of the pandemic, per a study by the University of California, San Francisco.

The agricultural industry also pays relatively low wages. In May 2020, almost 300,000 people worked as farmworkers and laborers at crop farms, nurseries, and greenhouses across the US, earning an average of less than $15 an hour, per estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The pandemic highlighted the essential agricultural contributions workers – including workers in the H-2A visa programs – make every day to feed the nation and support our economy,” Jessica Looman, the DOL’s acting wage and hour division administrator, said in a press release . “In return for their hard work, they must be paid all of their wages and protected from workplace hazards.”

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