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Farm Labor Contractor, Vineyard Pay $42K in Penalties for Providing Deplorable Housing Conditions to Farm Workers in Sonoma County

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Lodging posed a direct, imminent threat to safety and health of workers

Department of LaborEmployers: Four Seasons Vineyard Management Inc., Ridge Vineyards Inc.

Site: Healdsburg, northern Sonoma County, California

Investigation findings: Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found farm labor contractor Four Seasons Vineyard Management and winemaker Ridge Vineyards in violation of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act for providing deplorable housing conditions to farm workers in northern Sonoma County. Several violations posed a direct and imminent threat to the safety and health of workers living there. The housing facility in Healdsburg, California is on property owned and controlled by Ridge Vineyards, Inc. There was also substantial control of this facility by Four Seasons Vineyard Management. Both entities are jointly liable for the housing conditions.

Serious violations included the following:

  • Exposed electrical wiring present in living area.
  • A third-story loft had only one entry and exit ladder, a direct threat to worker safety in the event of fire.
  • The floor contained a sharp, knife-like metal object sticking out permanently.
  • The bathroom lacked proper ventilation and was not deemed sanitary.
  • Four Seasons was not authorized to provide housing and not entitled to collect rent, but collected a rental fee, paid it to Ridge Vineyards, and automatically deducted from the farm workers’ pay.
  • Housing lacked protective screens and doors, leading to insect, rodents and other vermin infestation.
  • Workers were housed without proper protection against the elements.

Resolution: The jointly liable employers have paid $42,300 in civil money penalties for their failure to ensure the safety and health of workers in the housing provided to them. The department also has recovered $1,750 in back wages due to 10 workers for the rent that the contractor illegally deducted from their pay. The employers are currently working to rectify all violations.

Quote: “The vineyard owners and farm labor contractors who employ and house farm workers are responsible for ensuring the safety of the housing they are providing for their employees,” said Susana Blanco, director of the Wage and Hour Division in San Francisco. “Vineyard owners who use contractors to recruit and hire farm workers can be jointly responsible for ensuring these workers are being paid in compliance with the law and housed and transported safely. The Wage and Hour division remains vigilant in our pursuit of compliance with the law to ensure not only a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but a safe environment in which to work.”

Information: The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor. For general information on the MSPA, please see the Employment Law Guide or the Wage and Hour Division’s fact sheet on MSPA.

To operate legally as farm labor contractors, individuals and companies must register with the U.S. Department of Labor. There are special registration requirements for farm labor contractors that intend to house, transport, or drive a migrant or seasonal agricultural worker. Application materials and instructions can be found online.

For more information about federal wage laws administered by the Wage and Hour Division, or to file a complaint, call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). All services are free and confidential. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.

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