According to Insider, a potato farm in Idaho “intentionally” violated H-2A visa rules and even threatened to fire guest workers if they didn’t accept wages below the legal limit, according to the US Department of Labor (DOL).
Jorgensen Management, a potato farm in Bancroft, southeast Idaho, gave workers nearly $160,000 in unpaid wages after a DOL investigation.
The farm showed a “willful disregard for the law,” in which it “created a toxic workplace and victimized these vulnerable workers,” Carrie Aguilar, district director of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division in Portland, Oregon, said in a press release Tuesday.
Jorgensen Management could not immediately be reached for comment by Insider.
The H-2A program allows employers to bring foreign nationals to the US to temporarily fill agricultural jobs when they can’t find enough domestic workers. The employers have to provide workers with transport to the US and housing.
But Jorgensen Management didn’t pay guest workers for inbound transportation costs or meet housing safety and health standards, the DOL said.
The farm also gave the workers less than three-quarters of the hours guaranteed on their contracts and didn’t provide wage statements to workers or pay them on time, the DOL said.
Labor laws require H-2A workers to be paid at least twice a month.
The DOL said that Jorgensen Management also used intimidation to “exploit” workers by threatening to terminate their contracts and send them back to Mexico if they refused to accept wages at a lower rate than legally required under the H-2A program.
The farm also failed to pay the required rates to 69 domestic workers hired alongside H-2A visa workers, per the DOL.
The department said it had recovered $159,256 in unpaid wages for the workers and had assessed $25,430 in civil money penalties.
Guest workers and immigrant labor are essential to US agriculture. Insider previously reported that US immigration laws mean that some farms are struggling to get enough labor, which limits how much produce they can grow and harvest.