A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) provides in-depth analysis of ag labor investigations over the past twenty years. The Federal Labor Standards Enforcement in Agriculture report notes that a vast majority of investigations uncovered labor violations. A relatively low number of problematic employers were responsible for a large share of the overall number of violations that were cited. The authors of the report also highlight areas of concern and offer solutions to help protect farmworkers moving forward.
“The Wage and Hour Division should incorporate statistical analyses of investigations and employment data to inform investigators about which employers are most likely to violate employment laws,” said Zachariah Rutledge, a post-doctoral researcher at Arizona State University and one of the report’s authors. “As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, better targeting enforcement efforts could strengthen protections for the farmworkers who harvest and pack our food.”
A total of 70 percent of investigations conducted by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor found employment law violations on farms. Nearly a third of those investigated had committed at least five individual violations. Farm labor contractors (FLCs) were found to be the most frequent violators, accounting for 24 percent of all federal employment law violations in the agricultural industry. Ag labor investigations discovered a disproportionately high number of violations in relation to agriculture’s share of overall U.S. employment. The farm sector accounts for approximately one percent of total U.S. employment but accounts for three percent of all federal employment law violations over the past 15 years.
The authors provide several suggestions aimed at helping prevent future violations. One of the recommendations is to focus on increased scrutiny of FLCs and farms that use them. Other suggestions include increasing the severity of sanctions as we as the value of civil money penalties in instances of violations. The authors also recommend that the WHD redirect more investigations to be conducted on operations likely to violate employment laws.