The Hammonton, N.J., produce company “cooperated in the investigation and agreed to correct the violations immediately upon being notified of them,” according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division’s southern New Jersey district office.
Despite their cooperation, the owners and operators of Donio are liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, southern New Jersey division director Pat Reilly said in the release.
David Arena, president of Donio, and Randy Herman, operations director, agreed with that sentiment.
“The main focus of our conversations with the (labor) department has been about making sure our entire workforce has been and will be appropriately compensated,” Herman said. “Once the malfeasance of Heng Heng was identified to us, we were shocked, but we also took immediate action.”
Heng Heng Agency Inc., Philadelphia, provided temporary workers for Donio from 2010 through 2011, according to a civil case filed Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court by Donio. The produce wholesaler paid Heng Heng $9 per hour, per worker, and thought the workers were being properly compensated, according to the legal complaint.
However, the labor department found the workers were only paid $6.50 an hour and were not paid time-and-a-half for overtime, as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the department’s news release.
According to documents on the New Jersey state labor department’s website, Heng Heng is operated by Visith Oum. Oum did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
The produce wholesaler is seeking a jury trial in federal court and wants Heng Heng to reimburse the $657,000 in back wages. The produce company also wants Heng Heng to pay legal fees and punitive damages.
Herman said owners of the 70-year-old produce company take workforce issues seriously. The company is taking steps to raise awareness among other produce growers, brokers and shippers about labor laws, according to the news release from the Department of Labor.
Arena said his company is “going to do more of what we are doing now.” He said they insist that vendors “do business the way we do business, with social compliance at the forefront of our decision making. We will continue our previous outreach programs and provide our vendors with additional resources as well.”