Some members of Congress want the Department of Labor to stop enforcing a law that can suspend fresh produce shipments.
At a committee hearing July 30, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga. and other lawmakers called on the department to end its use of the so-called “hot goods” section of the Fair Labor Standards Act on fruit and vegetable growers.
The act prohibits shipments of goods produced in violation of the minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor or special minimum wage provisions. The “hot goods” provision permits the department to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction on the sale or shipment of goods that violate those standards.
In 2012, the Department of Labor accused several Oregon blueberry growers of violating federal minimum wage law. The agency said it would block shipment of their crops unless the growers paid more than $200,000 in fines and alleged back wages.
While agreeing to pay the money, two of the farms later challenged the agency’s action in court. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that the department’s actions were coercive and denied the growers’ due process. The Department of Labor is appealing that ruling.
Scott, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, on July 30 led a public hearing on what he called the administration’s abusive practice of using the hot goods provision on specialty crop growers. The new farm bill also contains a provision that requires the Department of Labor to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture when it uses the “hot goods” provision.
“A federal court has found the Department of Labor’s actions were coercive and violated the due process of farmers which is protected by our Constitution,” Ranking Member Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said in a news release. “I am deeply troubled that the Department of Labor has appealed the ruling of the courts, and continues to maintain that their use of ‘hot goods’ authority on perishable items is warranted and appropriate.”
Chairman Scott and Ranking Member Schrader introduced H.R. 1387, according to the release, which would prevent the Department of Labor from using the “hot goods” provision for perishable agricultural products.
Scott said in the release that there are growing concerns that the department is using the “hot goods” provision in an arbitrary manner against producers of perishable agricultural commodities without regard for the inevitable destruction of the product and economic hardship for farmers and employees.
David Weil, U.S. Department of Labor administrator, defended the use of “hot goods” provision to the committee, citing several cases where the law was used to prevent continued violations of child labor law.
Farmworker advocates said that the “hot goods” provision is rarely used, serves as deterrent to violations of labor law and protects law-abiding employers.