In the wake publicity about Department of Labor enforcement actions against underage workers in fruit fields, industry leaders said growers need to demand that all children of workers stay off farms.
In a report that was the top link of the heavily visited Drudge Report news site on Aug. 11, ABC News reported that the Department of Labor fined three southwest Washington strawberry growers $73,000. The agency found children ages 6-11 working in strawberry fields in June, the report said.
The firms were George Hoffman Farms, Berry Good Farms and Columbia Fruit LLC, ABC said. A spokesman was not available at Columbia Fruit LLC Aug. 11, Woodland and George Hoffman Farms and Berry Good Farms, both of Ridgefield, could not be reached for comment.
The Department of Labor said in a statement cited by ABC News that the growers have taken steps to remove underage workers from their fields and will be required to attend training by the government over the next three years.
The Labor Department and the Washington State Department of Labor could not be reached for comment about the cases on Aug. 11.
Jeffrey Genkos, director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division’s Portland office, was quoted in Vancouver, Wash.based The Columbian that the children in the strawberry fields were with adults who were either parents, relatives or friends. He said in the report that he expected the firms would appeal the fines. Genkos could not be reached for comment Aug. 11.
“There are rules about child labor and those rules need to be followed,” Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association. “Kids working is not acceptable.”
Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers, said that kids under 12 can’t work on farms, though kids over 12 can work with some restrictions.
Migrant farm families sometimes want their children to work or have no childcare options. Still, he said, growers should not allow underage kids on their farms.
“Our model policy is that children or not allowed in the workplace, period,” he said. “I tell my members, even if your best worker shows up with their kid, you have got to send them home,” he said. “You can’t let them bring kids into the fields.”