A settlement between 24 American workers and a Vidalia onion grower is a step toward ensuring that growers who use foreign workers on H-2A visas pay their American workers the same rate, according to Georgia Legal Services.
Federal Judge B. Avant Edenfield in Atlanta approved the $92,500 settlement between the workers and Stanley Farms LLC on June 23. The settlement includes $10,000 for legal fees to be paid to Georgia Legal Services.
Senior staff attorney Dawson Morton of the legal services’ Farm Workers Rights Division represented the American workers. He said the $82,500 provided in the settlement pays back wages due to the 24 employees, plus a small amount of damages.
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A program rules, employers who use H-2A workers must pay American workers the same rate for performing the same jobs.
The American workers’ case, filed in April 2013, included a claim of discrimination, but the judge dismissed that claim.
Owners of the Vidalia, Ga.-based Stanley Farms did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Attorney Larry Stine represented Stanley Farms in the case and said the company denies any liability.
“We’re dealing with Georgia Legal Services and they engage in very expensive litigation practices,” Stine said June 26.
“We basically settled for what is less than what it would cost to go to trial.”
In the settlement Stanley Farms agreed to make sure their farm labor contractors are properly licensed. They also agreed to buy and use timekeeping equipment and to keep records of hours worked and compensation paid.
Stine said the company used a domestic crew leader and an H-2A crew leader to secure workers. Stine said the crew leaders were the employers — not Stanley Farms — and that officials at Stanley Farms did not know there were no employment records for some workers.
The domestic crew leader no longer works for the company, Stine said.
In the settlement, Stanley Farms agreed to pay workers a piece rate of 43 cents per bucket during harvest season and to provide certain tools used in the fields free of charge.
The U.S. citizens who filed the complaint said Stanley Farms required them to pay crew leaders to use buckets and clippers, as well as paying them less than federal minimum wage and less than the farm H-2A foreign workers.
The American workers also claimed in court documents that Stanley Farms had unlicensed drivers transport them to and from onion fields in the back of uninspected, unsafe, open pickup trucks without seats or seatbelts.
In their settlement, the family-owned company agreed to use proper transportation vehicles with licensed drivers. The settlement also requires the company to wait 24 hours after applying certain pesticides before sending workers into fields or handle onions that have been sprayed.
The American workers said in their case that crew leaders illegally sold them alcohol and cigarettes in the field, in addition to food and beverages, taking the costs out of their wages.