A settlement between 24 American workers and a Vidalia onion grower is a step toward ensuring that growers in the region pay U.S. workers as much as foreign workers on H-2A visas, according to Georgia Legal Services.
A federal judge 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 the Farm Workers Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services.
Senior staff attorney Dawson Morton of the 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, H-2A and U.S. workers must be paid the same rate.
Owners of the Vidalia, Ga.-based Stanley Farms did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the case or settlement. The workers filed the case in April 2013. The company must pay the settlement by July 23, according to court documents.
In the settlement the Stanleys agreed to make sure farm labor contractors they work with are properly licensed. They also agreed to buy and use timekeeping equipment and to keep records of hours worked and compensation paid.
The Stanleys agreed to pay workers a piece rate of 43 cents per bucket during harvest season and to provide 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 Stanleys agreed to use proper transportation vehicles with licensed drivers. The settlement also requires the Stanleys to wait 24 hours after applying pesticides before requiring workers to go 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.