SW Washington berry growers fined

Some employed pickers as young as 6

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Updated: August 5, 2011, 10:49 AM

 

The U.S. Labor Department has fined three southwest Washington strawberry farms a total of $73,050 for employing children as young as 6 years old as pickers.

The department's Portland office said Thursday the violations include failing to maintain proof-of-age records and pay minimum wage. A total of nine underage workers were found during a child labor investigation in June at farms in Woodland and Ridgefield.

The department fined Columbia Fruit of Woodland $16,350 for employing two underage workers, George Hoffman Farms of Ridgefield $32,350 for employing four underage workers and Berry Good Farms of Ridgefield $24,350 for employing three underage workers.

“Agricultural employers must understand that the Labor Department will vigorously enforce federal labor laws, especially when it comes to protecting vulnerable workers such as children,” said Jeffrey Genkos, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Portland District Office, which conducted the investigations. “Agricultural employment is particularly dangerous for children, and the rules for their employment must be followed.”

Due to the severity of the child labor violations, the agency invoked the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which precludes the farmers from shipping the strawberries produced in violation of the law, according to a news release.

All three employers took immediate steps to come into compliance by removing the underage workers and agreeing to attend training conducted by the Wage and Hour Division for the next three years.

The Fair Labor Standards Act sets standards regarding the minimum wage, overtime compensation and child labor.

The law allows, with restrictions, the employment of people 12-16 years old as farmworkers. There are no restrictions on workers 16 and older who are employed in farm jobs, according to the news release.

Youth of any age may work at any time and perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parents. Otherwise, most people younger than 12 years old may not be employed in farm activities, according to the department.