FORT MYERS, Fla. — Six seasonal farmworkers have filed suit against their former employer over wage issues and record keeping.
The workers are suing Flint Family Farm Sales LLC for failure to pay the minimum wage, improper record keeping, and not providing wage statement and wage payment provisions required by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
The suit was filed Dec. 7, 2016, according to a previous report by the Florida Record.
According to a report on Law 360, the case, Crockett et al v. Flint Family Farms Sales LLC, now sits before U.S. District Judge John E. Steele of the District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers. The plaintiffs — George Crockett, Aaron Green, Albert Riggens, Kamel Waters, James Williams and Leon Darnell Williams — are seeking statutory damages of $500, back pay and compensatory damages. They are represented by Sara Mangan and Tia Huntley of Florida Rural Legal Services Inc. in Fort Myers.
Flint Family Farms, which was incorporated in 2011, has since been administratively dissolved, Mangan told the Florida Record.
She also said that the case is currently in a state of limbo because of the defendant and the fact that the LLC had been dissolved.
“[W]e are still trying to get the defendant served. I do not know whether or not they have an attorney. I sent the defendant a certified letter several months ago and never heard back,” Mangan said.
Born out of a 1960 journalistic exposé about the conditions migrant farmworkers faced, according to FarmWorkerJustice.org, MSPA was adopted by Congress in 1983 after its initial incarnation 20 years earlier, the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act, failed to protect all farm hands, regardless of immigration status.
According to the DOL’s website, MSPA “protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor.”
Florida’s Department of Health reported that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 migrant workers employed in the state during any given year. The number of seasonal workers could not be independently ascertained.
The events involving the plaintiffs in the Crockett case are reportedly not rare occurrences. Mangan said that “[w]age theft and underpayment are very common problems that farmworkers face in the agricultural industry.”
The frequency of such instances comes despite the federal law and even a Florida law. As Mangan explained, however, there is a reason for that.
“Florida has the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Law (Florida Statue § 450.27 et seq.),” she said. “But most of its provisions only apply for farm labor contractors, not growers, and it does not provide a private cause of action. It doesn't really apply in this case, because we are suing Flint Family Farms Sales LLC. I believe that Flint Family Farms Sales LLC was a part of a private farm.”
The Florida Record conducted research into ascertaining whether this was true. Flint Family Farms Sales LLC did not appear on the Department of Labor website's lists for farm-labor contractors or farm-labor contractor employees. The LLC also did not come up on a search of the website for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service for licenses or complaints.
A private grower is not bound by the strictures of the MSPA because it does not meet the definition of “employment” as set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to a report by Special Assistant United States Attorney at U.S. Department of Justice Fedline Ferjuste entitled “The Agricultural Worker Protection Act & Florida's Migrant Worker: The Hands That Feed Florida.” Categories of employers are covered by MSPA include agricultural associations, agricultural employers, migrant-housing providers and farm-labor contractors.
Ferjuste's paper stated that it was the intention of Congress to include private growers under the umbrella of MSPA regulations, seeing as how private growers would eventually label crew leaders, who retrieved and delivered needed help to a grower, as “independent contractors” and free themselves from governmental oversight.