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Hawaii-based Kona Coffee Grounds pays more than $25,000 in back wages to migrant workers following US Labor Department investigation

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kona Coffee Grounds LLC has paid $25,290 in back wages to 24 employees from Michoacán, Mexico, after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined that the Holualoa, Hawaii-based company violated provisions of the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers.  Kona Coffee Grounds also has paid $21,000 in civil money penalties after the department determined that the company procured signed statements from workers in an attempt to make them waive their rights under the H-2A program, which is prohibited under the program’s regulations. These rights safeguard wages and work hours promised to workers prior to their arrival in the U.S.

“Workers in every industry deserve no less than to receive all the wages they have earned,” said Ruben Rosalez, acting administrator of the Wage and Hour Division’s Western Region. “This case demonstrates our active enforcement efforts in the agricultural industry, in which many vulnerable workers perform difficult jobs for low wages. The Labor Department is committed to protecting the rights of all workers, including those who are working in our country temporarily, and will take action when employers violate the law.”

Kona Coffee Grounds promised employees a set piece rate for each pound of coffee picked, with a minimum hourly rate guaranteed by H-2A program requirements; however, when the crop was light and their piece rate earnings were low, the employees were paid fewer wages than those to which they were entitled. The investigation also revealed that the company failed to pay workers an amount equal to at least three-fourths of the hours guaranteed in the work contract, as is required.  Agricultural employers who bring temporary, nonimmigrant workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature must meet H-2A requirements regarding pay, hours of work and other conditions of employment outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act as well as the implementing regulations found in 20 Code of Federal Regulations Part 655 and 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 501. (click on link to read full story)

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