By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

Strawberry-picking-California.jpg

An administrative law judge (ALJ) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) found Gonzalo Fernandez, the president and operator of Fernandez Farms, to have violated numerous laws concerning H-2A visa workers and ordered payment of over $2 million.

The ALJ found the company required each H-2A worker to pay about $1600 from their wages in illegal kickbacks to cover the administrative costs of the H-2A program. For this violation, the ALJ ordered Fernandez to pay $410,850 to the affected workers.

The ALJ also found Fernandez was not paying the correct piece/wage rate and overtime, nor providing free housing to H-2A workers. For these violations, Fernandez was ordered to pay approximately $650,000.

Overall, Fernandez was ordered to pay approximately $1.1 million to the affected workers and approximately $1.3 million in civil penalties to the DOL. Furthermore, Fernandez Farms was barred from participating in the H-2A visa program for three years.

Not only did Fernandez commit the above violations, the ALJ also found he threatened and coerced workers to deter them from reporting the violations and forced them to hide or lie to the DOL investigators.