Following a U.S. Department of Labor investigation, an administrative law judge ordered a commercial landscaping company based in Bayville to pay 47 temporary landscaping workers $181,670.19 in back wages.
The employer, Turf Masters Inc., violated H-2B worker visa program by underpaying prevailing wage rates and will pay another $38,329.81 in civil penalties.
The Fairways at Lake Ridge in Lakewood, Crestwood Village VII in Whiting, Lake Ridge Homeowners Association in Toms River are among of the Ocean County communities serviced by exploited Mexicans hired by Turf Masters.
The department’s Wage and Hour Division investigation determined that Turf Masters Inc. employed grasscutters for more than 50 hours per week, paid them sub-prevailing wage rates for all hours worked, and then attempted to hide these practices from the division.
Turf Masters, one of the largest commercial grass cutters in Ocean County, hired workers from Mexico to work as grasscutters under the H-2B temporary non-agricultural workers visa program, which allows employers to temporarily hire foreign employees to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States.
Specifically, the division found Turf Masters violated the H-2B program requirements to:
- Pay the required prevailing wage rate, at the time, of $15.52 per hour and $23.28 for overtime hours worked. The employer instead paid the temporary workers approximately $11 an hour;
- Reimburse workers for inbound and outbound travel expenses; and
- Comply with retaining records and documents for three years from the date the H-2B application is certified, or from the date of adjudication if the application is denied, or from the day the department receives the letter of withdrawal if the employer withdraws the application.
Investigators also determined that Turf Masters instructed workers to, among other things, falsely state that they never worked overtime hours.
The department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges issued a decision and order approving consent findings, which requires Turf Masters to pay back wages to resolve the wage violations.
The landscaping company will also pay the civil money penalty assessed by the department due to the substantial nature of the violations.
Additionally, the employer agreed to extensive enhanced compliance measures for the next four years that require the institution of an electronic timekeeping system; hiring of a bilingual monitor to conduct trainings, audits, and confidential interviews of all the company’s H-2B workers every year and installation of GPS devices on each vehicle used to transport workers.
“Employees have a right to be paid their wages, to seek those wages and cooperate with investigators. The Wage and Hour Division will not tolerate interference with its investigations,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Charlene Rachor in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
“This investigation underscores the department’s commitment to using all enforcement tools to protect the rights of people who work in the U.S. Other employers should use the outcome of this investigation as an opportunity to review their own practices to make sure they comply with the law and avoid violations like those found in this case,” said Rachor.
“Employers who flout the rules of the H-2B program harm workers and gain unfair economic advantages. The U.S. Department of Labor will actively litigate such cases to achieve resolutions that ensure that applicants and workers are properly paid and prevent future violations,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey Rogoff in New York.
The division’s Southern New Jersey District Office conducted the investigation. Attorney Jacob Heyman-Kantor and Senior Trial Attorney Rolando Valdez with the department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case.