Agricultural Workers Lose Millions of Dollars Each Year to Employer Wage Theft

It’s against U.S. labor laws, but that hasn’t stopped employers from withholding more than $65 million in worker wages over the last two decades.

Pramod Acharya Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Farm workers harvest zucchini on a farm in Florida in April. Employers steal millions of dollars in wages from agricultural workers every year. Joe Raedle via Getty Images

Tens of thou­sands of agri­cul­tur­al work­ers have been denied wages by their employ­ers — a vio­la­tion of labor laws — over the past two decades, accord­ing to Depart­ment of Labor data. The data shows that the employ­ers didn’t pay a total of $65 mil­lion in wages to their 150,000 employ­ees between 2001 and 2019.

Back wages increased from $4.2 mil­lion to $6 mil­lion in 2019 than in 2018, a 44 per­cent increase, accord­ing to the data.

Agri­cul­ture is one of fif­teen indus­tries the DOL con­sid­ers low wage, high vio­la­tion industries.”

Many in agri­cul­ture are white, but, in gen­er­al, His­pan­ics and immi­grants of col­or work tougher agri­cul­tur­al jobs, such as har­vest­ing fields and slaugh­ter­ing ani­mals. About 27% of the indus­try is His­pan­ic, accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics. Employ­ers who will­ful­ly or repeat­ed­ly vio­late the Fair Labor Stan­dards Act, which cov­ers deny­ing back wages, can be fined up to $1,000 for each violation.

The Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing is a non­prof­it, online news­room offer­ing inves­tiga­tive and enter­prise cov­er­age of agribusi­ness, Big Ag and relat­ed issues through data analy­sis, visu­al­iza­tions, in-depth reports and inter­ac­tive web tools. Vis­it us online at www​.inves​ti​gatemid​west​.org

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