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U.S. Department of Labor fines California farm labor firms for unsafe conditions, wage violations

June 13, 2011 |  4:27 pm

The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered two California farm labor contractor companies to pay $91,300 in fines and worker back pay in connection with federal investigations into wage violations and unsafe worker transportation conditions.

The investigations of Madera-based Mid-Valley Labor Services and Riverdale-based Ayala Corp. were launched after two separate traffic accidents occurred in 2010 in which six migrant and seasonal farm workers were killed and six others were seriously injured, according to a statement released Monday by the Labor Department.

The Labor Department said it found both firms had violated the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which provides employment-related protections to agricultural workers.

Neither Mid-Valley Labor Services nor Ayala could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

"The Labor Department is applying the maximum penalties allowed by law because these tragedies could have been prevented had the law been followed," George Friday Jr., administrator of the department's Wage and Hour Division's western region, said in a statement. "It is imperative that employers, farm labor contractors and others provide safe means of transportation for agricultural workers and use properly licensed drivers."

Investigators said they found that Mid-Valley Labor Services did not make sure its drivers had valid licenses or that they obtained proper insurance coverage.

The Labor Department also said it recovered $49,527 from the company in back wages that were owed to 114 farm workers after discovering the company had failed to pay wages in a timely manner, unlawfully charged workers for transportation and failed to pay for work activities performed prior to their shifts in the fields.

In a separate probe, the department said Ayala had failed to provide safe transportation to its farm workers and failed to provide vehicle insurance to its drivers, among other things. The federal agency also recovered $960 in back wages for six workers.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Farm workers harvesting crops in a California field. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times