Santa Cruz County

Strawberry grower must pay $2.4 million in back wages, fines

SALINAS, Calif. - A Watsonville-based strawberry grower has been ordered to pay $2.4 million dollars in back wages and penalties for wage theft, intimidation and disregard of a temporary worker visa program.

Fernandez Farms Inc. and its president, Gonzalo Fernandez, will be required to pay more than $1.1 million in back wages to immigrant and domestic farm workers and nearly $1.3 million in penalties for violations of the H-2A visa program. The H-2A program allows employers to hire non-immigrant foreign agricultural workers when there is a shortage of available domestic workers.

An investigation by the U.S. Labor Department found that Fernandez Farms refused to hire local workers and required temporary workers to kickback hundreds of dollars from their pay to cover administrative costs of the visa program.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Clark said the company had intimidated workers, demanded kickbacks, destroyed documentation and coerced workers to hide from or lie to investigators.  

In addition to financial penalties, the company has been barred from participating in the H-2A visa program for three years.

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