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September 1, 2016

Strawberry Grower Fined $2.4 Million for H-2A Program Abuses

An administrative law judge has ordered Gonzalo Fernandez, who operates Fernandez Farms Inc. in Watsonville, to repay kickbacks and rent he collected from more than 400 H-2A workers.

According to the decision, Fernandez requested payments of more than $1,600 apiece from several hundred foreign workers over the 2010 and 2011 seasons as reimbursement for transportation and other costs of bringing the laborers from Mexico.

Fernandez must pay back $1.29 million to the workers and pay a fine of $1.1 million for violating the federally-supervised H-2A work visa program. He will also be barred from participating in the H-2A program for three years. The H-2A program requires employers to provide free housing and pay all of the costs associated with transportation of foreign workers.

To learn more about the case and the similar judgments of Fernandez’s sister and nephew, who were also implicated in the wage theft case, read the Los Angeles Times’ “Strawberry grower fined $2.4 million, demanded kickbacks from Mexican workers” story.

Abuse of H-2A workers, including allegations of wage theft and failure to pay overtime, have drawn increased scrutiny from the Labor Department. Western Growers will continue to support, encourage and advance efforts that ensure a safe work environment and fair treatment of workers. Western Growers has been helping members safely utilize the H-2A program for over a decade.

For more information, please contact Jason Resnick at (949) 885-2253.