U.S. gov’t sues Yauco coffee grower for minimum wage violations
The U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit in federal court against Beneficiado de Café Las Indieras, doing business as Hacienda Remanso de Paz, and its president, Wilfredo Ruiz-Vargas, for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and record-keeping provisions.
An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division found that the Yauco coffee grower employed farm workers and coffee harvesters, but failed to pay them the legally required minimum wage for all hours worked.
Several coffee pickers were paid by the pound, amounting to hourly wages between $1.25 and $6.54, and some seasonal hourly workers were paid $5.25 per hour instead of the legally required minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Investigators also found that the defendants failed to create and maintain accurate records of their employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, in violation of the FLSA.
“The coffee-growing industry in Puerto Rico employs thousands of low-wage agricultural workers, many of whom are coffee pickers who work on rugged land in mountainous regions for subminimum wages. These are among the most vulnerable of workers, and they deserve to be paid correctly,” said José R. Vázquez, director of the division’s Caribbean District Office.
“These workers are typically paid by the pound for the coffee they pick. Paying by the pound is legal, but it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure workers are earning at least the minimum wage,” he said.
The defendants operate a farm primarily dedicated to the planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing, packing and selling of coffee. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, seeks back wages covering the last two years. It also asks the court to restrain the defendants from withholding payment of the wages owed, and from future FLSA violations.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, as well as time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.
The division’s Caribbean District Office in Guaynabo conducted the investigations. The department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in New York litigated the case for the division.