Louisiana Walmart Supplier Ordered to Pay $248,000 in Safety Fines and Back Wages
Posted on July 25, 2012 by jway
The Labor Department announced on Tuesday that it ordered Walmart Supplier CJ’s Seafood to pay almost $250,000 in fines and unpaid wages. CJ’s is a Breaux Bridge, Louisiana-based seafood processing plant and in June it was estimated that 85% of the company’s crawfish was sold to Walmart.
Forty guest workers at CJ’s, who came to the US on temporary work visas, went on strike on June 4 to protest abusive working conditions. The workers allege that CJ’s subjected them to forced, unpaid overtime, sometimes for shifts up to 24-hours long, along with threats of violence against the workers and their families to force them to work faster and to prevent them from contacting law enforcement.
On June 6, the workers submitted complaints related to forced labor, stolen wages, unfair labor practices and discrimination to the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of Labor (DOL) marks the completion of two separate DOL investigations, led by DOL Wage & Hour Division and by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The $248,000 in fines and back wages announced on Tuesday includes:
- $34,000 in OSHA fines for 11 serious safety violations and one “other-than-serious” violation
- $76,608 in back pay to 73 workers for “paying less than the minimum wage, not paying overtime for working more than 40 hours a week, and illegally deducting wages for items required to do the job, including gloves, hairnets and aprons.”
- $70,014 in liquidated damages, $32,120 in civil money penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act for “willful violations” of overtime pay requirements, and $35,000 in civil money penalties for “willful violations” of the visa program.
The temporary guest worker, H2-B visa program, affords employers the opportunity to temporarily hire guest workers on short-term work visas. Employers using the program are required to pay wages that are equal to or higher than the highest prevailing wage or the applicable minimum wage. According to DOL’s Wage & Hour Division Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink, “this employer took illegal advantage of the H-2B program, which put it in a position to undercut its competition that plays by the rules.”
The DOL also reports that CJ’s has refused to pay all the back wages, damages, and penalties that the Wage & Hour division has found due, which is clearly not in keeping with Walmart’s requirement that its suppliers follow all applicable labor, immigration, and health and safety violations.
The CJ’s saga shines a spotlight on Walmart’s lack of honesty about conditions in its supply chain. Back in June, Walmart announced results of an internal review of working conditions at CJ’s. Walmart said it was “unable to substantiate claims of forced labor or human trafficking.” Not until June 29, facing pressure from striking workers, the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), the Worker Rights Consortium and others did Walmart finally suspend its contract with CJ’s. NGA found that although Walmart has labor policies in place that it asks suppliers to follow, CJ’s Seafood had violated seven of these eleven standards without the Walmart taking notice.
This post was written by Rebecca Cassler.