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A number of California farming operations, including five based in Santa Maria, were found to be in violation of federal laws in a U.S. Department of Labor enforcement action that recovered hundreds of thousands in back wages for workers and tens of thousands in civil penalties. 

The Labor Department's investigation found widespread violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the labor provisions of the H-2A visa program at 10 facilities and farm labor contractors. 

The most significant violations occurred at JV Harvesting, Savino Farms, La Palma Farms, Big F Company and Rio Vista Corp. in Santa Maria; Manuel Perez Farming in San Luis Obispo; San Cristobal Manufacturing in Oxnard; and Aztec Harvesting in Fresno.

A total of $422,152 in back wages was recovered for 443 low-wage workers, and $85,168 in civil penalties was assessed, primarily against growers in Central California.

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Investigators with the department's Wage and Hour Division inspected onion-growing operations in the high desert around Lancaster and Palmdale before moving to strawberry harvest operations in the Santa Maria area.

H-2A and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker violations found included failing to pay the required minimum wage, missing paychecks, unlawfully rejected U.S. workers, failure to provide safe housing and failure to meet safe transportation requirements for workers.

“The U.S. Department of Labor will continue to be on the lookout to ensure agricultural workers are paid the wages they have legally earned, and are also provided safe working, housing and transportation conditions,” Ruben Rosalez, Wage and Hour Division regional administrator, said in a news release.

“We are always available to assist employers in understanding their responsibilities under federal laws," Rosalez said. "We encourage all employers to take advantage of the free resources we provide and avoid costly penalties.”

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Santa Maria City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.