The Department of Labor has collected almost $800,000 in back wages and fines for labor violations in the South Florida agriculture industry.

A sweep of East Coast farms and packinghouses that began during the green bean harvest near Homestead, Fla., in March has so far netted $670,800 in back wages and $128,800 in penalties, according to a news release from the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The Wage and Hour Division’s East Coast initiative seeks to enforce farm workers’ rights under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s Field Sanitation Standard.

Major violators in the South Florida sweep include FT&T Bean Line; A&J Farms; JNJ Growers; T-N-T Farms; and Homestead Organic Farms.

Common violations included paying workers less than the federal minimum wage and not paying overtime.

Dan Howard, owner of Homestead Organic, disputes the $4,150 civil penalty he was given and has filed a review with the department.

Homestead was charged with 40 violations, mostly for late payments, Howard said. A harvest company, not Homestead, employs the workers Homestead uses, he said.

“To say I’m a co-employer is ridiculous,” Howard said. 

In addition, Howard said payments he has made have never taken more than 30 days, and most are within two weeks.

“I’ve seen the same people in the crew for 20 years,” he said. “Do you think they’d come back if they weren’t being paid?”

Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, could not comment on the particulars of the Department of Labor sweep.

She did say that labor issues continue to be a priority for the association.

“We just today are wrapping up a series of four labor meetings in various locations around Central and South Florida,” Lochridge said June 30. “Each meeting exceeded our expectations for attendance, demonstrating the level of interest in the topics, which included labor regulations.”

The East Coast crackdown, which will continue up the coast, is being coordinated by the Wage and Hour Division’s Southeast Regional office and the Labor Department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta.