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Farmworkers' Rights

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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Farmworkers have many important legal rights. The following is a summary of some of the important rights and responsibilities of farmworkers.

Do They Have To Pay Me Minimum Wage?

Yes. Minimum wage is the amount of money that federal law requires you to be paid for every hour worked. All farmworkers, with few exceptions, have the right to receive the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If you are working with a grower under a contract, or you are promised a higher rate, that is what they need to pay you. If nothing is said about wages, they should pay you as a farmworker at least $7.25 per hour. If you do piece rate or are paid by the acre you still must make at least minium wage.

Will I Be Paid For Waiting And Travel Time?

An employer does not have to pay you travel time going to or coming home from work. If the employer asks that you arrive in a field at a certain time but then you must wait before actually beginning to work, these hours must be counted as hours worked. You have the right to receive pay for the time that you had to wait during the day. For example, they have to pay you for the time spent waiting for the boxes or bins to arrive, before you begin to pick or plant, and weighing in what you bring.

Also, the time that it takes to travel from field to field when the day has begun is also time that you should get paid for.

For this reason too, it is a good idea to keep your own careful records of hours worked so that you can check your pay stub to be certain that these hours are counted, including the hours you spent waiting and traveling between fields.

Do I Get Overtime?

No overtime for fieldwork. Federal law does not provide overtime pay for field work.

Can My Children Work?

Iowa and Federal Law allow children age 14 years and older to detassel corn during June-August without limits on the hours worked. Children age 14 years and older may perform part-time work (20 hours a week) in non-detasseling agricultural jobs. Iowa law requires work permits for 14-15 year olds, including migrant workers. Iowa and Federal law prohibit children who are 14 and 15 years old from working in hazardous occupations (operating machinery, or using dangerous or hazardous chemicals) unless the child is working for his parent's business or farm.

Iowa and Federal law prohibit children from working during school hours. Under Federal law, 14 and 15 year-olds may work three hours per day on school days, and up to 18 hours per week while school is in session. Under Iowa law, 14 and 15 year-olds may work four hours per day on school days, and up to 28 hours per week when school is in session.

Should My Employer Give Me Pay Stubs With My Check?

Farmworkers must receive a written pay statement each time they are paid. The stub should show the following:

  1. the grower's name
  2. address
  3. identification number for federal taxes
  4. the worker's name and identification number
  5. total number of hours worked
  6. how much they're paying per hour
  7. total wages earned
  8. total deductions that were made
  9. net pay
  10. gross pay

If the work is paid on a piece rate basis, the worker must be told in writing the number of pieces completed during the pay period.

If more than one person in each family works at the same place, each person must receive their payment and statement separately. This is required so each worker is able to tell if they are being paid properly.

Should I Write Down The Work I Have Done?

It is a good idea for farmworkers to keep their own records of their work. Write down the number of hours worked and the amount of work performed (for example, the number of acres detasseled). This is important because when workers are paid, they themselves can review their pay stubs to be sure that they received the minimum wage (an average of $7.25 for each hour worked during a pay period). Both the pay stubs and a worker's own record of hours worked are very helpful when farmworkers want to collect their rightful wages.

What If My Employer Does Not Pay Me For My Work?

Under Iowa law, if a farm labor contractor contracts with a seed company or farmer for the production of seed or to detassel, hand pollinate, or weed a crop, and the farm labor contractor fails to pay all the wages owed to his employees, the seed company or farmer is liable to the employees for wages not paid by the independent contractor.

You can file a complaint with a state agency to help you get your wages To obtain a Claim for Wages form, write the Commissioner of the Iowa Division of Labor at 1000 E. Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319-0209. You can also get the form by calling the toll-free number 1-800-562-4692 or (515) 281-3606 or at www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/wage.htm.

There is also a federal agency that will help you if you did not get paid minium wage. The address is US Dept. of Labor ESA Wage & Hour Division Federal Building 210 Walnut Street, Room 643 Des Moines, IA 50309-2407 Phone:1-866-4-USWAGE
(1-866-487-9243).

You may sue your employer in Small Claims Court for the wages due you if the total amount of wages due from one employer is $5,000 or less. If it is more than $5,000 you should talk to an attorney. Iowa Legal Aid's Migrant project may be able to help you with your claim.

Can Deductions Be Taken Out Of My Pay Check?

The grower will deduct the following from a worker's wages: contributions to social security, federal and state taxes. Other deductions can be illegal, depending on the situation. Deductions for housing and food are not allowed unless the worker voluntarily says it's okay. If a grower or contractor deducts social security from your pay and then does not pay it over to the SSA, they are violating the law.

Should My Recruiter Have Some Kind Of License?

All farm labor contractors must be licensed and registered with the United States Department of Labor. A farm labor contractor must show his or her license when requested. It is illegal for a farmer to use an unlicensed contractor to obtain and manage farmworkers. Call 1-866-487-9243 to obtain current registration information from the U.S. Department of Labor.

What Does My Recruiter Have To Tell Me About The Job?

Migrant workers (those workers who are away from their homes) must be given the following information in writing when they are recruited (when they are offered the job):

  1. where they will be employed
  2. type of work that they will do
  3. if there is a charge for transportation
  4. housing and insurance arrangements (and any charges for either)
  5. wage rate to be paid
  6. the length of the job
  7. whether there is a strike or other labor dispute going on

This disclosure is mandatory for migrant workers. Seasonal and local workers must also be given written information if the workers ask for it. This information must be given in the language the worker uses most and understands best.

What If The Recruiter Promised Me Something?

Even if you are not given the required written disclosure, the oral promises that were made when you were recruited should be kept. If these promises are not kept, you can seek legal assistance. A worker can receive money when promises are broken.

Shouldn't There Be A Sign Somewhere About My Rights?

Job information must be posted clearly at the work site and the housing where everyone is likely to see it. Growers and contractors must also put up a poster of farmworkers' rights at the work site where everyone can see it.

What If The Transportation To The Field Is Not Safe?

Farmworkers have the right to be transported in safe, properly insured vehicles driven by licensed drivers. For example, it is unsafe and illegal for a farmworker to be driven to the field in a truck that does not have enough seats for every worker. In addition to being illegal, this is very dangerous. A worker can receive money when this law is violated.

Do I Need Insurance If I Drive To Iowa?

Under Iowa law, every driver must have his or her car insured. A driver must have proof of insurance in the car at all times. Be sure to bring your car insurance card with you when you come to Iowa. Car insurance obtained in other states is accepted in Iowa if the insurance company is authorized to practice business in Iowa.

What If I Am Here On An H-2A VISA?

If a farmworker is recruited from another country by the U.S. Employment Service or the Iowa Workforce Division of Labor, he or she is entitled to whatever is promised to the government in the clearance order (which also might be known as "an H-2A contract"). This is the farmworker's contract and it must be given to him or her by the time the job begins. The grower has to comply with the promises made in the contract. H-2A jobs are farm jobs that pay in 2006 a minimum of $9.49 in Iowa. Each year this rate is changed.

If Am A Permanent Resident Or Citizen, Can I Work In A H-2A Job?

Yes. United States citizens, permanent residents, or other work-authorized individuals have the right to H-2A jobs (contract jobs where the grower brings in foreign workers) until the midpoint of the contract.

If you are working at a farm where there are H-2A workers, you have additional rights which are not mentioned here. For example, if you perform the same jobs as an H-2A worker, the employer must pay you, in 2006, at least an average of $9.49 an hour over each pay period in Iowa.

Can I Get Food Stamps Here?

U.S. citizens, adult legal permanent residents who have been here 5 years, or children who are lawfully present in the U.S. may be eligible for food stamps. Apply at the Iowa Department of Human Services in the county in which you are living. The grower should give the social services office correct information about how much money you are earning. The applicant may not collect food stamps from his or her home state and in another state where he or she is working at the same time. You must cancel food stamps you are receiving in your home state before receiving food stamps in another state where you are working.

Emergency Food Assistance

U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or children of legal permanent residents may be eligible for expedited food stamps. A migrant or seasonal farmworker household that has liquid resources of $100 or less and whose income has been terminated for the month or whose new income will not arrive within 10 days of the application for emergency food stamps may receive expedited food stamps. If you meet these criteria you should receive food stamps within seven days.

What If I Have Housing Problems?

Eviction

The landlord of migrant housing cannot simply tell you to leave. The landlord must follow a legal process to evict a tenant. The landlord must give certain notices to start a lawsuit. Only a judge can order an eviction. Iowa Legal Aid has more information about evictions on its website. Please visit us at www.iowalegalaid.org and select "Legal Information and Other Resources for Iowans." Then select the "Housing" icon.

Can I Leave The Camp When I Want To?

Farmworkers are always free to leave the camp at any time. The grower, contractor or crewleader cannot make a farmworker stay at the housing or on the camp against his or her will. This is true even if the farmworker owes money to the crewleader or employer.

Again, it is often illegal to be evicted for complaining about housing conditions. If a farmworker is being threatened with eviction, it would be a good idea for him or her to contact Iowa Legal Aid or another attorney.

Can I have visitors at the camp?

Camp housing is the farmworkers' home. Farmworkers have a right to receive visitors where they live.

What if the housing conditions are horrible?

Persons who own or control housing for farmworkers must ensure that housing standards are met:

  1. structurally sound housing
  2. housing free from insects and rodents
  3. beds for each person at least 3 feet apart and 12 inches off the floor
  4. lights that work and safe electrical wiring
  5. sanitary toilets
  6. safe drinking water and showers with a sufficient amount of hot and cold water
  7. garbage collected at least twice a week

Whoever owns or controls farmworker housing must request that either federal or state authorities inspect the housing before farmworkers arrive.

Are Pesticides Dangerous?

Pesticides are chemical poisons sprayed on crops to kill insects and weeds. They are dangerous because they are poisons. Pesticides can make you sick and in some cases, may cause death. It is illegal to spray while workers are in the field or to allow workers to work in areas just sprayed, unless you have special protections. You have the right to refuse to enter a field until it is safe (usually anywhere from 12-48 hours after spraying).

What If Am In The Field And Have To Go To The Bathroom?

Every employer with more than 11 farmworkers who work in the field for more than 3 hours at a time must provide toilets and hand washing facilities within a quarter of a mile of the field.

What If I Am Thirsty Out In The Field?

Federal Law requires that cool drinking water and cups (or a drinking fountain) must be placed in locations readily accessible to all employees.

Will I Be Paid If I Am Unemployed?

Farmworkers may be eligible for unemployment compensation. Under Iowa law, workers for large agricultural companies or crew leaders may be able to submit an application for unemployment compensation if the employer pays out at least $20,000 in labor costs per fiscal quarter or employs at least 10 workers for 20 weeks throughout the year.

Even if a farmworker does not live in the state in which he or she worked, he or she may still collect unemployment benefits from his or her home state. This is done through the Interstate Benefit system. It allows eligible farmworkers to add up employment earnings from all states he or she has worked in during the year.

If a farmworker is denied unemployment compensation, he or she may contact Iowa Legal Aid or another attorney. Once benefits are denied, a person has a right to a hearing. It is important to contact an attorney right away since there is only a short time after the date of being denied benefits that allows a person to appeal and request a hearing.

If I Am Injured On The Job, Will I Be Paid?

Under Iowa law, farmers do not have to provide workers' compensation for farmworkers unless at the time of injury, the employer's total cash payroll to one or more employees amounts to $2,500 during the preceding calendar year. Federal law requires that a farmer employing H-2A workers provide workers' compensation to all employees. If an employer elects to cover some of his or her farmworkers with workers' compensation, then employees are covered. If a farmworker is employed by a grower who also employs H-2A workers, then the grower must provide workers' compensation to all other employees as well. Federal law requires that a farmer employing H-2A workers provide workers' compensation to all employees.

If a farmworker has been injured while working, he or she needs to see a doctor immediately. If you are injured on the job and want a lawyer to help, you should contact a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible because you may lose certain rights if you wait too long.

What If My Employer Punishes Me For Complaining?

All farmworkers have the right to know what their rights are and also have the right to ask that the law be followed. You can ask that the law be followed yourself, or through an attorney, either way your request is protected. It is illegal for a farmer, contractor, or a crewleader to retaliate or discriminate against any worker who asks a question about their legal rights or who takes any action to enforce the law. For example, farmworkers should never be fired from their job for asking that the minimum wage be paid nor should they be evicted from a camp for complaining about conditions that affect their safety or health. A farmworker who thinks that he or she is being discriminated against for exercising his or her rights should immediately contact a lawyer.

How Can I Reach Iowa Legal Aid?

Iowa Legal Aid is open from 8:30-5:00 Monday-Friday, except for national holidays. We have offices located throughout the state. Please contact us toll-free at 1-800-532-1275. You may also visit us on the web at www.iowalegalaid.org

(This information was adapted by Iowa Legal Aid and was originally written by Dawson Morton and Georgia Legal Aid)

Last Review and Update: Oct 13, 2009
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