When the news of the Labor Department’s punishment of C.J.’s Seafood broke last night, my first reaction was to question the stringency of the fines. Just $34,000!? And $214,000 for wage and hour violations? This from the company that got exposed for treating H-2B guest workers to 24-hour shifts and lock-ins? But, it turns out that these numbers are actually quite substantial according to Sonia Ramirez, Deputy Director of Government Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO:
Non-willful violations have fees around $1000 in the H2A agricultural guest worker program, and OSHA is often worse. A violation that causes a “substantial probability of death — or serious physical harm” brings a maximum penalty of only $7,000. Willful and repeated violations carry a maximum penalty of only $70,000 and willful violations a minimum of $5,000.
These punitive shortcomings demonstrate how little labor at large — and the health and safety of workers, more specifically — is valued. Onlookers, however, seem to display more sympathy on the issue. Nearly 150,000 people signed a petition supporting C.J.’s workers last month.
According to the New York Times, “the company owed $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.”
To read more about recent Congressional activity that blocked necessary reforms to guest worker programs, read this.