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Berry farms fined under FLSA for illegally employing children

Three berry farms were recently fined under the Fair Labor Standards Act for illegally employing children as young as six years old. Officials with the Labor Department discovered nine children between the ages of 6 to eleven who were working with their parents harvesting berries. The three farms located in Washington state were collectively fined $73,050.

According to farm worker advocates in the Northwest, the Labor Department discovered a common employment practice among berry farmers in the region. Traditionally the children of migrant workers harvested produce alongside their employee parents, and workers were paid by weight or volume.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, children younger than 12 are not allowed to work in an agricultural environment even when accompanied by family members. Additional, state and federal laws require all workers to receive minimum wage paid by the hour. Workers can also be paid by weight or volume, but pay by the weight or volume can only be offered in addition to minimum wage to incentivize workers. That way all workers are paid no matter how slow or fast they harvest says a staff attorney with Columbia Legal Services in Olympia, Washington.

While it is fairly common for children to work on farms, it was unusual that such young children were discovered working on the berry farms. The staff attorney believes it would be easier for children to pick berries because the plants are so low to the ground. The staff attorney has interviewed children who have picked 200 pounds of strawberries and complain about back and knee pain.

Source: Columbian.com, "Three area berry farms fined for underage pickers," Courtney Sherwood, Aug. 5, 2011

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