US Department of Labor finds owed wages, assesses penalties in over 80 percent of cotton gin investigations in seven Southeast states

ATLANTA – While the cotton gin has greatly increased the speed of crop production since its invention more than three centuries ago, the U.S. Department of Labor has found 8 out of 10 cotton gin employers it investigated in the Southeast region violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, or provisions of the H-2A visa program.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division identified violations in 81 percent of the 71 cotton gin investigations completed between November 2019 and March 2021 in the Southeast, home to some of the largest cotton producers in the nation. These investigations led the department to recover $282,626 in back wages and $10,785 in liquidated damages for 620 workers. The division also assessed $152,539 in civil money penalties to 37 employers.

The most common violations cited include:

  • Failure to pay proper overtime and maintain accurate records as required by the FLSA.
  • Failure to disclose actual terms and conditions and provide wage statements to workers.
  • Failure to ensure housing safety and health and provide terms and conditions of occupancy as required by MSPA and the H-2A visa program.

Among the employers and recoveries made by the division are the following:

Employer City State Wages/Penalties
Servico Inc.

Courtland

Alabama

$48,918

Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse

Climax

Georgia

$12,795

Hi Grade Farm Supply

Winona

Mississippi

$26,202

Gates Cotton Gin Inc.

Gates

North Carolina

$25,557

Vallentines Gin Inc.

Cope

South Carolina

$16,127

ARP Cotton Gin Company LLC

Ripley

Tennessee

$3,939

The division is engaged in an ongoing education, outreach and enforcement initiative to ensure that the Southeast cotton and agriculture industries operate within federal law. In addition to enforcement, Wage and Hour Division representatives are working with stakeholders to promote better understanding of the laws governing their industry and offering compliance assistance for those seeking to avoid costly violations. “Our investigations show that far too many cotton gin operators are not compliant with federal labor law,” said Wage and Hour Division Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta. “The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division maintains a dogged commitment to ensure that cotton gin workers receive all of their hard earned wages as well as the worker protections they are due. We encourage employers and stakeholders in the ginning industry to review their policy and practices and contact us to request compliance assistance.”

The division offers multiple compliance assistance resources, including an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit, to provide employers the information they need to comply with the law. For more information about the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act, the H-2A Visa Program and other laws enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Callers can receive information confidentially in more than 200 languages. Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division.

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