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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Office of the Chief Economist

AGRICULTURAL LABOR AFFAIRS


MIGRANT AND SEASONAL AGRICULTURAL
WORKER PROTECTION ACT

 

Adapted from "A Summary of Federal Laws and Regulations Affecting Agricultural Employers, 1992," by Jack L. Runyan, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 652.

The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), passed in 1983, was designed to provide migrant and seasonal farmworkers with protections concerning pay, working conditions, and work-related conditions, to require farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor, and to assure necessary protections for farmworkers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.

Summary

The MSPA is the major Federal law that deals exclusively with agricultural employment. It was enacted to protect migrant and seasonal farmworkers on matters of pay and working and work-related conditions, to require farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor, and to assure necessary protections for farmworkers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.

The major requirements of MSPA are:

  1. farm labor contractors and each of their employees who will be performing farm labor contractor activities must obtain a certificate of registration from the U.S. Department of Labor before they can start farm labor contractor activities,
  2. farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations must disclose to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers information about wages, hours, and other working conditions, and about housing when provided,
  3. workers must be provided with written statements of earnings and deductions,
  4. if transportation is provided, vehicles used must be safe and properly insured, and
  5. if housing is provided, it must meet safety and health standards.

The law requires people who use the services of a farm labor contractor to take reasonable steps to determine that the contractor has a valid certificate of registration. This information can be verified by calling the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free number (1-800-800-0235). The law designates criminal and civil penalties and administrative sanctions against anyone who violates it.

Requirements

The law contains several major requirements for agricultural employers.

  • First, farm labor contractors and each of their employees who will be performing farm labor contractor activities must obtain a certificate of registration from the U.S. Department of Labor before they can start farm labor contractor activities.
  • Farm labor contractors who furnish worker transportation and housing must also:
    • Furnish proof to the U.S. Department of Labor that their transportation vehicles meet safety requirements,
    • Furnish proof to the U.S. Department of Labor that their transportation vehicles are insured for the amounts specified in the statute and regulations, and
    • Identify the housing that will be used and show that it meets State and Federal safety and health standards and is approved for occupancy.
  • Second, farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations must provide written information to their workers on wages, hours, other working conditions, and housing when they recruit.
  • Third, farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations must make and preserve written payroll records. They must also provide each employee with a written statement of earnings, deductions (plus reasons for deductions), and net pay.

Fulfilling the Requirements of Conditions of Employment

A major requirement of employers and contractors under the MSPA is to provide workers with a statement of the conditions of their employment. This law requires that each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, and agricultural association that recruits any migrant or day-haul workers must provide the following information in writing to each worker:

  • Place of employment,
  • Wage rates to be paid,
  • Crops and kinds of activities in which the worker is to be employed,
  • Period of employment
  • Transportation, housing, and any other employee benefits to be provided and any costs to be charged to workers,
  • Existence of any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or interruption of operations by employees at the place of employment and
  • Whether anyone is paid a commission for items that may be sold to workers while they are employed.

This same information must be provided in writing to any seasonal workers, but only if they request it. The information must be provided in the language common to the farmworker if they are not fluent in English as necessary and reasonable.

Each farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, and agricultural association that employs any migrant or seasonal worker (including each day-haul worker) must make the following records for each employee and preserve them for 3 years:

  • Basis on which wages are paid,
  • Number of piecework units earned, if paid on a piecework basis,
  • Number of hours worked,
  • Total earnings,
  • Specific sums withheld and the purpose of each sum withheld, and
  • Net pay.

Workers must be paid every 2 weeks or twice a month. Each employee must be provided with an itemized written statement of the information listed above for each pay period. The information furnished to employees must be in a language common to workers.

Farm labor contractors must also furnish wage records to each agricultural employer and agricultural association for which the contractor provides workers. The agricultural employers and agricultural associations who receive these records are required to keep them for 3 years from the end of the employment period.

Definitions

The following definitions are limited to key terms to show the law's range of coverage. Readers seeking more detailed information should contact the nearest office of the Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, and consult 29 Code of Federal Regulations and 29 United States Code.

A farm labor contractor is a person (other than an agricultural employer, an agricultural association, or an employee of an agricultural employer or agricultural association) who receives a fee for performing farm labor contracting activities.

A farm labor contracting activity is the "recruiting, soliciting, hiring, employing, furnishing, or transporting of any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker."

A migrant agricultural worker is a person employed in agricultural work of a seasonal or other temporary nature who is required to be absent overnight from his or her permanent place of residence. Exceptions are immediate family members of an agricultural employer or a farm labor contractor, and temporary H-2A foreign workers. (H-2A temporary foreign workers are nonimmigrant aliens authorized to work in agricultural employment in the United States for a specified time period, normally less than 1 year.)

A seasonal agricultural worker is a person employed in agricultural work of a seasonal or other temporary nature who is not required to be absent overnight from his or her permanent place of residence. Such a worker is covered by MSPA when the worker is performing field work, or when the worker is employed in a packing or processing operation and is transported by day haul. The same exceptions listed above for migrant agricultural workers apply here.

A day-haul operation is "the assembly of workers at a pick-up point waiting to be hired and employed, transportation of such workers to agricultural employment, and the return of such workers to a drop-off point on the same day."

Agricultural employment is any service or activity defined as agricultural employment in the Fair Labor Standards Act and in the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. In addition, the handling, planting, drying, packing, packaging, processing, freezing, or grading prior to delivery for storage of any agricultural or horticultural commodity in its unmanufactured state are also considered agricultural employment.

Field work is work related to planting, cultivating, or harvesting operations (which occurs in the field rather than in a processing plant or packing shed).

Field workers include workers in nursery and mushroom-growing operations and similar workers who plant, cultivate, and/or harvest.

An agricultural employer is "a person who owns or operates a farm, ranch, processing establishment, cannery, gin, packing shed or nursery, or who produces or conditions seed, and who either recruits, solicits, hires, employs, furnishes, or transports any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker."

An agricultural association is a "nonprofit or cooperative association of farmers, growers, or ranchers incorporated or qualified under applicable State laws which recruits, solicits, hires, employs, furnishes, or transports any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker."

The immediate family of an employer includes "a spouse, children, stepchildren and foster children; parents, stepparents, and foster parents; and brothers and sisters."

An illegal alien is "a person who has entered the United States without legal documentation or who cannot legally accept employment in the United states."

Enforcement

Violations of MSPA carry criminal and civil penalties and administrative sanctions. MSPA also permits people to bring legal action against alleged violators. The agency responsible for enforcing MSPA is the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sanctions

Under the criminal sanctions, anyone knowingly and willfully violating MSPA or its regulations may be fined not more than $1,000 or sentenced to prison for not more than 1 year, or both, for first violations. Subsequent violations carry a fine of not more than $10,000 or a prison sentence of not more than 3 years, or both. An unregistered farm labor contractor who employs an illegal alien may be fined not more than $10,000 or sentenced to prison for not more than 3 years, or both.

Under civil sanctions, any person who commits a violation of MSPA or any regulations under it may be assessed a civil money penalty of not more than $1,000 for each violation.

Under administrative sanctions, farm labor contractors who violate MSPA or any of its regulations may be subject to having their current certificate revoked and/or future applications for certificates denied.

Private Right of Action

A unique feature of MSPA is that it permits anyone aggrieved by a violation of any provision by a farm labor contractor, agricultural employer, agricultural association, or other person to file suit in any Federal District Court having jurisdiction over the parties. The suits may be filed regardless of the amount in controversy, regardless of the citizenship of the parties, and regardless of whether all administrative remedies the act provides have been exhausted. The court may appoint an attorney for the complainant. Finally, the court may award up to $500 per plaintiff per violation, or other equitable relief when violations are intentional.

Exemptions

Farm labor contractor registration. Farm labor contractors and each of their employees who will perform farm labor contractor activities must obtain a certificate of registration from the U.S. Department of Labor before they can start farm labor contractor activities. Those exempt from the registration requirement include:

  1. Agricultural employers and associations or their employees.
  2. Farm labor contractors who work within a 25-mile intrastate radius of their permanent residence for less than 13 weeks per year.
  3. Custom combine, hay harvesting, or sheep shearing operations.
  4. Seed production operations.
  5. Custom poultry operations.
  6. Common carriers.
  7. Labor organizations.
  8. Nonprofit charitable or educational institutions.
  9. Persons hiring or recruiting students or other nonagricultural employees for employment in seed production or in stringing and harvesting shade-grown tobacco.

Migrant and seasonal agricultural workers protection. Farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations must provide migrant and seasonal agricultural workers with information on wages, hours, and other working conditions. In the case of housing, housing providers must provide migrant and seasonal agricultural workers with information on housing. Those exempt from these provisions include:

  1. All those listed above except number 1, --agricultural employers and associations or their employees.
  2. Individuals or immediate family members who engage in farm labor contracting activities on behalf of their exclusively owned or operated operation.
  3. Any person (for example, a farm operator), except a farm labor contractor, who qualifies for the 500-man-days exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

NOTE: Several States have farm labor contractor registration laws whose coverage and provisions may be different from the Federal law.


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Al French, USDA Coordinator of Agricultural Labor Affairs, can be reached at (202) 720-4737 or by e-mail at Al.French@usda.gov

Last revised: September 30, 2002
URL http://www.usda.gov/oce/oce/labor-affairs/mspasumm.htm

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact the USDA Office ofCommunications at (202) 720-5881 (voice) or (202) 720-7808 (TDD).

To file a complaint, write the Secretary of Agriculture, USDA, Washington, D.C., 20250, or call (202) 720-7327 (voice) or (202) 720-1127 (TDD). USDA is an equal employment opportunity employer.

 

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