Tomato farm fined for paying guest workers more

Posted at 6:30 PM, May 23, 2016

They're responsible for many of the tomatoes we buy, and now a Tampa Bay area farm is under fire, accused of taking advantage of a federal program to replace local workers with foreign labor.

“They were not paid the same wages. They were underpaid,” said U.S. Department of Labor Supervisor Nicolas Ratmiroff.

The U.S. Department of Labor has fined Red Diamond Farms $1.4 million, claiming it shortchanged 380 American workers while paying more to foreign workers hired through the federal H-2A Program.

“The H program is intended to supplement the employment of U.S. workers, not to displace them, not to replace them,” Ratmiroff said.

The company, which supplies tomatoes to major grocery stores like Publix, Kroger, Meyer and Safeway, allegedly failed to advertise positions, contact former workers and provide housing and transportation to those local workers who needed it.

But U.S. Department of Labor investigators say they did make those benefits available to foreign workers.

The company was ordered to pay nearly $150,000 in back wages to those domestic employees who were identified as being underpaid.  

Rosa Rosales, who lives in Wimauma, says she applied for a job at Red Diamond last year, but they never called her back.

Rosales sells watermelons out of the back of her truck about a mile from the farm.

She says she makes about $80 a day, but she says she'd much rather be picking tomatoes because there the pay is steady.

After her watermelons run out, so does her chance to earn money.

“We've had numerous complaints from workers on Red Diamond Farms,” said Laura Safer Espinoza, who is executive director of the Fair Food program, which is aimed at protecting employee rights.

She says Red Diamond Farms has declined repeated invitations to join the program.

“In the fair food program, workers are educated on their rights on the clock, on company property, with the blessing of management,” Espinoza said.

Red Diamond Farms issued the following statement:

Red Diamond Enterprises denies the allegations by DOL that it exploited workers or willfully disobeyed Federal Laws.

Red Diamond Enterprises is a family owned and operated business that treats all employees with dignity and respect. Growing up as a Migrant Agricultural Family ourselves, we understand how important these values are. 

We have worked to treat our employees well, and we have paid out all back wages DOL claims were due. The H-2A program is very complex, and we are committed to being in full cpliance.

What you have read or heard about is NOT a final assessment, and we will be appealing this order.

Because this matter is a legal proceeding at this time, we are unable to discuss this case in detail. We hope to get this case resolved favorably for Red Diamond Enterprises and the record will be set straight.  Be assured that our commitment on behalf of ourselves and Red Diamond Enterprises is to comply fully with the H-2A program requirements and all other laws that govern our operations.

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