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LABOR SECRETARY VISITS SOUTH FLORIDA SUGARCANE FIELDS; ANNOUNCES FINES AND FARM LABOR ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVES

        LABOR SECRETARY VISITS SOUTH FLORIDA SUGARCANE FIELDS;
        ANNOUNCES FINES AND FARM LABOR ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVES
    ATLANTA, Nov. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Following a tragic accident that took the lives of seven Guatemalan farmworkers, Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin today visited south Florida to observe agricultural employment conditions in the area, including in the sugarcane industry.
    She visited the operations of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Belle Glade, Fla., observing the work and working conditions of sugarcane harvest workers in the fields, and inspecting farmworker housing.  She also met with farmworker representatives in Belle Glade.
    Martin said:  "All workers, whether in the fields, factories, or shops, deserve decent, clean and safe working conditions.  I came to south Florida today to see first-hand what farmworkers experience everyday to fully appreciate the situation.  I am committed to fair and firm enforcement of the laws protecting workers.  To do this, it is best to understand the challenges all sides face in trying to bring a crop to the family table."  Martin continued:  "Last month's tragic accident should sound a wake-up call to everyone involved in agricultural employment.  We can and must do better."
    Following the accident in which seven farmworkers from Indiantown drowned when their car plunged into a canal, Secretary Martin immediately launched a Labor Department investigation. Martin announced today that the investigation has been completed and the Labor Department has taken action against both the farm labor contractor, Ms. Araceli Rivera, and the Okeelanta Corp. for violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("MSPA") and the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Rivera was assessed a penalty of almost $18,000 for these violations and Okeelanta was fined nearly $15,000.  The Florida State Department of Labor is also investigating the accident.
    Martin also stated that the Labor Department expanded its investigation to include all the farm labor contractors employed by Okeelanta.  She reported that, in addition to Rivera, four other contractors were employed by the company, three of whom were transporting farmworkers without authorization to do so.
    She announced that the violating contractors -- Jean Marcelin, Gloria Silva, and Nathaniel Lennon -- are also being cited for their violations, and assessed penalties of $2,000 each.  Okeelanta has also been assessed an additional $6,000 in penalties in connection with the activities of these contractors.
    Martin also announced other actions being taken by the federal Labor Department.  She announced that the department is:
    -- re-examining its agricultural enforcement plans for this season to step up the federal enforcement program.
    -- further expanding efforts in the community and with the industry to promote full compliance with the law.
    -- pursuing efforts with the IRS to develop tax cases when taxes are deducted from farmworkers' wages but not deposited with the IRS. Martin explained that Wage and Hour regards such undeposited tax deductions as illegal deductions from wages, and refers such cases to the IRS.
    -- accelerating the review of regulations on vehicle insurance requirements.
    -- reviewing civil fines for farm labor standards violations. Martin said:  "Though I am pleased by the promptness with which Wage and Hour initiated and completed its thorough investigations in this case, and by their decision to assess substantial penalties including the maximum child labor penalty allowed by law, I want, too, to assure that our fines for such serious violations cannot be simply perceived as another  cost of doing business.'  Therefore, I have directed that the department's administrative penalty system under MSPA be re-examined."
    -- expanding cooperative working and coordinated enforcement relationships with state labor authorities.
    Martin said:  "Though we have long had good, cooperative relationships with state labor authorities, we initiated discussions with appropriate Florida state officials to explore how we can work even better together to more effectively meet the needs of the farmworker community.  We will continue to work to achieve an ongoing agreement with the state through which -- working better together -- we can have a more effective enforcement program, in the sugarcane industry and throughout Florida's agricultural community.
    "We are looking at coordinated outreach efforts; coordinated enforcement activities aimed at housing, vehicle safety and labor standards; and other means by which we can make better use of all our labor standards enforcement resources," said Martin.
    "Through this combination of approaches we are undertaking to do a continuously better job of protecting farmworkers in this area and throughout the country.  But we in government simply cannot solve these problems by ourselves nor, for that matter, can they be solved in the short term.  So we need to and will be working more closely with the community, with state authorities, with employers, and with the workers' organizations and advocates to continue to explore ways in which we can more effectively protect the nation's farmworkers and meet the community's needs," Martin said.
    Martin's visit follows up on the fact-finding mission two weeks ago by Assistant Labor Secretary Cari Dominguez, dispatched by Martin immediately following the accident at the Okeelanta Corp. outside of South Bay.
    -0-                 11/14/91
    /CONTACT:  Bob Zachariasiewicz of the United States Department of Labor, 202-523-7316/ CO:  United States Department of Labor; Okeelanta Corporation ST:  Florida IN: SU:  EXE BN-BR -- AT004 -- 4378 11/14/91 11:21 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 14, 1991
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