Investigation disclosed unsanitary conditions, overcrowding at Eric Jensen’s Gateway Motel
DENVER — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has fined cantaloupe grower Eric Jensen, who owns and operates Jensen Farms in Holly, $4,250 in civil money penalties for failing to provide migrant worker housing that meets the safety and health requirements of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
Jensen rents rooms to migrant workers at a building he owns in Holly called the Gateway Motel, where investigators from the division’s Denver District Office found overcrowded rooms without beds, windows that did not open, a lack of laundry facilities, a lack of smoke detectors and unsanitary conditions, all in violation of the MSPA. Workers pay Jensen about $25 per week to stay there.
“Profiting at the expense of vulnerable workers is not just inhumane, it’s illegal,” said Chad Frasier, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Denver. “Our agency is committed to upholding wage and hour laws that protect the nation’s workers, particularly those who earn the least and are vulnerable. Enforcing regulations prohibiting employers from housing migrant workers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions is a priority for the Wage and Hour Division, and the penalties assessed in this case demonstrate our commitment to holding housing providers accountable.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms’ production fields in Granada, Colo., was identified as the source of a multistate listeria outbreak in 2011 based on collaborative investigations by local, state and federal public health and regulatory agencies.
Jensen had claimed an exemption from the requirements of the MSPA as an innkeeper. Although he said that other people used the motel during the hunting season, the investigation revealed that the facility is not open to the public. Investigators found that it is closed most of the year and has no telephone number for prospective guests to call to reserve a room. Consequently, the exemption was found inapplicable.
Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. Under the MSPA, each person or organization owning or controlling a facility or real property used for housing migrant workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Department of Labor. More information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf and in the Employment Law Guide at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.
Information about all of the federal labor laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division is available in English and Spanish by calling the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Denver office at 720-264-3250. Information also is available on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.