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U.S. Department of Labor cites cotton gin in Decatur County

Business agreed to pay $12,795.43 in back wages
US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR LOGO
Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 16:56:42-05

ATLANTA (WTXL) — The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in Atlanta determined a cotton gin business in Decatur County, Georgia committed wage violations.

According to a news release by the U.S. Department of Labor on Jan. 10, Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse in Climax, Georgia was one of multiple cotton gin businesses in the southeast United States required to pay back wages or fined by the department of labor.

According to documents obtain from the U.S. Department of Labor via a public record request, Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse failed to pay proper overtime to workers, which added to 11 violations.

Due to the violations in overtime pay, the business was cited for one violation for failure to keep accurate records.

The department of labor investigated the gin via an office audit from Oct. 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020.

The document notes Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse hired 11 non-immigrant workers, who were scheduled to work from Oct. 15, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020.

The individuals were eligible to work up to 54 hours per week.

The document notes an investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a conference with Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse's human resources representative on Feb. 10, 2021.

During the conference, the government’s wage and hour investigator noted to the gin’s human resources representative that non-discretionary bonuses must be included in the regular rate in weeks where overtime was applicable.

Bonuses were paid in relation to the success of the firm for the season, the production of the worker and whether they stayed until the end of the season.

The document notes the representative of the cotton gin was unaware the bonus payout was required to be included with worker’s regular rate of pay in weeks overtime payments were applicable.

Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse agreed to comply with the department of labor in satisfying the violations.

The gin paid $12,795.43 in owed in back wages, while no monetary fine was enforced for failure to keep accurate records.

The Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse agreed to keep better payroll records going forward.

The department of labor noted the gin cooperated with the investigation.

The press release notes the U.S. Department of Labor found eight out of 10 cotton gin employers it investigated in the southeast United States violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, or provisions of the H-2A visa program.

The department of labor’s investigation found that 81 percent of the 71 cotton gin investigations completed between November 2019 and March 2021 was in southeastern United States.

The department of labor recovered $282,626 in back wages and $10,785 in liquidated damages for 620 workers.

The press release notes the most common violations cited were 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, and failure to ensure housing safety and provide terms and conditions of occupancy as required by MSPA and the H-2A visa program.

“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 a statement.

“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.”