Parkside Landscaping of Littleton has paid more than a half million dollars in back wages and penalties to settle allegations it underpaid the foreign workers it brought in to fill seasonal jobs, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division said Tuesday.
The Littleton landscaping firm paid $524,063 in back wages to 53 employees and $26,104 in penalties to resolve violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and H-2B non-agricultural visa program provisions.
Landscapers in Colorado and other states depend heavily on the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program. Companies must certify that they tried to find local workers and failed to do so before they can bring in temporary help from other countries.
Labor investigators found that Parkside didn’t pay foreign workers the wage stated in its certification. Another eight employees were paid straight time wages for overtime hours worked, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Parkside also was fined for failing to provide earning statements, comply with safety requirements for employer-provided transportation, and provide a copy of the job order to employees at the time they applied for their visas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Colorado claims the second highest number of H-2B visas in the country and last year had one of the lowest unemployment rates of any state, leaving many employers desperate for help. Ski resorts, hotels, and landscaping contractors in particular rely heavily on H-2B visa programs to fill vacancies they claim can’t be filled in any other way.
In recent years, the visa program has faced delays, intense demand and higher hurdles to obtain foreign workers. The Obama administration raised concerns that the visa programs could be used to underpay workers, while the Trump administration has vowed to crack down on abuses.
Employers who rely on the program have argued it is vital to filling jobs that workers in the U.S. are unwilling to take.
“It is unfortunate to hear anything like that. It is fairly rare,” said John McMahon, executive director of Associated Landscape Contractor of Colorado.
He said the visa program is “sacred” to the industry and contractors are very careful to follow the rules to protect the program and obtain the workers they need.
“They have a lot of work they can’t complete. Their businesses aren’t growing as they should,” he said.