HAMMONTON — A wholesale fruit broker that specializes in blueberries agreed to pay $657,069 in back wages to 519 of its workers in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Frank Donio Inc. allegedly violated wage and hour laws with employees who worked at the Hammonton packing warehouse from 2010 to 2012 through the Philadelphia employment firm Heng Heng Agency Inc.
The settlement was the latest of 900 federal investigations into labor laws by employment services since 2009, resulting in $11 million in back wages recovered for 19,900 employees.
The temporary employees hand-packed fruits and vegetables at Donio’s Hammonton warehouse off Egg Harbor Road under the supervision of the company’s managers, the Labor Department said.
Workers allegedly did not receive overtime pay for time worked past 40 hours and were paid $6.50 per hour, which is less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Investigators determined the employees were jointly employed by Donio and the temporary agency. Both companies were accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The U.S. Department of Labor said Donio also violated record-keeping provisions by not maintaining records of the hours or identifications of its employees.
Donio has 175 full-time employees and about 10 seasonal full-time employees, but used Heng Heng Agency from 2009 to 2011 and other employment agencies when needed, President David Arena said in an email.
“Heng Heng paid its employees directly. Frank Donio Inc. paid Heng Heng more than enough for Heng Heng to properly compensate the temporary workers,” Arena said.
He added that his company incurred no wage violations among its own paid staff.
Employers who use temporary hiring agencies still have a responsibility to pay the workers in accord with the law, the agency said.
“Temporary employment agencies often provide workers for a variety of low-wage jobs in industries where labor violations are most prevalent,” Pat Reilly, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s Southern New Jersey office, said in a statement.
Donio cooperated with the federal investigation and agreed to correct the violations immediately upon being notified of them, investigators said.
In addition to paying back wages and damages to employees, the company agreed to comply with the law with its future workers, including any hired through an employment service.
In an email, Donio Director of Operations Randy Herman said its settlement “reaffirms its commitment to the highest levels of social compliance.”
Frank Donio Inc. plans to sue Heng Heng for damages related to its business practices, Herman said.
“Once the malfeasance of Heng Heng was identified to us by the department, we were shocked, but we also took immediate action,” Herman said.
The company agreed to help raise awareness among other Hammonton growers and brokers that use employment agencies about complying with labor laws.
In the meantime, the company has ended its third-party employment agreements and hired many of the seasonal workers previously employed by the temporary agencies, he said.
“We have been in business for more than 70 years and we take social compliance issues related to our work force very seriously,” he said.
Representatives from the Heng Heng Agency could not be reached for comment. The company was a registered farm-labor contractor with a certificate valid through 2013, according to federal records.
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