The owner of a plant nursery that kept migrant workers in unsafe housing in Georgia and supplied plants to Home Depot has been hit with over $200,000 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to federal investigators, migrant farmworkers at a plant nursery in Greensboro, Georgia, were found to be living in unhealthy employer-provided housing. The Miami-based company that hired them, Pure Beauty Farms, also passed over U.S. job applicants in favor of foreign guest workers, a labor law violation. Those infractions triggered $200,462 in penalties, the Department of Labor announced on Thursday.
To secure the migrant labor, Pure Beauty Farms relied on the booming H-2A temporary worker program, which allows agricultural employers to hire seasonal workers from outside the U.S. to address labor shortages.
According to the federal Office of Foreign Labor Certification, Georgia had 35,205 H-2A positions certified in fiscal year 2021, up from roughly 5,500 in fiscal year 2010. Georgia is second only to Florida for most H-2A workers in the nation. The majority of foreign workers come from Mexico and Central America.
Under H-2A program rules, employers are required to provide their workers housing that meets essential health and safety standards. But according to a Department of Labor press release, H-2A workers for Pure Beauty Farms’ Greensboro nurseries had to contend with water and mold damage.
Investigators within the department’s Wage and Hour Division, the agency responsible for H-2A enforcement, also found living quarters with excessive debris, fire alarms without batteries, floors with holes, unclean restrooms and food storage, and a lack of proper lighting.
“Retailers and consumers may be troubled to learn how some agricultural employers treat the people whose hard work produces the products they purchase,” said Atlanta-based Wage and Hour Division Director Steven Salazar in a statement.
Salazar went on to describe the living conditions for the Greensboro nursery workers as “unacceptable.”
Pure Beauty Farms did not return the AJC’s request for comment.
To protect U.S. workers, a key tenet of the H-2A program is that agricultural employers must only turn to foreign seasonal labor when they find themselves unable to fill job openings domestically. U.S. job candidates must be given priority.
Pure Beauty Farms overlooked that requirement.
According to the Department of Labor release, the company required U.S. applicants to have nursery work experience and to provide references, steps not taken with foreign guest workers. As a result, Pure Beauty Farms rejected 29 U.S. applicants, including several who had previously worked at the nursery.
Investigators found additional violations, including wage violations. Of the total amount fined, $17,651 will go towards back wages owed to one worker.
With locations in Texas alongside Georgia and Florida and more than 500 acres of land, Pure Beauty Farms is a major Southeast plant wholesaler.
It supplies 290 stores of metro Atlanta-based Home Depot. Last October, Home Depot featured Pure Beauty Farms on its website, touting the nursery’s “family values.”
In a statement, a Home Depot spokesperson described Thursday’s announcement concerning its supplier as “very concerning.”
The spokesperson added: “We’re looking into the Labor Department’s findings with Pure Beauty Farms.”
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