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Northern California Horse Training Facilities Busted for Wage and Hour Violations and Inhumane Workers’ Housing

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A U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division investigation resulted in EWC & Associates Inc., operating two horse training facilities, handing over more than $1 million for California wage violations.

Oakland, CAA Northern California owner and operator of two horse training facilities--Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park and Gilroy Gaits in Hollister, doing business as EWC & Associates Inc.—has been reigned in by federal court and ordered to pay $1,270,683 to 30 employees for several work visa program violations and California labor law violations.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) accused EWC of underpaying its workers in violation of minimum wage laws as well as regulations governing migrant guest worker programs.

Workers Housed in Stables

As well, EWC owner Kevin Chambers not only failed to pay employees’ minimum wages or overtime; he housed workers in converted stables with no running potable water. Under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), each person who owns or controls housing provided to migrant agricultural workers must ensure that the facility complies with the Federal and state safety and health standards covering that housing. Migrant housing may not be occupied until it has been inspected and certified to meet these safety and health standards. Clearly, horse stables weren’t inspected and certified to house human beings.

Workers Paid Below Minimum Wage

The DOL found that Chambers and EWC paid its employees hourly rates below federal minimum wage and failed to pay them time-and-a-half for overtime hours. As well, migrant agricultural workers and H-2B guest workers were not paid all wages when due and were not paid the required prevailing industry wage. Chambers also conveniently did not keep records of overtime worked and deductions made from workers' pay. He did, however, collect kickbacks from the workers’ H-2B visa fees.

According to the complaint, EWC had failed to pay its migrant workers enough as required under the H-2B guest worker visa program for temporary nonagricultural workers and under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The MSPA protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping.

Wage and Hour Division District Director Susana Blanco, in San Jose said the DOL “will take all steps necessary to ensure employees receive the wages that they have rightfully earned…This judgment makes clear our commitment to making sure that employers who break the law don't gain an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors."

The lawsuit, Acosta v. EWC & Associates Inc. et al, case number 4:19-cv-00023, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was filed and penalties handed down in January 2019.

Not only does Chambers have to hand over almost $1.3 million ($1,270,683 in back wages and damages to 30 employees, plus $100,000 in civil penalties); he cannot apply for any labor certification applications, including under the H-2B temporary visa program for temporary foreign workers for one year. But where does this leave foreign workers –without work? LawyersandSettlements has a call in to the Wage and Hour Division about these workers with the H-2B temporary visa program and how this decision has affected their future work.


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