- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - An Ashland grower has agreed to pay 94 workers nearly $69,000 in unpaid wages and almost $90,000 in civil penalties for violating wage laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday that Heldt Produce Inc. violated provisions of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Employment of Foreign Workers Program, because it didn’t properly pay the temporary foreign guest workers during the 2012 and 2013 harvests.

The department said Heldt didn’t pay workers the rates stated in their contracts, among other violations.

Josh Weir, Heldt’s attorney, said in a statement that his client was victimized by a bad employee who handled the program for the company. That worker has since been fired, he said.

“Heldt Produce made good faith efforts to comply with the regulatory maze that is the H2A program,” Weir said. “They trusted an employee to assist them in administering the program. Heldt Produce and the employees were both victimized by the unscrupulous employee.”

Weir added that Heldt wasn’t aware that workers were being illegally charged a fee by a recruiter to get the work. He said his client cooperated fully with Department of Labor investigators and that employees are treated with respect.

He said that nearly all of them return each harvest season to work with Heldt Produce.

The company’s owner, Greg Heldt, on May 26 signed a settlement document that wasn’t an admission of liability but acknowledged the obligations of the H-2A program.

In 2010-2011, the company was cited for violations under the program and it paid around $42,600 in back wages. The case was resolved through an administrative agreement, and no legal action was taken.

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