East Huntingdon landscaper fined $74,290 over allegedly failing to pay Mexican workers overtime, back wages

in Local News

Source: Trib Live

An East Huntingdon landscaping company has paid nearly $75,000 in back wages and fines to settle allegations that it committed labor violations involving a foreign worker program, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Silvis Group, located on Schultz Road, signed a consent agreement with the Labor Department on June 14 that alleged the company violated provisions of the H-2B temporary visa program governing the employment of foreign workers. The company has paid $45,068 in fines for what the government alleged was “substantial and willful failure to comply with H-2B provisions” and $29,222 in back wages, said Leni Fortson, a Labor Department spokeswoman.

The Labor Department released settlement details on Dec. 31.

Although company president Jacob Silvis IV signed the consent findings, it does not represent an admission to the government’s allegations, said Richard Thiele, an Greensburg attorney representing Silvis Group.

The settlement was a means of resolving the dispute, and the government and Silvis agreed “that nothing in the government’s alleged consent findings or alleged in the government’s determination letter (August 2018) were admitted or proven in court as true,” Thiele said in a statement.

The Labor Department alleges the violations occurred between January 2015 and January 2017, based on an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

The company was directed to pay two American workers $8,414 in back wages for allegedly denying them landscaping and groundskeeping jobs.

H-2B visas are approved after an employer files an application stating that there aren’t enough U.S. workers “able, willing, qualified and available” to do the work, according to the Labor Department.

Silvis Group also must pay $4,457 in back wages to 32 Mexican workers who, during some weeks, were not paid overtime at the correct rate — 1.5 times the hourly rate, the government alleged.

According to the government, Silvis Group allegedly misrepresented the dates it needed workers and how many it needed on its petition for nonimmigrant worker and foreign labor certification forms. The Labor Department also accused the company of not contractually forbidding third parties, such as recruiting agencies, from seeking payment from the Mexican workers.

In addition, Silvis Group agreed to pay $16,350 in back wages to 32 Mexican workers for allegedly taking “impermissible deductions” from their wages for uniforms and housing in poor condition. The Labor Department said that Mexican workers were housed along Route 30 in Hempfield at a property which county tax records show is owned by Jacob Silvis IV.

Thiele said Silvis has denied that the house was in poor condition and said it had air conditioning, an updated kitchen and bathroom. The house was recently torn down for commercial development, Thiele said.

Per the agreement, an independent third party auditor will monitor Silvis Group for three years.