The U.S. Department of Labor is prohibiting an East Wenatchee orchard operator from a program that allows employment of temporary agricultural workers from outside the U.S.

Welton Orchards is being barred from the program for what the agency calls intimidation and harassment of temporary Mexican workers

Labor Department investigators determined that the employer provided unsafe and unhealthy housing, failed to provide work promised in workers’ contracts, and subjected workers to verbal abuse and threats.

In addition to being blocked from the worker program, Welton Orchards is also being fined more than $64,000.

The department also says it's recovered about $7,500 in unpaid wages to 26 workers.

An investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found significant violations of the H-2A agricultural worker program requirements by Welton Orchards and Storage LLC.

According to a release from the department, the violations included not meeting safety and health requirements for housing, failing to pay workers for inbound and outbound transportation from their home countries, not offering the work hours detailed in workers’ contracts (which left workers unable to provide for themselves for months at a time), failing to contact U.S. workers in its recruiting efforts, and not paying visa-related fees to several workers.

Labor Department investigators also found Welton Orchards and Storage frequently targeted H-2A workers with abusive and offensive language, and routinely threatened to send them back to Mexico.

“Welton Orchards and Storage intimidated and threatened workers and put their livelihoods at risk as they violated many provisions of a federal program designed to assist the nation’s agricultural employers,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Thomas Silva in Seattle.

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