A Nevada onion grower has agreed to pay a record $2.3 million in back wages to nearly 1,400 field workers from Mexico on H-2A temporary agricultural visas.

The firm, Peri & Sons, will also pay a civil penalty of $500,000, according to a story in Staffing Industry Analysts

The seasonal workers harvested, packed, and shipped the onions headed to grocery stores around the country. In most cases, the laborers were paid below the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Most of the workers were not paid for mandatory training on how to handle pesticides, according to a Labor Department press release.

Immigrant advocates say guest-worker programs often breed mistreatment or abuse of workers because many of them may not understand their rights.

Earlier this year, the Labor Department released a comprehensive set of regulations to protect H-2B visa holders from retaliation or abuse. H-2B visas are for non-agricultural temporary workers.

Two years ago, a civil lawsuit by temporary guest workers from India on H-2B visas, as reported in a story in the New York Times, pointed to the poor working conditions of some of these workers who were rushed in to repair the marine oil rigs after Hurricane Katrina. The recruiters, according to The Times, promised these workers that their temporary visas would soon be turned into green cards, which would allow them to stay in the country permanently.

This story is part of our Next America: Workforce project, which is supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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