WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – Enforcing the so-called “hot goods” provision in federal minimum wage disputes – preventing a grower from shipping his fruit, for example -- has the Department of Labor (DOL) in hot water with some members of Congress.

The lawmakers expressed their displeasure at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the use of the provision by DOL in cases involving perishable goods, which can go bad before any charges can be contested.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the DOL can use the “hot goods” provision to stop the shipment or sale of goods “produced in violation of the minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor or special minimum wage provisions,” according to the DOL website. David Weil, administrator of the DOL Wage and Hour Division, said “hot goods” has only been invoked 28 times in 7,500 cases between fiscal years 2009 and 2013.

Subcommittee members repeatedly pressed Weil to explain details of a “hot goods” case in Oregon, but Weil refrained, saying the case is still being litigated. In that case two Oregon blueberry growers --- Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen farm -- accused the DOL of extortion by threatening “hot goods” restrictions until they admitted to labor law violations. A federal judge in January sided with the growers and the DOL has appealed.

The subcommittee expressed bipartisan distain for DOL’s actions, most notably from Chairman Austin Scott, R-Ga., and ranking member Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

“If (DOL employees) did not work for the federal government, they would be held in criminal court for engaging in the coercion and duress that the United States District Court said was used against this farmer,” Scott said, addressing Weil. “If you were operating in a fair and equitable manner, we would not be here today.”

“You’re violating peoples due rights,” Schrader said. “That’s not good advertisement for what the government of the United States is all about.”

Schrader insisted that by invoking “hot goods” before an investigation had even concluded, DOL was assuming the growers were guilty until proven innocent. He said this approach was especially harmful since the product in question, blueberries, had a very limited shelf life.

In March, Schrader introduced H.R. 1387 to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prevent the invoking of “hot goods” on perishable goods. In April, it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and has seen no action since.


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