Farmers who hire unlicensed contractors face liabilities
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A southwest Idaho father and his son were charged with violating the state's farm labor contractor licensing law after two of their employees filed complaints with the Idaho Department of Labor for unpaid wages.
The IDL has prosecuted 10 people for violating the 2003 law, which is designed to protect farmworkers from being taken advantage of by contractors and to protect farmers from liability for workers hired under a farm labor contract.
Farmers who hire unlicensed farm labor contractors are responsible for any liability for workers, including unpaid wages and job-related injuries, IDL spokesman Bob Fick said.
In this case, the duo charged with violating the law paid the wage claims to the two employees, but IDL officials said the incident is a reminder to farmers that they can easily determine whether a farm labor contractor is licensed by checking the state's farm labor contractor registry online at labor.idaho.gov/
"It is easy to just go to the Web page and you can know immediately who is licensed and who is not," says Irma Cordero, who runs Ag Labor Plus, a licensed farm labor contractor out of Weiser.
The IDL has charged Angel Alba Sr. and his son, Angel Alba Jr., both of Payette, with failing to obtain the required state license. Both have pleaded innocent to the misdemeanor charges and face a hearing later this month.
The IDL began investigating after receiving formal claims in November from two Alba employees for unpaid wages of $2,500 each for work they did on a Weiser farm run by Alan and Raymond Saito.
According to IDL, a department investigator received information over the past two years that the Albas were operating without a license in Idaho, but the wage claims provided the evidence needed for prosecution.
The IDL claims the Albas did not obtain a required farm labor contractor bond or workers' compensation insurance and did not pay state, federal or Social Security taxes on the wages involved in the claims by the two workers.
IDL officials said the Saitos have not responded to requests for information about the Alba operation.
Calls to the Albas and the Saitos for this story were not returned.
The Albas were licensed to operate in Idaho in 2010 but have not been licensed since. A license costs $250 a year and contractors are also required to insure vehicles used to transport workers, provide workers' compensation coverage for crews and pay a bond of $10,000 if they have fewer than 21 workers or $30,000 if they have more to cover unpaid wages.
According to the IDL, Alba Sr. told an investigator he could not afford the $30,000 bond, indicating his crew included more than 20 workers.
Cordero said unlicensed farm labor contractors unfairly undercut those who follow the law.
"We ... do everything that is required to get a license and it pisses us off because these people are getting our jobs," she said.