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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Labor firm settlement scuttled

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES The owner of a Los Angeles company that contracts with foreign workers to harvest U.S. crops backed out of a settlement with federal labor officials over alleged workforce violations because of the wording in the news release announcing the deal.

Global Horizons Inc. claims the U.S. Labor Department release made it appear a judgment had been imposed against the company. It is now contesting the allegations, and a hearing before an administrative judge in San Francisco is scheduled next month.

The company and Labor Department reached an agreement last May calling for Global Horizons to pay $156,995 in back wages and $135,450 in civil fines to settle claims involving 88 agricultural workers from Thailand.

The Labor Department claims Global Horizons did not pay the workers the correct wage for their work in Hawai'i and made improper deductions from the employees' wages to pay for their housing and other needs, among other alleged violations.

Global Horizons owner Mordechai Orian said he signed the settlement because Labor Department officials agreed there would be no admission of guilt, and his previous lawyers told him it was the cheapest and most expeditious way to end the probe.

"I came to a business decision to pay and move on," he said.

Orian said he actually paid the workers more than the rate called for in their contract or the rate required by the Labor Department for work in Hawai'i. And he said his company did not improperly take any money for their housing and personal needs.

The Labor Department released a brief statement Monday that did not address Orian's claims. It said it was unfortunate that Global Horizons did not abide by the terms of the settlement. "As a result, the department has resumed litigation against the company," it said.

The original Labor Department news release issued in May said Global Horizons had been "ordered" to pay back wages and fines. It also noted Orian owns the company, though it did not say he was responsible for any wrongdoing.

Orian said including his name violated terms of the agreement. And he said using the term "ordered" rather than "agreed" was misleading and made it appear a judge had issued a decision.

The company sent a letter to the Labor Department on Monday requesting that the press release be removed from the agency's Web site and that a retraction be issued.