Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters Owes Nearly $68K In Back Wages, Damages And Penalties After US Labor Department Investigation

Sept. 15, 2015

GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico — Investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found that Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters LLC, which has a 75 percent share of the commonwealth's coffee market, and its subsidiaries Siembra Finca Caracolillo LLC, Siembra Finca Ciclon LLC and FVE LLC, failed to pay 119 employees at least the required federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. In doing so, they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. The employer also misclassified bag fillers as independent contractors, and delivery drivers were misclassified as outside salesmen.

The department also identified numerous violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, including:

  • Failing to provide employees with safe vehicles.
  • Not providing wage statements, and failing to disclose employment conditions to workers.
  • Using an unregistered farm labor contractor to recruit workers.
  • Failing to make and keep proper payroll records.

To resolve these violations, the Bayamon-based coffee roasting, manufacturing and distributing company has agreed to pay a total of $61,118 in back wages and liquidated damages to 107 agricultural workers and 12 delivery drivers and $6,372 in civil money penalties. The company has also taken a number of corrective actions to prevent future violations.

"This is a significant victory for Puerto Rico's most vulnerable workers," said Jose Vasquez, the Wage and Hour Division's Caribbean district director. "Coffee pickers are often paid a piece rate that does not add up to at least $7.25 per hour, or employers charge workers for necessary tools, further reducing meager wages. This restitution and corrective action by Puerto Rico's largest coffee buyer should serve as a warning for all employers to compensate their employees properly."

Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers, markets and distributes such brands as Yaucono, Café Rico, Café Rioja, Yaucono Selecto, Alto Grande and Alto Grande Super Premium Coffee throughout Puerto Rico.

The Wage and Hour Division's Caribbean District Office conducted the investigation of Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters. Attorney Summer Silversmith in the department's regional Office of the Solicitor in New York City helped negotiate the settlements for the division.

Employees misclassified as independent contractors are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as overtime, minimum wage, family and medical leave and unemployment insurance. Misclassification also hurts law-abiding businesses that pay workers properly. These employers are at a competitive disadvantage to those who violate the law and avoid their financial responsibilities.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, as well as time and one-half their regular rates for every hour they work beyond 40 per week. The law also requires employers to maintain accurate records of employees' wages, hours and other conditions of employment, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under the law.