The federal Department of Labor has for decades used a little-noted enforcement tool to compel employers to observe laws governing minimum wages, overtime pay and child labor. The enforcement tool is known at the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which lets the Labor Department bar an employer from selling or shipping goods out of state that were made by workers that the employer has wronged.
It’s a powerful tool. Invoking the provision has made negotiated settlements with the guilty move much more quickly. In cases of claims in which the employer contests the findings, the Labor Department has lifted the “hot goods” hold in return for an escrow payment equal to the amount of back wages in contention.
Two years ago, though, the Labor Department pursued cases against three Oregon blueberry growers — PanAmerican Berry Growers, B&G Ditchen Farms and E&S Farms — in which it seems to have overstepped the bounds of common sense, and due process.