U.S. Department of Labor investigation results in $180,000 fine for private fire company serving northeastern Oregon.
According to allegations, in 2020 and 2021, KL Farms, also known as Fire LLC, paid it is firemen and truck drivers a flat charge between $200 and $250 per day to combat wildfires. The agency said that employees typically put in 70 hours each week.
According to a recent statement released by the federal agency, the Summerville company will pay $152,000 in overtime earnings and fringe benefits to 57 firefighters and personnel, in addition to an additional $28,000 in damages and fines to the workers and the U.S. government.
The government organization claimed that KL Farms improperly labeled the employees as independent contractors. To combat wildfires in four Western states, the company supplies crews, vehicles, and drivers. With the U.S. Forest Service’s help, it can do this.
Ron’s tweet, which can be found here, reads as follows:
Private Oregon firefighting company fined $180K after US Dept. of Labor investigation – OPB https://t.co/reYrPYaG3i
— Ron (@RonDeLord) May 28, 2023
In a statement, KL Farms’ Heidi Gordon confirmed that further payments will be made. Gordon stated that the lack of proper documentation of the company’s daily fee structure was the root of the problem, but that the company would be making adjustments to ensure compliance.
“Since this time, we have worked to ensure other companies know and understand the rules as explained by the DOL to us,” Gordon said in a statement.
According to Carrie Aguilar, the director of the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor in Portland, investigators utilize a multi-prong examination to evaluate whether contractors genuinely qualify as employees.
“We found in this case that they were not independent contractors, they were actually employees,” Aguilar said. “So as employees, they are guaranteed the rights of employees under different laws that we’re enforcing.”
It has been said that KL Farms has broken several laws with the way it treats its employees. Contractors are required by law to pay their employees a minimum wage per hour, as well as overtime, benefits, and paid time off. If an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, they must be compensated for their time.
“Having employees that are misclassified as independent contractors, sometimes employers think they can be off the hook for all these requirements,” Aguilar said. “But it really comes down to the fact that if an employment relationship exists, then employers are responsible.”
Aguilar stated that she was prohibited from disclosing the agency’s investigation’s origins for legal reasons. Complaints might spark an investigation, but inquiries can also be initiated from within.
However, Aguilar did note that salary concerns are on the rise in the private firefighting industry. She drew parallels to the forestry industry, which faces comparable challenges.
The following links will take you to external resources with further details about Oregon-
- Oregon Power Provider Spends $20m in AI to Avoid Wildfires.
- Oregon is Experiencing a Slow but Steady Spread of Mumps
“Fighting wildfires demands people work long hours and face real dangers as they try to save other people, homes, businesses, and natural resources,” Aguilar said. “The workers accepted these risks and deserve to be paid every dollar and fringe benefit they’ve earned.”
Backpay for the firefighters will range from $101 to $14,000.