There has been significant interest recently in Wage and Hour Division’s use of the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. While it is not a tool we use frequently, it is an important part of enforcement of our nation’s wage and hour laws.
In passing the FLSA, Congress acknowledged the inherent competitive nature of the marketplace and recognized that without strong enforcement mechanisms, workers as well as employers would fall victim to the ills of unfair competition and exploitive labor practices. When used carefully, outreach and enforcement tools can achieve the FLSA’s objective of providing a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Congress included in the FLSA an explicit prohibition against the shipment and distribution in commerce of goods that were produced in violation of the act’s minimum wage, overtime or child labor requirements. Commonly referred to as the “hot goods” provision of the FLSA, its necessity, as the Supreme Court later pointed out, is to exclude from interstate commerce goods produced under substandard labor conditions that would compete unfairly with goods produced by law-abiding employers, and which could have the effect of forcing those employers out of business. There is no exception in the hot goods provision for perishable goods or agricultural employers.
Courts have upheld the Wage and Hour Division’s use of this provision many times to prevent the illegal shipment of tainted goods in a variety of industries, such as garment manufacturing and agriculture. When the provision is used, Wage and Hour Division procedures ensure that proper steps are taken to protect the interests of all parties involved.
Enforcement alone will never be sufficient to achieve the mission of protecting our nation’s workers. Since 2009, we’ve conducted nearly 600 outreach events and presentations nationwide to provide valuable information and compliance assistance to the agricultural industry. Outreach to stakeholders like growers associations has been extremely helpful to us and to them. In fact, we’ve recently released newly developed compliance assistance materials that were created in direct response to feedback from agricultural employer groups and other industry stakeholders.
We recognize the importance of the U.S. agricultural industry in not only putting food on our tables but also creating jobs and helping our nation’s economy prosper. But the success of the industry and our economy relies on an abiding commitment to the rules set forth in the FLSA that ensure a level playing field for businesses, and a fair day’s pay for workers.
The ultimate goal of our efforts is to discourage employers from cutting labor costs at the expense of workers’ wages and working conditions, and to help move them towards positive, compliant business practices so that workers and employers can prosper together. Our “hot goods” provision enforcement actions are a small but important part of this overall mission, and our measure of success will be finding fewer and fewer violations in the days and years ahead.
David Weil is the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.