Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Jensen Farms linked to 32 Listeria Deaths now Fined on Migrant Housing

Screen Shot 2012-01-20 at 4.45.30 AM.pngTHe 32 death (30 reported by CDC, plus the miscarriage, plus Paul Schwarz) and a total of 146 ill is bad enough, now the AP reports that Jensen Farms, who was implicated following an outbreak of listeria that killed 30 (32) people last year was fined by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday for failing to provide safe migrant worker housing.

The federal agency said grower Eric Jensen rented migrant workers unsanitary, overcrowded rooms at a motel he owns. Inspectors said many rooms lacked beds, laundry facilities and smoke detectors. Jensen faces $4,250 in civil penalties. The fine was not linked to the outbreak.

“Profiting at the expense of vulnerable workers is not just inhumane, it’s illegal,” said Chad Frasier, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Denver.

The outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe last fall was the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years. Thirty (32) people died, 146 people were sickened and one woman suffered a miscarriage after eating tainted cantaloupe, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a former migrant worker myself, the thought of having your employees working under those conditions should make the Jensens repent.  But likely not – according to the AP:

Jensen said Thursday the fine was unwarranted. He said he didn’t know the people who rented the rooms for a month were migrant workers.

“It was closed at the time, and they wanted to rent it,” Jensen said. He added that he didn’t know he had to verify their employment status.

See full Press Release from Department of Labor:

US Department of Labor fines Colorado cantaloupe farmer for substandard migrant worker housing

Investigation disclosed unsanitary conditions, overcrowding at Eric Jensen’s Gateway Motel

DENVER — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has fined cantaloupe grower Eric Jensen, who owns and operates Jensen Farms in Holly, $4,250 in civil money penalties for failing to provide migrant worker housing that meets the safety and health requirements of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Jensen rents rooms to migrant workers at a building he owns in Holly called the Gateway Motel, where investigators from the division’s Denver District Office found overcrowded rooms without beds, windows that did not open, a lack of laundry facilities, a lack of smoke detectors and unsanitary conditions, all in violation of the MSPA. Workers pay Jensen about $25 per week to stay there.

“Profiting at the expense of vulnerable workers is not just inhumane, it’s illegal,” said Chad Frasier, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in Denver. “Our agency is committed to upholding wage and hour laws that protect the nation’s workers, particularly those who earn the least and are vulnerable. Enforcing regulations prohibiting employers from housing migrant workers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions is a priority for the Wage and Hour Division, and the penalties assessed in this case demonstrate our commitment to holding housing providers accountable.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms’ production fields in Granada, Colo., was identified as the source of a multistate listeria outbreak in 2011 based on collaborative investigations by local, state and federal public health and regulatory agencies.

Jensen had claimed an exemption from the requirements of the MSPA as an innkeeper. Although he said that other people used the motel during the hunting season, the investigation revealed that the facility is not open to the public. Investigators found that it is closed most of the year and has no telephone number for prospective guests to call to reserve a room. Consequently, the exemption was found inapplicable.

Most agricultural employers, agricultural associations and farm labor contractors are subject to the MSPA, which protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. Under the MSPA, each person or organization owning or controlling a facility or real property used for housing migrant workers must comply with federal and state safety and health standards. The MSPA also requires farm labor contractors to register with the Department of Labor. More information on the MSPA is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf and in the Employment Law Guide at http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/mspa.htm.

Information about all of the federal labor laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division is available in English and Spanish by calling the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Denver office at 720-264-3250. Information also is available on the Internet at http://www.dol.gov/whd.

  • Paul F Schwarz

    Does Eric have any swamp land to sell?

  • Ron Allen

    If Jensen farms (Eric Jensen) will do this to migrant workers then there is no doubt in my mind that he would allow conditions that caused the tainting of food products from their farms. There should be restitution for those affected and he should be held accountable.

  • Jeff Almer

    Unbelievable! If any observer of this case out there had any doubts of the Jensen Farms greedy aspirations, this news slams the door shut on that aspect.

  • Sam

    It’s time to make an example of people like Mr. Jensen. Due to the actions of Jensen Farms, and the PCA, all food manufacturers are now presumed guilty, and are forced to prove innocence through a corrupt system of third party audits. This system enriches only the auditors and certification bodies while adding little or no value to the supply chain. You can not legislate criminal behavior into extinction, but we could enforce the laws already on record.