SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A federal court is ordering a San Diego customs warehouse company to pay thousands in back wages and penalties to 16 Mexican workers after it was discovered the company illegally paid them as little as $3.38 per hour in pesos.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District in San Diego ordered Premar Global Warehouse Logistics to pay $235,000 in back wages and penalties. The company was also found guilty of not paying overtime while forcing the employees — merchandise checkers — to work 45 to 51 hours a week.

The U.S. Department of Labor found the company was paying the equivalent of anywhere from $3.38 to $5.61 per hour as the workers received a flat rate or salary, in pesos, for all the hours they worked.

The company is based in Otay Mesa just north of the border between San Diego and Tijuana.

The employer’s actions led to violations of minimum-wage, overtime and record-keeping requirements with the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the Labor Department

Premar, its owner Tomas Martinez Leal, and Export Dynamics De Mexico must pay $154,100 in overtime back wages and $75,900 in minimum wage back wages to the 16 workers.

The court also affirmed a $5,000 civil monetary penalty against Premar for reckless disregard of Fair Labor Standards Act requirements.

Border Report sought comment directly from the company’s owner, Tomas Martinez, but was told he wasn’t available.

Adriana Ahumada is an attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor. (Salvador Rivera)

“Mr. Martinez is the first of the many employers we plan on investigating in this industry,” Labor Department attorney Adriana Ahumada said.

According to Labor Department, it has uncovered broad wage violations, including paying stateside workers a flat rate in pesos, indicating it’s a practice widespread in the industry.

“This case is a wake-up call to the customs warehouse industry,” said Ruben Rosalez, the Wage and Hour Regional Administrator for the Labor Department. “Paying a workforce as little as $3 an hour will not be tolerated, the U.S. Department of Labor will use every legal vehicle in our authority to ensure people working on U.S. soil are paid fairly and that employers who underpay workers do not gain an unfair competitive advantage over employers who comply with the law.”