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April 2012 Volume 18 Number 2
Midwest, Northeast, Northwest
Arizona. Arizona in 2007 required employers to use E-Verify to check the status of new hires beginning in 2008. The Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) requires Arizona's employers to enroll in the federal government's E-Verify system and check the legal status of workers hired after January 1, 2008. Employers found to have repeatedly hired unauthorized workers can have their business licenses suspended.<< back
The US Supreme Court in May 2011 upheld LAWA in a 5-3 decision that concluded that state efforts to prevent employers from hiring unauthorized workers do not violate federal law. The Court noted that, by enrolling in E-Verify, Arizona employers create a "rebuttable presumption" that they have made a good-faith effort to avoid hiring unauthorized workers.
Arizona produces many of the US's fresh winter vegetables. Between 2005-06 and 2008-10, the acreage of several significant vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and head lettuce, fell more in Arizona than in the rest of the US. However, leaf lettuce acreage fell more outside Arizona. It is very hard to link acreage changes to LAWA. No farm has yet lost its business license.
New Mexico. The New Mexico Chile Association reported 9,500 acres of Chile peppers were harvested in 2011, up almost 10 percent from 2010. The value of New Mexico chilies was $47 million in 2011, up from $42 million in 2010.
Colorado. Six senators wrote a letter to DOL Secretary Hilda Solis in March 2012 complaining of uneven administration of the H-2A program. Tuxedo Corn Company owner John Harold complained of required recruitment of US workers, asserting that US workers who appear in response to ads offering jobs paying at least $10.43 an hour will not report when called or will not stay on the job (Harold says US workers in 2011 stayed an average six hours). Harold did not complete his H-2A application correctly, and had it returned by DOL.
Harold, profiled in the New York Times October 5, 2011, said that "there is a work ethic of migrant laborers that is just not found with local labor." Harold grows sweet corn. Mechanical sweet corn harvesters have been available since the late 1960s, but mechanically harvested sweet corn must be sorted, and the ears damaged by the machine sent to processors rather than sold fresh. Harold has elected to hand-harvest his corn.
At least 30 people died in September 2011 after eating cantaloupe contaminated with listeria produced by Jensen Farms in southeastern Colorado, the deadliest outbreak of food-borne illness in a decade. Listeria is a common but dangerous bacteria that can cause severe illness, especially among the elderly, the very young, and people with compromised immune systems.
In January 2012, DOL fined Jensen $4,250 for housing migrant workers at the Gateway Motel in Holly without beds and other amenities for $25 a week. The listeria outbreak was traced to dirty equipment in Jensen's packing facilities in Granada.
Resort workers in the Colorado mountains, who usually earn less than $9 an hour, are struggling in winter 2012 because of little snowfall and a still sluggish economy. Food banks and organizations catering to the poor report record requests for assistance.
Utah. The Utah Compact negotiated in November 2010 is a five-point plan to deal with unauthorized foreigners. It calls for respecting the rule of law while keeping families together, supporting businesses and welcoming "people of good will." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and leading state politicians endorsed the Compact, which led to a 2011 package of bills that include an enforcement bill (police verify the status of suspected unauthorized foreigners suspected of committing crimes) and a guest worker bill that involves Utah asking the federal government for a waiver so that it can issue work permits to unauthorized foreigners with jobs in the state.
The federal government sued to block implementation of Utah's enforcement law and has so far not responded to Utah's offer to give the federal government a list of approved guest workers so that they are exempt from deportation. Compacts similar to Utah's have been negotiated in Indiana and Iowa.
Michigan. The state government hopes to revive the Agricultural Recruitment System (www.doleta.gov/programs/ars.cfm), which helps to move farm workers from job to job within the US. Many Michigan farmers rely on legal US workers who move every year from south Texas to northern states such as Michigan.
Under the ARS, employers submit job orders to their local State Workforce Agency (SWA), which tries to recruit workers locally. If local recruitment fails, the SWA files an Interstate Clearance Order to seek farm workers in other states.
Warm weather accelerated the asparagus harvest in Michigan, with the first harvest in March 2012. Asparagus must be harvested frequently, as it can grow several inches a day, and some farmers complained of too few workers.
Texas. Citing high worker turnover, Tanimura & Antle said it would no longer hire workers directly to harvest onions in south Texas. T&A said that, to pick about 150 acres of onions, it hired 448 workers in 2011, including 223 that did not report to work. T&A said that a minimum of 122 workers are required to harvest and pack the onions.
Maine. Moark LLC, an egg distributor based in California, agreed to lease the assets of Quality Egg of New England based in Turner, Maine for 10 years, and to buy DeCoster Egg Farm, Dorothy Egg Farm and Mountain Hollow Farms and their 3.6 million laying hens at the end of the period.
Moark LLC, a subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, wants Maine to repeal a 1997 state law that allowed workers at DeCoster to bargain collectively over working conditions; they have not formed a union in the 14 years since the law was enacted. The Maine House of Representatives in June 2011 voted to repeal the collective bargaining law, and the Legislature approved the repeal in March 2012.
Massachusetts. Heriberto Flores, CEO of the New England Farm Workers Council Inc., the Corporation for Public Management Inc., the Corporation for Justice Management Inc., the Brightwood Development Corp, and Partners for Community Inc, earns about $300,000 a year. The ex-Puerto Rican farm worker bought several buildings in downtown Springfield on behalf of the NEFWC, including a theater. (www.partnersforcommunity.org/default/index.cfm/about-pfc/affiliates-programs/nefwc)
Vermont. The Vermont legislature is considering a bill to allow unauthorized farm workers to obtain driver's license. Vermont does not require a driver's license to operate farm equipment on state highways, but lack of identification restricts the quality of life of many of Vermont's farm workers.
The push for driver's licenses arose from a traffic stop in Fall 2011 that saw two passengers in a speeding car who were returning to the dairy where they worked turned over to the immigration authorities. Vermont's governor, who supports giving driver's licenses to unauthorized foreigners, says there are up to 1,500 mostly unauthorized Mexicans employed on the state's dairy farms.
New Mexico and Washington are the only states that issue driver's licenses to unauthorized foreigners (Utah issued 41,000 driving privilege cards as of 2012 at a cost of $25 each year; they cannot be used as government identification). New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez is trying to repeal the New Mexico law for the third time in 2012; previous efforts were blocked by Democrats who control the state legislature.
New York. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (S.1862/A.1652) was re-introduced in March 2012 to provide a day off every week for farm workers, overtime pay and unemployment benefits. Previous efforts to enact versions of the FFLPA in the New York Legislature failed since 2006; the Farm Bureau opposes the FFLPA.
Pennsylvania. Kreider Farms, a milk and egg producer in Mannheim, fired about 40 farming and 60 food processing workers in January 2012 after an I-9 audit; Kreider said it did not know what happened to the fired workers. Kreider, which enrolled in E-Verify after the audit, received more than 2,000 applications to fill the vacant jobs.
Washington. The UFW has been attempting to organize 40 workers employed by the Ruby Ridge Dairy north of Pasco since July 2009, when representatives presented Ruby Ridge with cards signed by a majority of employees saying that they wanted the UFW to represent them. Owner Dick Bengen said that there would have to be an election or verification of worker preferences, which led to a standoff with the UFW.
According to Bengen, some workers engaged in a work slowdown and were fired, prompting a suit against Ruby Ridge in August 2009. Bengen said that worker sabotage continued, resulting in more worker firings and a suit against some of the fired workers and the UFW in 2011. The UFW countersued, and the case remained in litigation in spring 2012.
Washington enacted a law (ESB 6141) in March 2012 allowing workers to create Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) that accumulate savings that employers can match for postsecondary education and training. Banks that create educational savings accounts will receive credit under the federal Community Reinvestment Act to meet the needs of low-income communities. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (www.cael.org) is urging Congress to enact legislation that would allow establishment of LiLAs around the US.
Idaho. Marsing Agricultural Labor Sponsoring Committee, created in 1948, is one of the largest private employers in Canyon county in southwest Idaho. Marsing is a labor contractor that employs over 2,000 workers a year and can house 450; its payroll is $7 million a year.
Many southwestern Idaho farms employ H-2A workers. The AEWR in 2012 is $10.19; most farmers offer local workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Horses. The New York Times reviewed horse racing in a March 24, 2012, article that emphasized that an average of 24 horses die each week on US race tracks. In 2008, after a Kentucky Derby horse broke two ankles on national television and was euthanized, the industry promised to make horse racing safer.
The New York Times reviewed 150,000 races and concluded that the economics of racing have been changed by the addition of casinos at many tracks. With fewer horse racing fans visiting tracks that are kept in business by casino winnings, trainers often use painkillers to mask injuries.
Drugged horses sometimes fall, injuring jockeys who may earn less than $100 a race and resulting in the horse being euthanized after "breaking down." In many cases, horses are injected on private farms before they are sent to race tracks, making detection difficult, so plans such as those of the Jockey Club to ban the use of drugs on horses on race day may not bring about significant changes.
Most of the horse and jockey injuries involve low-stakes claiming races that are not televised. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance says that most of the 86 major race tracks that promised to check horses for drugs and perform autopsies on those who died have not kept their promises.
Many of the trainers and backstretch workers in horse racing are Latino immigrants, and some are unauthorized. Owners often pressure trainers to inject horses in order improve their chances of wining races, with the five race tracks in New Mexico among the worst in the US for drug abuse. When fined or banned, trainers can become "backstretch workers" and their assistants can take over as trainers. Backstretch workers sometimes work on piece-rate wages, testing horses galloping around practice tracks for $10 a ride.
Daniel C. Vock, "Labor shortages lead businesses to support help for undocumented workers," Stateline, March 22, 2012. www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=640574 Nancy Lofholm, "Colorado's immigrant farmhands tied up in red tape," Denver Post, March 17, 2012.