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October 2012, Volume 18, Number 4

Florida, Southeast

Florida. Tomato grower DiMare Fresh in July 2012 agreed to pay $150,000 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit that alleged its supervisors sexually harassed female pickers. DiMare also agreed to implement a company-wide anti-harassment policy, create a system for employees to submit complaints to the company, and provide training about the EEOC's anti-discrimination laws.

Florida and Mexico supply most of the tomatoes consumed in the US between November and April. In 1996, Mexico and the US agreed on a minimum price of 21.6 cents a pound for Mexican tomatoes exported to the US in winter to end an earlier Florida complaint. Florida tomato sales in recent years have been falling to about $250 million a year, while Mexican tomato exports rose to $1.8 billion. An estimated 350,000 Mexicans are employed to produce tomatoes for export.

Florida growers in September 2012 asked the Department of Commerce to rule that Mexico was violating the agreement by dumping tomatoes in the US. Mexico countered that it produces the vine-ripened tomatoes favored by consumers rather than the mature greens of Florida favored by the fast-food industry. Florida growers hoped that DOC would rule in their favor quickly because Florida is a swing state in the November 2012 election.

The US Department of Labor in July 2012 charged two Florida farm labor contractors with violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets minimum wages, and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), which requires farm employers to disclose wages and working conditions to workers in their own language.

Four workers sued Sunrise Labor Corp in August 2012, alleging that the Belle Glade-based FLC smuggled and trafficked unauthorized workers from Mexico to Florida. Salvador Hernandez and his wife and brother were indicted by a federal court in Syracuse, New York for conspiring to hire unauthorized workers on farms from Florida to New York.

According to a civil suit filed in Florida against Sunrise and the Hernandezes, unauthorized workers were in debt peonage because their debts for being brought into the US and the cost of their housing and food rose faster than their earnings accumulated. The four workers who sued Sunrise and the Hernandezes have received victim visas that allow them to stay in the US and work while waiting to testify against Sunrise.

Florida has about 10,000 acres of strawberries around Plant City, compared to almost 40,000 acres of strawberries in California; Florida accounts for most US fresh strawberry production between December and March. Longer seasons in California and increased imports from Mexico are squeezing Florida producers, who said they lost money on strawberries in 2011-12. Plant City's population of almost 35,000 in 2010 included 30 percent Hispanics; two-thirds of the Hispanics have Mexican heritage.

Plant City's strawberry plants are from Canada, and are planted in late September and irrigated to keep them cool in the Florida heat. Most farmers aim to hire 1.5 workers per acre for the peak harvesting period.

CIW. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers persuaded Chipotle, a Denver-based fast-food chain with 1,000 restaurants that says its business model is "Food with Integrity" in October 2012 to become the 11th business to join the CIW's Fair Food Program.

Before it signed with the CIW, Chipotle said that it bought tomatoes only from Florida growers who signed the FFP, but did not want to sign an agreement with the CIW in order to maintain its flexibility. Chipotle was submitting monthly reports on its tomato purchases to the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), the third-party organization that monitors and enforces human-rights standards established through the CIW's Fair Food Code of Conduct.

The CIW continues to target retailer Publix, the largest grocery chain in the southeast. Publix, which says its typical store sells 40,000 items, asserted that it cannot be drawn into disputes between the employers and employees of some of the products it sells. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, which each have $8 billion in annual sales, have signed agreements with the CIW (Trader Joe's is a chain of 365 stores owned by the Albrecht family of Germany).

Florida has 531,500 acres of citrus in 2012-13, the fewest ever. They are expected to produce 155 million boxes of oranges, 20 million boxes of grapefruit and six million boxes of other citrus such as tangerines. Florida Citrus Mutual estimates that 40 percent of the 2011-12 crop was picked by H-2A workers, and that 50 percent of the 2012-13 crop could be picked by H-2A workers. Polk county is the leading citrus producer, with 82,500 acres producing over 30 million boxes of citrus a year.

Most Florida oranges are processed into juice. A 1971-72 survey found that pickers worked an average 7.3 hours a day, 36 hours a week, and 164 days or 1,311 hours over the season. The piece rate was $0.43 a box, and workers averaged 7.6 boxes an hour to earn an average $3.26 an hour or $4,275 during the 1971-72 season. Florida's minimum wage in 2012 is $7.67 an hour, and most growers pay $0.85 a box. If pickers average eight boxes an hour, they earn $6.80 an hour.

Georgia. Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, likened farm workers to NFL players: "They're in the field eight to 10 months a year, and they're conditioned. They're out there eight to 10 hours a day, often in 100-degree heat." Hall asserts that growers of seven crops faced labor shortages of up to 40 percent after a state attrition-through-enforcement law was enacted in 2011, resulting in $140 million in economic losses.

Guy Goodson, who grows blueberries and other crops in Alabama's Houston county, said "Local people are not equipped to pick blueberries ? including me. It's not that they don't want to, they just can't."

North Carolina. The North Carolina Growers Association reported receiving 350 applications from US workers after posting 7,500 jobs with the Employment Service in 2012; employers must try to recruit US workers in order to be certified to hire H-2A workers. The NCGA says that each H-2A guest worker costs about $1,000 in recruitment and travel costs and must be paid an AERW of $9.70 an hour in 2012.

Beginning in July 2013, North Carolina employers must use E-Verify to check the legal status of all new hired workers. Van Wingerden International, which owns and operates 37 acres of commercial greenhouses in Mills River, said in July 2012 that many of its workers are unauthorized. Van Wingerden said that some jobs filled by Americans would disappear if migrants were not available to do the "often back-breaking, repetitive and sweaty work" in the greenhouses.

Kevin Bouffard, "Harvest Outlook Bright for 2012-13 Citrus Season," Ledger, October 13, 2012. Fairchild, Gary. 1975. Analysis of Florida Citrus Harvesting Labor. Florida State Horticultural Society. Pp 96-100.