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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2
The Fair Food Program, created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in 2005 to persuade fast-food companies and other buyers of tomatoes to increase tomato pickers' wages and develop systems to protect workers, is preparing for less labor law enforcement under President Trump. FFP believes that its supply-chain approach to private labor law enforcement, which involves pressuring buyers to require growers to abide by the FFP code of conduct, can spread to other labor-intensive commodities.
FFP said that the most recent buyers who joined the program, including Wal-Mart, Fresh Market, Ahold, did so without boycott and other pressures because they wanted to be assured that the tomatoes they bought were produced in a socially responsible way. Wendy's and supermarket chain Publix have resisted pressures to join the FFP, prompting periodic protests outside their outlets. Wendy's has reportedly switched from Florida to Mexican tomatoes
Six farm workers sued Flint Family Farms for failure to pay at least the minimum wage and other labor law violations in December 2016 (Crockett et al v. Flint Family Farms Sales LLC); Flint has since gone out of business.
Florida fruit and vegetable growers complained about Mexican tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries in 2016-17. Mexican producers have invested in protected cultures, including greenhouses and shade structures, to produce higher quality fresh fruits and vegetables for the US market at lower costs.
Georgia. The Macon Telegraph March 17, 2017 reported on the use of H-2A workers, who are an estimated 12 percent of farm workers in the state. Most of the area's larger labor-intensive farms rely on H-2A workers.
Pearson Farms was certified to employ 80 H-2A workers for peaches, and advertised for "experienced workers" who can "reach overhead for extended periods of time while pruning trees; lift, carry and load up to 50 lbs., hoist up to 30 lbs. overhead, and support 35 lbs. over the shoulder while walking for prolonged periods of time." None of the local workers who responded to Pearson ads was hired because they lacked experience pruning and picking peaches.
T&A Farms, a broiler operation for Pilgrim's Pride, was sued in March 2017 for discrimination against Black employees, calling them "boys" and "niggers" according to several class action suits. T&A allegedly favored white over Black employees.
North Carolina. Larry Wooten of the North Carolina Farm Bureau said that 20,000 of the peak 80,000 farm workers in the state are H-2A workers. The AEWR for NC is $11.27 in 2017.
North Carolina farmers were certified to fill 20,000 jobs in 2016 with H-2A workers. Half of the state's H-2A workers are brought into the state by the North Carolina Growers Association, and can shift between the NCGA's 700 grower members, most of whom produce vegetables and tobacco. The cost of labor is about a third of the cost of producing tobacco.
Alabama. The "New Detroit" of the south has Mercedes, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai assembly plants, which has spawned a network of parts supplier factories that together employ 26,000 workers. Reports in March 2017 highlighted the high rate of injuries and illnesses in the state's auto plants, where wages are about 70 percent of those in Detroit.
Korean-owned plants have the worst safety records, reportedly due to inadequate training and long working hours with pressure to reach productivity targets. After some workers had been injured or killed, investigations revealed that plant mangers had been warned of dangers, but deferred installing safety equipment because of the cost and lost production.