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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2
Midwest, Northeast, Northwest
Kentucky. Kentucky had farm sales of $5.8 billion in 2015, half livestock and half crops. Poultry and eggs were 43 percent of livestock sales, and oil and feed crops were 71 percent of crop sales. The $404 million worth of tobacco was 14 percent of crop sales, and the 6,800 jobs certified in FY16 to be filled by H-2A workers were concentrated on tobacco farms.
Kentucky had over 76,000 farms in 2015. Most were small: over 90 percent had less than $100,000 in farm sales, while 2,200 or three percent had sales of $500,000 or more.
In FY10, Kentucky had more H-2A jobs certified than Georgia, 5,500 compared to 5,100. However, the H-2A program grew slowly in Kentucky, rising to 6,800 jobs certified in FY16, while the H-2A program in Georgia more than tripled to over 17,000 jobs certified in FY16.
Georgia and Kentucky had similar direct-hire wage bills in the 2012 COA, $342 million and $377 million. However, Georgia farmers reported half as many jobs as Kentucky farmers, 33,000 compared to 68,000, which made average wages per farm job in Georgia twice those of Kentucky, $10,400 compared to $5,500. Many Kentucky farm employers are small and not covered by UI.
Two tobacco farms agreed to pay $117,000 to H-2A workers employed in 2013-14 and 2014-15 (Gutierrez-Morales et al v. Planck et al). The workers alleged that the farmers underpaid them and made unauthorized deductions from their wages. Another Kentucky tobacco farm paid $55,000 to settle similar allegations in January 2017.
Maine. Maine's Department of Labor says that 18 percent of farm workers in the state are migrants, defined as those who traveled too far from their usual residence to return at the end of the workday. In 2016, 27 farmers requested certification to fill 635 jobs with H-2A workers. Many are Jamaican, and most are requested by name, meaning they were employed the previous season by the farmer.
Wyman's of Maine, a major producer of wild blueberries that are raked, reported that one of its rakers in 2016 filled 200 boxes at $2.50 each in one day, earning $1,000. Wyman's uses E-Verify to check new hires, and says there are few unauthorized workers in the state.
Vermont. Three unauthorized activists linked to Migrant Justice were arrested by ICE agents in March 2017, prompting protests. The state's dairy industry, whose 1,000 diaries had sales of over $500 million a year that are two-thirds of the state's farm sales, hires many immigrant workers. Migrant Justice advocates on behalf of the workers employed to care for the state's 132,000 cows; most workers are employed on the 180 dairies that each have 200 cows or more, and two-thirds of the state's cows.
Michigan. Michigan Farm Bureau, which says that there are 40,000 to 50,000 farm workers in the state, notes the rising number of H-2A job orders. In 2012, Michigan farmers and FLCs requested certification to fill fewer than 350 jobs, compared to over 4,000 in 2016 http://www.mplp.org/FLS/h2a).
Manzana LLC, one of the largest H-2A employers, uses E-Verify to screen new hires and offers six six-hour days of work a week, that is, 36-hour weeks. The AEWR in 2015 was $11.56, and Manzana paid a piece rate of $70 an acre to detassle corn. Puerto Rican workers in 2015 filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying that Manzana fired them because they could not work as fast as Mexican H-2A workers.
New Jersey. Growers around Hammonton, the Blueberry Capital of the World, in March 2017 expressed concerns that immigration enforcement would prevent them from harvesting their crop in June 2017. Blueberries can be picked by machine, but many growers say that there are fewer bad berries to sort out if they are hand-picked. Trump advisor KellyAnne Conway went to high school in Hammonton, picked blueberries, and was the New Jersey Blueberry Princess in 1982.
Idaho. About 2,000 of the 3,100 US counties are defined as nonmetro, defined as having no city larger than 50,000 and not connected to metro labor market areas that have 50,000 or more residents. About 60 percent of nonmetro counties added jobs in 2016, including the nine-county south-central region of Idaho anchored by Twin Falls, Idaho, a city of 47,000 where the county's population rose 25 percent between 2000 and 2015.
South-central Idaho has an expanding dairy industry, and Idaho has become the fourth largest dairy state, after California, Wisconsin and New York. Chobani has a plant in the Twin Falls area with 1,000 employees earning at least $15 an hour twice the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25. Some smaller towns in the area are losing residents and businesses as Twin Falls expands, as Mexican-born workers dominate local dairy workforces.
Washington. Three farms have relationships with unions: Chateau Ste Michelle Winery in Woodinville, Beef Northwest in Quincy, and Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington. The UFW represents workers at Ste Michelle and Beef Northwest, while Familias Unidas por la Justicia won an election in September 2016 at Sakuma Brothers Farms and is negotiating a first contract in 2017.