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July 2007, Volume 13, Number 3

Midwest: FLOC, Colorado

FLOC. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee http://www.floc.com) represents about 6,000 Mexican workers who come to the US with H-2A visas and are deployed to 650 farms by the North Carolina Growers Association. FLOC opened an office in Monterrey, Mexico, where most Mexican H-2As get their US work visas.

On April 9, 2007, a FLOC organizer seeking to educate migrants seeking H-2A visas about their rights, especially the right not to pay fees to recruiters, was killed in the Monterrey FLOC office.

Almost two months later, Mexican authorities arrested three men for the crime, asserting that the suspects killed the FLOC organizer in a dispute over $4,500 in fees they allegedly paid him. FLOC disputed the police account, which suggested the FLOC organizer was collecting the same fees that the union is trying to eliminate.

The US consulate in Monterrey said that 37,100 H-2A visas were issued in FY06, including 92 percent to Mexicans.

In 2006, a federal judge ruled that US employers of H-2A workers must reimburse the $300 in visa and transportation costs each H-2A worker incurs to get to North Carolina. The Mexican recruiter for NCGA, Manpower of the Americas, has abided by this ruling for the past two seasons, but many other recruiters allegedly do not. Manpower president Mike Bell said that his firm sent 12,000 Mexican workers to the US in 2006, half to North Carolina.

Texas Rural Legal Aid, which monitors the H-2A program, says that Mexicans are often charged $600 for H-2A visas, and recruiters expect a tip when the workers return at the end of the season in order to get higher on the recruitment list for the next season.

Colorado. Puebla area farmer Joe Pisciotta was quoted on April 30, 2007 as saying that he preferred legal guest workers to unauthorized workers, but would hire prisoners under the state's pilot program. He said what he really wanted was a program that would allow him to "call up the government to say I need 15 guys from May to October and when I'm done with them, they can take them back."

In May 2007, 10 women from La Vista prison in Pueblo went to work on Pisciotta's farm near Avondale. Pisciotta said he was paying the Department of Corrections $9.60 an hour for the inmates (including payroll taxes); the state's minimum wage is $6.85; the inmates get $1 to $4 a day. By July 2007, inmates were employed on five Pueblo-area farms. State officials say that 4,500 Colorado inmates qualify for farm work; they volunteer to work on farms.

The Idaho Corrections Department said in June 2007 that 120 inmates from the Anthony Work Camp were working at potato plants in the state.

Wisconsin. Wisconsin had 4,598 migrant workers in 2006, including 1,696 farm workers and 2,511 food-processing workers who were employed four to 10 months in the state (another 391 were dependents of migrants).

A Wisconsin dairy farmer told a state conference that the employment of immigrants was becoming an fact of life on the state's dairies. John Rosenow said that the number of dairy farmers in the state dropped from 43,000 in 1983 to 14,000 in 2007. Dairy farmers need about one person for every 40 cows, according to Rosenow. Smaller families and larger herds lead to more hired workers.

Northern Christmas Trees & Nursery, Wisconsin's largest with 6,600 acres, relies on H-2A workers. John Ahl says that local workers shun farm jobs.

Katherine M. Skiba, "State's farms cultivating migrant labor," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 7, 2007. Elisabeth Malkin, "Graft Mars the Recruitment of Mexican Guest Workers," New York Times, May 24, 2007. Margie Wood, "Women-inmates-start-working-in-farm-fields," Pueblo Chieftain, May 31, 2007. Gregory Rodriguez, "Disposable workers wanted in Colorado," Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2007.