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July 2007, Volume 13, Number 3

H-2A, Global, H-2B

H-2A. The number of farm jobs certified by DOL to be filled with temporary foreign workers rose sharply in FY06 to 59,112; there were 48,366 jobs certified in FY05 and 44,619 jobs certified in FY04. DOL approves most employer requests to be certified to fill jobs with H-2A workers. It certified 92 percent of the jobs requested to be filled with H-2A workers in FY06, 95 percent in FY05 and 97 percent in FY04.

In FY06, North Carolina farmers requested certification to fill 7,800 jobs with H-2A workers, followed by Georgia farmers, who requested certification for 5,300 H-2A workers and Virginia, requesting 4,100. Louisiana growers requested certification for 4,000 workers, followed by Kentucky, 3,500.

Global Horizons. The Seattle Weekly on June 27, 2007 discussed the class action suit filed by 190 Thai workers brought to the US to pick apples by Global Horizons. Some of the Thai workers reportedly paid $11,000 to get 28-month H-2A contracts in 2004, were flown home for nine months after earning $4,500 in four months, and then returned to Washington in Fall 2005.

Global subcontracted its recruiting to Thai-based AACO International Recruitment Company Ltd. The Thais suing Global say that AACO made verbal commitments in Thai, but had the workers sign English-language contracts. Once in the US, the workers say that Global kept their passports and contracts.

In July 2007, a federal judge ordered Global and the two farms to which Global supplied H-2A workers, Valley Fruit Orchards and Green Acre Farms, to pay $1.9 million to 600 US workers who filed a class action suit alleging they were not hired or were hired and fired in 2004; the workers will receive $2,000 to $4,500 each.

The judge found that Global and the two farmers intentionally refused to hire US workers so that they could employ Thai H-2A workers. Their specific violations include failing to disclose productivity requirements and firing workers for failing to meet them, failure to pay the promised piece rate for harvesting pears, and requiring local workers to provide their own transportation to the job while providing transportation to the Thai workers. Global was also sanctioned for failure to provide evidence during the discovery process.

Global lost its license to operate in Washington for other reasons, including deducting state income taxes from the Thai workers' paychecks although Washington has no state income tax.

In 2006, Global agreed to pay $156,995 in back wages and $135,450 in civil fines to settle claims involving 88 Thai H-2A workers in Hawaii, but later appealed when DOL characterized the deal as a settlement.

In April 2006, the UFW and Global negotiated a three-year agreement under which the H-2A workers Global brings into the US will be paid two percent more than the AEWR and receive health care coverage while in the US.

Indian immigrants David and Kable Munger have 1,600 acres of blueberries in the San Joaquin Valley, producing seven million pounds a year, half of the California crop. The Mungers hire a peak 3,000 workers for the late-spring harvest and packing operation, and employment is expected to climb as they quadruple their blueberry production.

Munger was sued in August 2006 by Global Horizons under state unfair competition laws. Global alleges that Munger broke an agreement to hire up to 600 H-2A workers via Global and instead hired illegal workers via local labor contractors Ayala Agricultural Services and J & A Contractors. Munger was to pay Global $14 an hour, with Global paying H-2A workers $9 an hour.

Munger said that the H-2A workers supplied by Global did not pick fast enough. Global says that they picked an average 9.5 pounds of blueberries an hour; Munger expected pickers to average 19.2 pounds an hour during the second pass through the fields.

Washington's Valicoff Farms co-owner Rob Valicoff, with 1,500 acres of apples and cherries and 60 H-2A workers, said that he prefers to hire H-2A workers because local workers "get on their cell phones and figure out where the best pay was- and some would leave" for slightly higher wages. H-2A workers, by contrast, "aren't allowed to go anywhere. They have a contract with us and we have one with them. If they leave, it's our responsibility to inform ICE. That's why the guest worker program works."

A legal immigrant from Mexico reported earning $17,000 in 2006, which was supplemented by $6,000 in UI benefits.

Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, was quoted in May 2007 saying that more H-2A shepherds are running away from their contracts. He said that after 9/11, "the word got out: Come on up, let a sheep rancher pay your way, and within a couple of months we'll have you settled in town with a good-paying restaurant or construction job. H-2A would still work just fine if it were just enforced."

A former administrator of the H-2A program, John Hancock, was quoted in a Wall Street Journal editorial on June 13, 2007 saying: "The current program, with its multiple regulations and related requirements, is too complex for the average grower to comprehend and use without the aid of a good lawyer or experienced agent."

The murder of a FLOC employee in Monterrey, Mexico in April 2007 prompted interviews with H-2A workers in the US about the fees they paid. AP reported on June 3, 2007 that many H-2A workers in Florida said they paid fees to their contractors in order to be assured of returning the following year.

Gannett Tennessee on July 4, 2007 profiled Troy Smiley, who hires H-2A workers on his 100 acres in Ridgetop and reported that people sometimes yell from cars that his workers should return to Mexico.

The Wall Street Journal on May 19, 2007 profiled some of the 1,500 foreign shepherds in the western US, noting that their wages range from $650 a month in Wyoming to $1,350 in California. The Senate's CIRA 2007 immigration reform plan would allow H-2A shepherds and dairy workers to apply for immigrant visas after three years of US farm work.

The 1952 INA allowed then H-2 shepherds to remain in the US year-round, and to apply for immigrant visas. Many of the foreign shepherds in the 1950s and 1960s were Basques from northern Spain, and many received immigrant visas after four years of US shepherd work. IRCA in 1986 removed the option for H-2A workers to obtain immigrant visas.

The US sheep industry peaked in 1950 at 56 million; today, the US has six million sheep.

H-2B. Cutting Edge Forestry Inc. of Phoenix received a $92,000 contract to reforest 834 acres with 20,000 seedlings in the Boise National Forest. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 14 unauthorized Cutting Edge workers in May 2007.

Griffin Land and Nurseries subsidiary Imperial Nurseries, a major wholesaler of plants and shrubs in Connecticut, allegedly kept the documents of 12 H-2B workers from Guatemala who were recruited to do reforestry work in North Carolina but taken to Hartford, Connecticut. The workers, with help from Yale law students, sued Imperial-Griffen under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Imperial says that the problems were caused by an independent contractor, Pro Tree Forestry Services. The workers said they paid up to $6,000 each to get the H-2B visas, but were paid only half of the $7.50 an hour promised by recruiters. In June 2007, Griffin announced that it settled the Guatemalan workers' suit and terminated its contract with Pro Tree Forestry.

Crab pickers are increasingly Mexicans with H-2B visas. Under CIRA 2007, the number of H-2B visas available for seasonal US nonfarm jobs would rise from 66,000 a year, plus 20,000 for H-2B workers who have been in the US before, to 100,000.

The Washington Post on June 5, 2007 profiled J.M. Clayton Seafood, which uses H-2B workers for eight months of crab picking. Working nine-hour days, the workers earn about $300 a month or $1,200 a month. The workers pay about $150 a month for housing. Some of the crab houses on the Eastern shore of Maryland are being replaced by condos, as more crab is imported from southeast Asia, suggesting that H-2B crab pickers are helping to preserve an industry squeezed by imports on the one side, and rising property values on the other.

The Washington Post on June 26, 2007 profiled Jeffrey West of LLS International, which has 20,000 Mexicans registered to work in the US with H-2B visas at MexicanLabor.com. LLS International charges Mexicans $160 in processing fees to obtain jobs in US landscaping and make arrangements for visas- many Mexicans borrow several thousand dollars to cover transportation, passport and other costs.

LLS International stopped providing H-2A workers after being named in several lawsuits in which workers were not paid.

LLS International has six offices in Mexico to recruit workers, and they begin the process in fall for the next year. LLS says that it rejects some US employer requests because the wages they offer are too low; its goal is to keep the AWOL rate among H-2Bs below five percent. LLS says that it wants to issue its H-2A workers with ID cards equipped with a radio frequency device that would register on his computer during a weekly check-in.

Leah Beth Ward, "Suit yields $1.9 million in damages," Yakima Herald-Republic, July 13, 2007. Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill, "Guest Worker Program Isn't the Labor and Immigration Panacea It's Cracked Up to Be," Seattle Weekly, June 27, 2007. Krissah Williams, "Fates of Maryland Crabbers, Guest Workers Are Intertwined," Washington Post, June 5, 2007. Nicole C. Brambila, "Labor shortage hindering harvest," Desert Sun, May 27, 2007. Bob Krauter, "Worker shortage widens amid immigration debate," Capital Press, May 25, 2007. John Holland, "Crops Aren't Waiting For Worker Reform," Modesto Bee, May 21, 2007. Barry Newman, "Welcome to U.S.A," Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2007. Amy Taxin, "Suit contends illegal pickers undercut firm," Orange County Register, August 22, 2006.