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January 2008, Volume 14, Number 1

Colorado, Texas, Michigan

Colorado's Department of Corrections announced that it would expand its inmate farm worker program. In 2007, the DOC provided five crews of 15 female inmates to Pueblo County farms to harvest vegetables and melons.

Texas. Del Rio-based Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued Nowell Borders of Edinburg in October 2007 on behalf of US and foreign workers. The US workers allege they were not hired because Nowell preferred to hire H-2B workers at the $8.75 an hour wage rate. Some of the US workers allege that they were told they would have to establish temporary residences and do both field and packing shed work. The H-2B workers say they were paid less than the $8.75 an hour promised. Nowell told DOL that it could recruit only 29 US workers for 60 jobs, and sought certification for 31 H-2B visas.

TRLA also represented 27 men from Brownsville who went to Worthington, Indiana to detassel corn for Pioneer Hi-Bred in summer 2005. TRLA sued contractor Francisco Coronado and Pioneer in June 2006, and in December 2007, the suit was settled for $81,000, or about $3,000 each, because Coronado-Pioneer violated MSPA by not disclosing wages and working conditions in writing to the migrant workers.

Michigan. Farm workers sued Lakeside Pic-N-Pac LLC and Brookside Farms in Michigan, farms that used labor contractors to obtain blueberry pickers. The workers alleged that these employers did not pay them their full piece-rate wages.

The farms used an electronic badge system to record buckets of blueberries picked, and added an hour to the time between the first and last bucket picked to determine how many hours were worked.

The suit alleged that, in some cases, the work of several pickers was recorded on one badge, making it less likely the employer would have to make up piece rate wages so that workers would earn the minimum wage. A federal court in December 2007 denied the workers' class-action suit, saying that the workers must pursue their claims of underpayment individually rather than as a class.

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