January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1
Washington. Ruby Ridge is a 2,000-cow dairy near Pasco with 40 employees. Several employees were fired, prompting 14 workers to sue Ruby Ridge on August 11, 2009 alleging that four workers were fired in retaliation for their attempts to unionize and that employed workers were not given required meal and rest breaks. The UFW, which has about 200 members in the state, has been trying to intervene at Ruby Ridge, which is a member of the Darigold cooperative.
Washington state's minimum wage of $8.55 an hour in 2009 will remain the same in 2010. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since July 24, 2009.
Oregon. Oregon's Worker Freedom Act (SB 519) bans employers from disciplining employees after January 1, 2010 who refuse to attend mandatory meetings called by employers to discuss their religious or political views, including whether workers should vote for a union; workers can file civil actions up to 90 days after they are disciplined to enforce the law. Employers filed suit in December 2009 to block implementation of the law.
New York. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act (FLPA) was approved by the New York Assembly in June 2009, but stalled in the Senate. The FLPA would extend unemployment insurance to workers on smaller farms, require farmers to provide at least a day of rest a week for the workers they employ, mandate workers compensation and overtime wages for hours worked beyond eight a day, and extend collective bargaining rights to farm workers.
A compromise discussed in December 2009 would reduce the overtime payment requirement to 1.5 times normal wages only after 10 hours a day and 60 a week, rather than the 8/40 rule for most nonfarm work.
Vermont. DHS in November 2009 announced plans to audit the I-9 forms of 1,000 US employers, including several Vermont dairy farms. I-9 forms are completed by newly hired workers, who show documents proving their legal authorization to work; employers verify that they have seen these documents.
An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 foreign-born workers are employed on Vermont dairy farms, a quarter in Addison county. Most are reportedly from Chiapas and earn $8 to $9 an hour? many work 60- and 70-hour work weeks.
Maine. The Maine Department of Labor held hearings in December 2009 on the use of Canadian H-2A logging workers in northern Maine woods. Under H-2A regulations, Canadian loggers with H-2A visas are supposed to receive equipment from their US employers, but many bring their own equipment, which US loggers say increases unemployment. US logging firms argue that their timber is closer to Quebec than places with US loggers, and that without Canadians, they would have to shut down.
DOL debarred two Maine logging firms, E.J. Carrier and Pelletier and Pelletier, from the H-2A program for two years in November 2009. After an audit, DOL determined that they did not try to recruit US workers as required. A.D. Logging Inc., B.J. Jalbert Inc. and S.L. Logging Inc have been charged with not owning the equipment used by the H-2A workers they employed.
The 1,900 residents of Milbridge, Maine are divided over a six-unit farm worker housing complex that received a $1 million USDA grant in 2008. Maine (and Vermont) are the least diverse states, with 96 percent of residents are non-Hispanic whites.
Hispanics, 10 percent of Milbridge residents, were drawn to the area to harvest wild blueberries and, after 1995, to process sea cucumbers. Many could not find affordable housing, prompting the application for the USDA housing grant by Mano en Mano, a nonprofit group. Voters in June 2009 voted to suspend approval of multifamily housing projects, prompting a suit alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
Julia Bayly, "Woods workers weigh in on need for foreign help," Bangor Daily News, December 19, 2009. Abby Goodnough, "Town Once Known as Inclusive Is Riven by Housing Dispute," New York Times, November 15, 2009.