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July 2012, Volume 18, Number 3

Florida: CIW; Southeast: Migrants

Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) implemented its Fair Food Program with 37 mature-green tomato growers in Florida in 2011-12. There are 16 major tomato growers, and they produce most of Florida's tomatoes; the CIW says that growers participating in the FFP employ from 15 to 3,000 workers.

Under the FFP, fast-food chains and other buyers of Florida tomatoes pay an extra 1.5 cents a pound for the round tomatoes they buy from growers. FFP growers pass 87 percent of the extra payments on to tomato pickers, which raises their piece-rate wage from the pre-FFP $0.45 to $0.50 per 32-pound bucket to $0.75 a bucket. Growers also sell tomatoes to non-FFP buyers, and workers picking those tomatoes do not receive the additional payments. Pickers earn 2.3 cents a pound for tomatoes sold to FFP buyers and 1.5 cents a pound for the other tomatoes they pick.

The Fair Food Standards Council, which monitors and audits the FPP, reported that $6 million in extra payments were made to tomato pickers in 2010-11 and 2011-12. The FFSC reported 15 worker complaints a month in 2011-12. Many involving cupping, as when the dumpers who check each picker's buckets require an extra full bucket before crediting the worker for picking the bucket. The CIW estimates that worker pay was increased by 10 percent on farms where cupping was previously required.

One aspect of the FFP is auditing grower compliance with the code of conduct Participating farms must have a reliable time-keeping system, issue itemized wage statements that include a telephone number where employees can make confidential complaints, and have procedures that allow workers who believe their health or safety is threatened to stop working (at no pay). FFP growers give newly hired workers a copy of the FFP Rights and Responsibilities Handbook in their own language.

There are three levels of grower violation of the code. Article 1 violations, such as child labor or sexual harassments that includes physical contact, result in growers being barred from selling tomatoes to FFP buyers for at least 90 days. Article 2 violations, such as discrimination by race, sex, religion, negligent endangerment due to pesticides, and systemic wage violations, require growers to develop remedial plans within seven days. Article 3 violations, which are other violations of the code, require remedial plans within 14 days.

The CIW is targeting supermarket chain Publix, which has over 1,000 grocery stores in the southeast, to pressure it to join the FFP. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have signed on to the FPP.

Adan Labra of Farmworker Association of Florida in April 2012 reported that farm worker employment in the Immokalee area fell by almost half, from a peak 22,000 in 2000 to 12,000 in 2012. The FAF attributed declining farm worker employment to reduced tomato acreage.

Bulls-Hit Ranch & Farm of Hastings, Florida and FLC Ronald Uzzle were accused in April 2012 of recruiting homeless Black men from homeless shelters to work in Bulls-Hit potato packing operations. Uzzle and Bulls-Hit are accused of housing workers in overcrowded labor camps, making loans at 100 percent interest rates, and not paying the minimum wage. Thomas R. Lee, who owns Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm, faced the same charges in 2004 with a different labor contractor. Uzzle was a defendant in labor and racketeering lawsuits in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Florida's orange crop is expected to be 150 million 90-pound boxes in 2011-12, up slightly from the year earlier. Mike Sparks of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual said that 30 percent of the 2011-12 Florida citrus crop was picked by H-2A guest workers. However, Chuck Obern of C & B Farms, an herb and vegetable grower, said that H-2A guest workers are too expensive. Instead of paying the Florida minimum wage of $7.67, workers would have to earn at least the Adverse Effect Wage Rate of $9.50 an hour. Obern added: "the great majority of people in the United States could not perform most farmworking tasks to the performance levels that we require."

Brazil produces 375 million boxes of oranges a year and provides most of the 25 percent of the US orange juice concentrate that is imported. Brazil can produce orange juice concentrate cheaper than the US. Florida farmers received $1.60 a pound in April 2012, down sharply from over $2 a pound in January 2012 amidst worries of a fungicide detected in some imports and a possible freeze.

Canadian auto parts magnate Frank Stronach wants to draw water from the St. Johns River to produce organic grass-fed beef on the 25,000-acre Adena Springs Ranch. However, a drought has drawn attention to the declining Florida Aquifer, raising questions about whether a state with abundant rainfall is running out of water. Stronach's ranching operations could adversely affect nearby Silver Springs, one of the 700 artesian springs in Florida and the place where six Tarzan movies were filmed in the 1930s and 1940s.

Alabama. The Alabama Farmers Federation, which says that 1,100 state farmers grow labor-intensive commodities, predicted that some would not plant tomatoes and other labor-intensive crops in 2012 because they fear labor shortages. K&D Farms in May 2012 said it would plant less than the 40 acres of tomatoes planted in 2011. Sunshine Farms in Chilton county, which has used the H-2A program to obtain workers since 1995, noted that warmer weather in 2012 increased the demand for workers earlier in the season.

Georgia. Vidalia onion farmers complained of too few harvest workers in April 2012. R.T. Stanley blamed HB 87 and DOL, saying that the state law making it a state crime to be unauthorized in the state and DOL's slowness in approving his request for 60 H-2A workers explain the labor shortages. Stanley reported paying workers $0.38 a bucket of onions picked.

Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, explained what was required to be a farm worker: "A harvester has to be conditioned like an NFL football player to get out on the field. You're working eight to 10 hours a day in the heat, stooping, lifting and picking. It's not an easy job." Hall said that Georgia farmers did not have labor shortages in 2012.

A state Immigration Enforcement Review Board appointed in September 2011 in June 2012 agreed to review whether Vidalia was "harboring illegal migrants" after receiving a complaint that the city was not enforcing the state's attrition-through-enforcement law. The Board can hold hearings and fine officials up to $5,000 for "knowingly" violating the state's immigration-related laws. An earlier complaint against Atlanta for allowing the use of Mexican matricula consular ID cards in city government transactions was dismissed after Atlanta changed its policies.

North Carolina. Reynolds American in May 2012 agreed to meet with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee to discuss wages and working conditions on the farms from which it buys tobacco. FLOC reportedly represents about 2,000 North Carolina farm workers, including H-2A workers employed on tobacco farms who, FLOC complains, suffer from pesticide and nicotine poisoning, green tobacco sickness, and a lack of water and breaks.

Reynolds agreed to study farm worker wages and working conditions as part of a committee that includes other tobacco manufacturers, farmers, FLOC and federal and state officials. FLOC says it wants Reynolds to sign an agreement pledging to require its farmer-suppliers to allow their farm worker employees to unionize. Reynolds hired auditor UL Responsible Sourcing to interview 254 workers on 94 farms. UL concluded that "in general workers claim to be satisfied with their employment, and nearly all feel as though they are treated fairly by their employer."

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