October 2016, Volume 22, Number 4
Northeast, Midwest, Northwest
Illinois. The Chicago Tribune on August 6, 2016 profiled a south Texas family that moves each year to 13,000-resident Rantoul, Illinois to detassel corn for Monsanto in July. Monsanto converted an old hospital into Nightingale Camp, the state's largest labor camp with up to 450 residents. Illinois has 24 migrant camps licensed by the Department of Public Health, and many provide Head Start and Migrant Education services to migrant parents at no cost.
Monsanto contracts with more than 100 farm labor contractors to get enough workers to detassel corn, including some who have been certified to employ H-2A guest workers at $12.07 an hour. Workers detassel by pulling off the pollen-containing tassels at the top of corn stalks to prevent the corn from self-pollinating. Many work 12 hours a day and seven days a week. Local teens and adults also detassel corn, earning the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.
Colorado. Gridley, California-based Mary's Gone Crackers had its I-9 forms audited in 2012, and ICE reported that 49 workers provided suspect documents. Mary's told ICE that it fired the 48 workers who did not provide corrected documents, but rehired some of them under different names. After ICE re-inspected in 2013 and found the unauthorized workers employed under different names, Mary's agreed to pay $1.5 million and enroll in E-Verify.
Oregon. Threemile Canyon Farms, owned by R.D. Offutt Company, dropped plans in August 2016 to build housing for 200 to 800 H-2A workers on 66 acres to be acquired from the city of Boardman. Threemile has 300 year-round and 150 seasonal employees, and wanted to use H-2As on its 7,500 organic acres that require hand weeders.
Threemile hires refugees from many countries, but says that three-fourths of its employees are native Spanish speakers. Many residents of Boardman, which has 3,400 people, opposed Threemile's plan for H-2A worker housing.
The UFW has since July 2007 had a contract with Threemile, a large dairy and potato farm. The UFW also has contracts with Chateau Ste Michelle and two other farms in the northwest.
Washington. Almost 12,000 jobs were certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY15, including almost two-thirds for the Washington Farm Labor Association, which is a joint employer with the farmers to whom it supplies workers. WFLA reportedly charges its member farmers $1,200 a worker to recruit and transport workers from and to Mexico.
McDougall & Sons produces five million boxes of apples and cherries a year with the help of 700 H-2A workers; Zirkle Fruit was certified to fill 2,900 jobs with H-2A workers in 2015. McDougall says H-2A workers earn an average $20 an hour at the piece rates offered; two percent of McDougall's workers are US workers.
Average farm employment in Washington was 102,000 in 2015, with a peak of 140,000 in June; Washington accounts for eight percent of average US farm employment. Average direct-hire crop employment was 68,000 in 2015, with a peak of 97,000 in June, while average crop support services employment was 20,000.
More apple growers are bringing self-driving platforms into orchards for pruning, thinning and harvesting. Harvesting platforms, which are often deployed at night because they have lights, require workers to share a piece rate wage, while workers who pick from ladders are paid individually.
Mercer Canyons of Prosser was sued by US workers who allege that Mercer hired H-2A rather than US workers and did not offer the US workers the same work given to H-2As. Mercer was certified to hire 44 H-2A workers in 2013, but 200 US workers applied for the jobs, and eventually 22 were hired, so that only 19 H-2As went to Mercer. The US workers filed class action suits against Mercer for not hiring US workers and for not giving them $12-an-hour "H-2A jobs." In August 2016, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the workers' class action suit to proceed.
After a year-long review, the US Department of Justice recommended more training and more Spanish-speaking officers for Pasco, Washington. Antonio Zambrano-Montes was killed by Pasco police February 10, 2015 after throwing rocks at them. Over half of Pasco's 70,000 residents are Hispanic and do not speak English at home; 18 of the 76 Pasco police officers speak Spanish.