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October 2017, Volume 23, Number 4

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Illinois. The number of jobs certified to be filled by H-2A workers more than doubled between FY16 and FY17, from 800 to 1,800. The Illinois AEWR of $13.01 is significantly higher than the state's $8.25 minimum wage.

The CEO of Frey Farms in Keenes testified July 19, 2017 before the House Judiciary Committee on the H-2A program. Frey is the largest US pumpkin producer and employs 250 H-2A workers for the five-week pumpkin harvest in Illinois. Frey grows pumpkins and melons in seven states.

Rendleman Orchards of Alto Pass, 20 miles south of Carbondale, has 12 Mexican H-2A workers in a 30-person workforce to harvest 100 acres of peaches and 90 acres of apples on an 800-acre farm. One of the H-2A workers reported earning far more than the 1,500 pesos ($84) a week he earned in Guanajuato during his four months in Illinois.

Iowa. Seed-corn companies such as Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer use contractors to obtain workers to detassel corn. Some of these contractors are accused by workers of broken promises. Legal aid groups believe that seed-corn companies are jointly liable with the contractors they use for violations of labor rights. They acknowledge that the companies often settle worker complaints quickly, but these settlements do not acknowledge joint liability and are often sealed, so they may have little deterrence value.

Contractors often recruit detasseling workers in south Texas, and usually take responsibility for recording the hours workers are employed, although Pioneer issues checks to workers. Contractors often receive a price per acre for detasseling.

Michigan. Steffens Orchard north of Grand Rapids wants 40 workers to harvest apples from 280 acres, or one worker per seven acres. Many farmers are turning to H-2A workers; Michigan is expected to have over 7,000 H-2A workers in 2017, up from 250 in 2011. The AEWR in Michigan is $12.75 an hour.

Fred Leitz, ex-president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, hires 150 H-2A workers to help on his 700-acre farm near Sodus in southwest Michigan; another 50 workers are local. Leitz complained of the extra cost and need to plan for H-2A workers, and of what he called additional scrutiny from state and local labor law enforcement because there are H-2A workers on his farm.

The owner of Dunganstown Dairy and Parisville Dairy in Michigan's Thumb region in September 2017 agreed to pay $1.4 million in fines for knowingly hiring over 100 unauthorized workers whom he housed next to the dairies. A woman who helped Michigan dairy farms to obtain unauthorized workers was sentenced to 27 months in prison in 2016.

The Wall Street Journal on August 3, 2017 reported on declining mobility in the US. The story focused on 21,000-resident Ogemaw county, about 200 miles north of Detroit, where manufacturing employment shrank as factories closed.

Many residents who lost jobs or are unemployed are reluctant to leave the area, citing the low-cost of living and the helping culture to the high cost of housing and cultural differences in cities. Occupational licenses and fears of diverse populations elsewhere keep some at home, where social services reduce the impacts of low wages.

Ohio. NatureFresh of Leamington, Ontario has 45 acres of greenhouses and 210 employees in Delta, Ohio. CEO Peter Quiring said NatureFresh is not expanding to 180 acres in Ohio due to lack of labor; according to Quiring, many of the applicants for NatureFresh jobs fail drug tests.

Wisconsin. Foxconn is planning a $10 billion plant that could create 13,000 jobs in southeastern Wisconsin. One reason for selecting Wisconsin was $3 billion in state subsidies, equivalent to a $15,000 per job per year subsidy for jobs that are expected to pay $50,000 a year in 2020.

Beloit is being transformed by Diane Hendricks, the second-wealthiest woman in the US, after Marian Ilitch of Little Caesars Pizza. Hendricks and her late husband Ken sold roofing and other building materials via ABC Supply and are transforming the city of 37,000 into a destination for tech start-ups in remodeled factories.

Vermont. Ben & Jerry's, owned by Unilever since 2000, signed a Milk with Dignity agreement with Migrant Justice, a group representing some of the 1,200 to 1,500 mostly immigrant workers employed on Vermont's dairy farms. The agreement requires dairy farms that supply milk to Ben & Jerry's to pay at least the state's minimum wage of $10 an hour, to offer at least eight hours of rest between shifts, and to have housing with beds, electricity and clean running water.

Enforcement on 90 farms that reportedly hire up to 10 workers each will be via audits and workers who report violations to a 24-hour hotline. Ben & Jerry's will cover the cost of compliance by paying an undisclosed premium on the milk it buys after farmers are educated about the agreement and make necessary changes.

Texas. Hurricane Harvey dumped over 50 inches of rain on Houston and eastern Texas, highlighting the relatively few regulations governing development in the fourth-largest US city. The let-the-market-work approach of Houston left the city with inadequate infrastructure to protect against flooding.

Those who favor the Houston model say the city needs more drainage and coastal defenses, but not more regulation. Critics agree that housing is more affordable in Houston than in other large cities, but argue that a major reason for low-cost housing is insurance that subsidizes building on flood-prone land and the failure to factor in the cost of long commutes endured by many residents.

Colorado. Crop Production Services was accused by the US Department of Justice in September 2017 of preferring H-2A to US workers at its rice-breeding facility in El Campo, Texas. CPS agreed to hire US workers, but insisted on documentation from them that delayed offers of employment and instead hired 15 H-2A workers to fill all of its jobs. The US workers, but not the H-2A workers, were required to complete background and drug tests before receiving offers of employment.

Idaho. Two immigrant workers died in Idaho dairy manure pits in 2016, spotlighting the employment of immigrants in dairies and workplace dangers.
There were 6,700 injuries and 43 deaths on US dairy farms with more than 11 employees in 2015.

Westpoint Farms has 65 employees to milk 5,500 cows, an average 85 cows per employee. Workers handling waste from 1,500 pound cows face dangers around the lagoons in which it is stored, generating methane gas that can make nearby workers unconscious. A farm with 2,500 cows generates as much waste daily as a city of 400,000.

Washington. Sakuma Brothers negotiated a two-year collective bargaining agreement with Familias Unidas por las Justicia in June 2017 covering 600 workers on its 700-acre berry farm. The contract requires workers to join the union or pay agency fees within 30 days of employment.

Agitation for the contract began in 2013, after Sakuma fired a worker who complained about low piece rates and poor housing. Many of his Mixteco and Triqui co-workers walked out in protest.

Sakuma pays piece-rate wages to its berry harvesters, and aims to have blueberry and strawberry workers earn at least $15 an hour. Three test pickers named by the union will test pick a field, and their average pounds picked per hour will be used to determine the piece rate per pound to achieve an average $15 an hour. If the entire crew earns less than $15, the piece rate will be raised; if the crew averages more than $17, the piece rate will be reduced.

Strawberry fields are picked two or three times a season, blueberry fields two to five times, and blackberries up to 20 times.

Washington (64 percent) and Michigan and New York (12 percent each) accounted for almost 90 percent of US apple production of 10.4 billion pounds in 2016. Washington is expecting 131 million 40-pound boxes of fresh apples in 2017, about the same as in 2016. Three varieties are 60 percent of the crop: Red Delicious is 24 percent, Galas 22 percent, and Fuji 14 percent.

The CEO of Gebbers Farms of Brewster testified July 19, 2017 before the House Judiciary Committee on the H-2A program. Gebbers fired 550 workers after an I-9 audit in December 2009, and began to hire H-2A workers in 2010. Gebbers employed 2,150 H-2A workers in 2017, 1,400 from Mexico and 750 from Jamaica, for field and packing operations. Gebbers reported recruitment and travel costs of $1,000 to $1,500 per worker.

WAFLA (formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association) CEO Dan Fazio was sued by Dawn Dobbins in June 2017 for sexual harassment and retaliation, a charge that Fazio denies. WAFLA had revenue of $6.6 million in 2015, when it brought about 6,000 H-2A workers into the state.

Sarbanand Farms of Whatcom county used CSI Visa Processing to recruit 600 Mexican H-2A workers to pick blueberries. Some of the workers complained of inadequate food and smoky air and, after one died on August 6, 2017, another 65 refused to work and were fired.

There are 250 dams on the Columbia river and its tributaries, some public and others private, that generate half the hydropower in the US. President Trump has proposed keeping the dams and selling the transmission lines of the Bonneville Power Administration to private buyers. The Grand Coulee, which generates 2,372 megawatts, is the largest of the public dams on the Columbia river. The largest US dams by the volume of water stored in their reservoirs are the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams.

Idaho. Twin Falls, a city of 45,000 that is half Mormon, was rocked by stories of Syrian refugees raping a local girl in 2016 at a time when no Syrians had been resettled in the area. Local ag-related employers such as Chobani Yogurt, Clif Bar and Glanbia Nutritionals were blamed for bringing refugees to the area; over 2,500 were resettled over the past two decades, most from Cambodia and ex-Yugoslavia.

Boys from Sudan and Iraq were found with a girl in a laundry room of an apartment complex, setting off a story of Syrian refugees raping local girls. A Breitbart reporter went to Twin Falls and reported on a "horrific gang rape," a charge the police dispute.