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January 2018, Volume 24, Number 1
Florida farmers were certified to fill 25,000 jobs in FY17 with H-2A workers, the most of any state and up sharply from 4,500 jobs certified in FY10. In 2010, over 80 percent of H-2A workers harvested citrus, but in 2017 only half did, reflecting the growth of the H-2A program in vegetables and strawberries. In 2016-17, 3,000 of the state's 15,000 strawberry pickers were H-2A workers.
Florida's minimum wage has been higher than the federal minimum wage since 2006, and in 2017 at $8.10 an hour was almost $1 more than the federal $7.25. The rising minimum wage means that piece rates must rise unless workers get more productive. Workers picking oranges could be paid $0.53 per 90-pound box to earn the state's $4.25 an hour minimum wage in 1996 at the rate of eight boxes an hour, but had to receive $1.01 per box in 2017 when the state's minimum wage was $8.10.
Some growers are able to offset the rising minimum wage by selecting very productive workers, such as those able to pick an average 12 or more boxes per hour. The productivity of Mexican H-2A workers in the US is generally higher than the productivity of Mexican workers in Mexico.
Greg Asbed, a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, was awarded one of the 24 MacArthur "genius grants" in October 2017; each provides the recipient with $625,000. The CIW aims to improve wages and working conditions for tomato and other vegetable workers in southwestern Florida with its Fair Food Program, which enlists buyers of produce to pay growers a premium that is passed on to workers. To receive the premium price, growers must abide by FFP guidelines to treat workers lawfully.
The CIW got its start exposing slavery and forced labor in tomato fields, highlighting examples of crew leaders not paying workers and intimidating workers who complained. The CIW tried and failed to get tomato growers to increase wages, and then switched to a boycott of Taco Bell, a major purchaser of Florida tomatoes. Taco Bell in 2005 became the first major tomato buyer to sign the FFP.
The CIW targeted the crew bosses or labor contractors who organized crews for the major tomato growers. Under the FFP, the grower is responsible for all actions of the crew bosses who bring workers to their farms, and farmers must pay all workers directly rather than paying the crew boss a lump sum and having each boss pay his crew.
North Carolina. North Carolina's SB 615 prohibits farm employers from making payroll deductions for union dues and prohibits farm owners from settling lawsuits by agreeing to union contracts. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) sued to overturn SB 615, alleging that it interferes with worker free speech and discriminates by race and citizenship. FLOC says that over 90 percent of North Carolina farm workers are Hispanic, and 90 percent are not US citizens.