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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4

Florida, Southeast

Green Bean Packers of Florida City in August 2018 agreed to pay $1 million in overtime wages to 351 employees. Owner Thomas M. Torbert owned several firms at the same address, and often paid the first 40 hours from Green Bean and the overtime hours at the same rate as the first 40 hours from another firm. Most of the workers were immigrants from Central America, and some said they did not realize that they were entitled to overtime pay.

Marin J Corp. of Avon Park, Florida settled a suit filed by DOL accusing Marin of housing some of the 107 H-2A workers in Kennett, Missouri in a former jail. Watermelon harvester Marin moved the workers from a Budget Inn to the former jail in July 2018, which DOL found to have limited light and ventilation and inadequate water. Marin placed other workers in houses with too few beds. The AEWR in MO in 2018 is $13.42 an hour.

Consolidated Citrus used FLC Ruiz Harvesting to pick oranges, and Ruiz hired H-2A workers at piece-rate wages. Workers who did not earn the AEWR received supplemental pay, but were required to return the extra pay to Ruiz or risk being fired and returned to Mexico. A federal court found that Consolidated and Ruiz were joint employers, and ordered Consolidated to pay $192,000. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in August 2018 found that the H-2A workers were employees only of Ruiz, not Consolidated, even though Consolidated required Ruiz to utilize H-2A workers.

The value of Florida's farm land used for citrus production has been declining to $5,000 to $8,000 per acre. Farm land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, where vegetables and sugarcane are grown, sold for $11,000 an acre in 2018. Rapid growth along the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Daytona Beach is pushing the price of farm land that can be converted into housing to over $50,000 an acre.

Immokalee, which is 40 miles inland from Naples, has no hospital. Plans to build a 25-bed hospital were opposed by Naples Community Hospital, which feared loss of revenue. Immokalee is a farm worker community and among the poorest in Florida. Almost half of residents were born abroad, and many work on tomato and orange farms. The planned hospital would be in Ave Maria, a new community seven miles south of Immokalee.

North Carolina. Ruben V. Serna of Serna Harvesting of Clinton was debarred from the H-2A program for three years in August 2018 after being ordered to pay $194,000 in back wages to 181 H-2A workers whose in-bound transportation costs were not reimbursed. DOL also sought $175,000 in civil money penalties.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee persuaded a federal judge in September 2018 to block enforcement of a 2017 North Carolina state law that prohibits farm employers from signing contracts that include provisions to deduct and forward dues to unions. FLOC represents about 10,000 farm workers in North Carolina, and says that it would be unable to collect dues from union members after its current contracts expire in 2020.

Hurricane Florence in September 2018 destroyed $1 billion crops and jobs in the Carolinas. Many of the workers who would have picked sweet potatoes and tobacco are H-2A workers who may be sent home early because of the hurricane.