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July 2019, Volume 25, Number 3

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Minnesota. Farmers support a bill in the state legislature to allow unauthorized foreigners to get driver's licenses. Dairy farmer Tom Sedgeman from Sauk Center generates $2 billion in revenue from 400 cows and seven employees, all of whom provided work-authorization papers when hired that Sedgeman did not check with E-Verify. Sedgeman says he pays dairy employees $15 an hour, but cannot attract local workers.

Texas. Since 2005, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has been responsible for inspecting migrant farm worker housing. However, the state spent only $2,500 to inspect farm worker housing in 2015, while Michigan spent $1.1 million.

The Texas housing inspection budget was raised to $10,250 in 2017, and SB 697 would require the housing agency to search out and inspect farm worker housing and take over the inspection of H-2A worker housing from the Texas Workforce Commission. About 3,000 farm jobs were certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY16.

Wisconsin. The number of dairy farms has fallen by half to 8,000 since 2005, while the average size of remaining dairies increased. Milk prices fell by 40 percent between 2014-15 and 2019, from over $25 per 100 pounds to $17. The price of dairy cows has dropped by 50 percent to $1,000 or less.

Franksville-based Borzynski Farms, which has operations in Georgia and Wisconsin, was named in an indictment of FLC Garcia & Sons from Moultrie, Georgia. Garcia brought H-2A workers into the US to work in Georgia, but kept their passports and sent them to Borzynski in Wisconsin.

Garcia affiliate C & D Harvesting was certified to employ 272 H-2A workers on four Georgia farms in 2016, and Garcia & Sons was certified to bring more H-2A workers in 2015 and 2016. Some of Garcia's workers went to Moore Farms, which used them to pick vegetables on 1,100 acres in Georgia.

New York. The appellate division of the state supreme court in May 2019 in a 4-1 decision concluded that a 1938 amendment to the state constitution gives farm workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. The New York Civil Liberties Union challenged the farm labor exclusion in 2016 on behalf of Crispin Hernandez, who was fired from a dairy farm in 2015 when he tried to organize workers.

A trial judge dismissed Hernandez's suit, but the May 2019 decision said that the right to organize without retaliation was a fundamental right. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, approved by the state legislature in June 2019, extends organizing rights as well as overtime and other worker protections to farm workers.

Farmers opposed the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (S2837/A2750), which amends the State Employment Relations Act and explicitly gives New York?farm workers the right to organize into unions without employer interference and requires overtime pay after eight hours of work in a day or 40 hours a week beginning in 2025. Farmers say that the overtime requirement will add $300 million a year to labor costs.

The Legislature also agreed to make New York the 13th state to issue driver's licenses to unauthorized foreigners.

Amos Zittel and Sons hires 72 H-2A workers because "there is no non-H-2A labor" available for its vegetable-growing operation in Erie county. Demay Labor charges growers $1,000 per H-2A worker recruited, and helped 40 New York farms make the transition to H-2A workers in the past several years. New York's AEWR is $13.25 in 2019.

A Philadelphia Cream Cheese factory in Lowville in upstate New York required huge quantities of water, leading to restrictions on water usage for the 3,500 residents. Surrounding Lewis county has 190 dairies and 27,000 cows, and both Kraft and Lowville invested to provide additional water supplies.

Maine. Portland, with 67,000 residents, is attracting African immigrants, especially asylum applicants from Angola and Congo. Many flew to South America and made their way north, applying for asylum after crossing the Mexico-US border. An eighth of Portland residents were born abroad.

There are Africans in Portland from earlier waves of immigrants, but newcomers cannot work legally until at least six months after they have applied for asylum. Maine provides general assistance for up to two years to asylum seekers, and Portland has a Community Support Fund that assists those who plan to apply for asylum.

Washington. The state's Employment Security Department receives $300,000 a year from DOL to fulfill its responsibilities under the H-2A program. ESD says it needs $3.5 million a year to check on job orders, inspect housing and conduct prevailing wage studies for the 25,000 jobs DOL certified to be filled with H-2A workers in FY18. The state expects over 30,000 jobs to be certified in FY19.

A new law in May 2019 creates an Office of Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services within ESD to supervise the H-2A program in the state and an eight-member worker and employer advisory committee to ESD.

The Washington Supreme Court is considering its third farm worker pay case, deciding whether the state's constitution requires farm workers to receive overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. Previous cases filed by Seattle attorney Marc Cote resulted in decisions that require piece-rate workers to be paid separately for rest breaks and for "down time," such as traveling between orchards.

The Washington Legislature exempted farm workers from 8/40 overtime in 1959, following the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Cote argues that the federal FLSA exemption was based on racism of southern Congressional representatives, and thus violates the Washington constitution.

Farmers who oppose 8/40 overtime say that it will bankrupt especially dairy farms; the state has 400 dairies and 275,000 cows. Farmers emphasize that 85 percent of the state's farm workers were white in 1959, when the overtime exemption was enacted, proving that racism was not a factor in the exemption. California is introducing 8/40 overtime between 2019 and 2025.

Abundant Robotics in 2019 reported on the first commercial apple harvest using an automated harvester.