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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1

Northeast, Midwest, Northwest

Pennsylvania. Temple mushroom grower Bisconti settled EEOC charges that a female manager harassed eight female employees between 2007 and 2015; Bisconti paid $200,000 to an employee who complained and was retaliated against. Bisconti will be monitored for three years as part of the settlement, and will create and enforce an anti-discrimination and retaliation policy.

Brian Campbell grows 600,000 pumpkins a year on 2,000 acres in Columbia county with 48 Mexican H-2A workers, making him Pennsylvania's largest pumpkin producer. Illinois, Indiana and California are the leading pumpkin producers. Pumpkins weighing 10 to 20 pounds are picked by hand and loaded in cardboard bins.

New York. A federal judge in January 2019 issued an injunction to block implementation of parts of S 6578, the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which gives farm workers the right to organize into unions and requires overtime pay after 60 hours of work a week beginning January 1, 2020. Four other states, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Maryland, require some type of overtime for farm workers.

Farm groups sued because the definition of farm laborer included all employees on farms except for the farmer and his/her immediate family members. Making farm managers employees under S 6578 could put them and farm workers in the same union, which the federal NLRA and California's ALRA prevents by excluding from coverage supervisors with the power to discipline employees.

S 6578 includes card check, meaning that a union can be recognized as the bargaining representative for workers without a secret ballot election and gives union organizers the right to enter farms to talk to workers about their union rights.
If unions cannot negotiate collective bargaining agreements with farmers, they can invoke binding arbitration, which creates a panel to hold hearings and collect evidence to determine prevailing wages and working conditions.

Chobani, the largest buyer of dairy products in New York, is being pressured by worker advocates to improve wages and conditions for farm workers by requiring the dairies from which it buys milk to remain neutral during union organizing drives. Chobani is partnering with Fair Trade USA to improve conditions for workers on the farms from which it buys milk.

Canada's Mastronardi Produce (Sunset brand) built the largest US greenhouse in Oneida, New York, covering 64 acres of 2.8 million-square feet to produce tomatoes and other fresh vegetables.

New Jersey. Swedesboro-based Sun Valley Orchards agreed in November 2019 to pay $345,000 in back wages to 147 workers and $212,000 penalties for failing to provide the 96 H-2A workers with adequate housing and not using certified drivers and vehicles to transport workers between their housing and fields.

Wisconsin. Average UI-covered agricultural employment (NAICS 11) rose from 21,500 to 28,300 between 2009 and 2018, the number of ag establishments rose from 2,150 to 2,735, and total wages paid rose 66 percent from $601 million to $1 billion. Average weekly ag wages rose 28 percent, from $540 to $690.

Between 2009 and 2018, average dairy employment (NAICS 112120) rose from 9,400 to almost 15,000, the number of dairy establishments rose from 830 to 1,200 (Wisconsin has about 8,000 dairies), and total dairy wages paid rose 115 percent from $230 million to $495 million. Average weekly dairy wages rose 36 percent, from $470 to $640, that is, dairy weekly wages rose faster than all ag wages.

Texas. A University of Texas at Austin study in 2016 estimated that 234,000 Texans were victims of labor trafficking, and that employers stole over $600 million in wages from them. The study estimated that there were 132,034 migrant farm workers in Texas, and that 28 percent were "at high risk of labor trafficking." A third of workers were employed in cleaning, construction, backhouse restaurants, and landscaping were also considered to be at high risk for trafficking.

These estimates of the number of farm workers are too high. UI data show that average employment in Texas agriculture was less than 60,000 between 2009 and 2018, including an average 21,000 direct hires on crop farms, 26,000 direct hires in animal agriculture, and 10,000 in crop support. If there were two unique workers for each average job, as in California agriculture, this would imply a total farm workforce of 120,000. Even if migrant were defined as all persons born outside the US, there are likely to be fewer than 100,000 migrants. Given the high share of workers in animal agriculture, there are likely fewer follow-the-crop migrants in Texas than in states with more diverse crop agricultures.

NE. Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and his wife were sentenced in November 2019 to prison for charging workers for jobs at O'Neill Ventures, a tomato greenhouse complex in O'Neill, and other farms. The couple were arrested in August 2018 for providing unauthorized workers to area employers and then collecting fees from the employers and from the workers for payroll taxes that were retained rather than paid. Prosecutors alleged that the couple generated over $5 million from their activities.

Colorado. Colorado Minimum Wage Order No. 35, last updated in 1998, applies to four types of workers: those with jobs in retail and service, commercial support, food and beverage, and health and medical sectors. Farm workers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act are entitled to Colorado's minimum wage of $11.10 an hour in 2019.

Average UI-covered agricultural employment (NAICS 11) rose from 14,000 to 18,000 between 2009 and 2018, the number of ag establishments rose from 1,400 to 1,700, and total wages paid rose 77 percent from $393 million to $695 million. Average weekly wages rose 34 percent, from $550 to $735.

About two-thirds of the $6.7 billion in Colorado's farm sales in 2018 were from livestock, mostly beef cattle. In 2019, 57 of the state's 64 counties were designated as in drought, forcing farmers to buy feed or sell cattle and reducing yields of corn and wheat. Potatoes grown in the San Luis Valley are the major vegetable, while peaches and melons are grown on the western slope of the Rocky mountains.

Oregon. Oregon produced greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $1 billion in 2018. Other labor-intensive commodities included blueberries worth $189 million and pears worth $140 million.

Oregon produces more Christmas trees than any other state, almost five million in 2017, followed by four million in North Carolina and 1.5 million in Michigan. On November 29, 2019, a van with 13 immigrant tree workers was hit by a pickup truck, killing three workers who where hired by a Salem-based contractor to work at Holiday Tree Farms.

Workers use chain saws to cut the trees close to the ground, and cut up to 1,000 trees a day. Cut trees are bundled and sent throughout the US.

Small vineyards in the Willamette Valley complained of labor shortages in Fall 2019. Some said there has been a proliferation of labor contractors, each with small crews, who promise to bring 20 pickers but show up with 10 or fewer. Many vineyards have less than 10 acres and, with yields of three or four tons an acre, do not want to invest in machine harvesting.

Washington. Several workers employed by DeRuyters Brothers Dairy in the Yakima Valley sued for overtime pay. The complaining workers said that they worked nine to 12 hours a day and six days a week and were not paid overtime wages because the state's Minimum Wage Act of 1959 exempted farm workers without considering the racist roots of the federal exclusion of farm workers from overtime pay in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1935.

Worker lawyers emphasized that Washington's state constitution protects workers in dangerous jobs, and that requiring overtime pay would improve farm worker health by providing incentives for employers to hire more workers. Grower attorneys countered that most of Washington's farm workers were white when agriculture was exempted from overtime pay requirements.

US apple acreage declined from 570,000 acres in 1997 to 382,000 acres in 2017, including 170,000 acres in Washington. About 20 percent of US apple acreage is on farms with 1,000 or more acres of apples. Apples are the state's most valuable crop, worth $2.2 billion in 2018, followed by cherries worth $425 million and pears worth $210 million.

Washington apple growers complain of high shipping costs. Shipping a container of apples to China costs $4,000, including 30 percent of this cost to get the container from the Yakima Valley to the port of Seattle. Shipping a container of apples from Yakima to the eastern US costs $8,000 to $10,000.

Washington is one of eight states that prohibit affirmative action in public employment and state universities; California's Prop 209 banned affirmative action in 1996, and Washington voters enacted a similar ban with Initiative 200 in 1998 by a 58-42 vote. Washington voters in November 2019 narrowly approved Referendum 88 to block implementation of a bill approved by the Legislature in April 2019 to allow race, sex, and ethnicity to be used in allocating scarce state resources from taking effect.

Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire and Oklahoma ban affirmative action. Washington's population is 67 percent white, 18 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian, and five percent black.

Hispanics are half of the 94,000 residents of Yakima. Most non-Hispanic whites are older than average and most Hispanics are younger; across the US, the most common age of non-Hispanic whites is 58, while for non-whites the most common age is 27. Hispanics dominate on the eastern side of Yakima, white non-Hispanics dominate in west Yakima. About half of the Hispanic adult residents have not graduated from high school. The Yakima fruit bowl is known for apples, pears, hops and cherries.