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April 2020, Volume 26, Number 2

Florida, Southeast

Lipman Family Farms, the largest US producer of open-field tomatoes, relies on US and H-2A workers for harvesting. The cost of planting tomatoes for the six major growers is about $11,000 an acre, and the farm price is usually $8 to $9 for a 25-pound box.

Lipman in March 2020 announced steps to limit the spread of coronavirus by having food trucks and check cashing services visit workers at their housing rather than taking guest workers to nearby towns. Many farm employers house four workers per room, raising questions about how they would quarantine sick H-2A workers.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis supports efforts to require Florida employers to use E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires. Most farmers oppose mandatory E-Verify, and the Legislature in March 2020 agreed to allow employers to use E-Verify or the current I-9 forms to check the legal status of new hires, a setback for DeSantis. Nine states in 2020 required almost all of their employers to use E-Verify to check new hires.

Florida fruit and vegetable growers who compete most directly with imports from Mexico formed DemandAmericanGrown.org to encourage Americans to buy US-grown produce. Florida strawberry growers complain of low labor costs in Mexico. One study estimated that workers in Florida earn an average $2.30 per flat for picking strawberries, while workers in Michoacan earn an average $1 a flat for picking during the longer Mexican picking season.

North Carolina. Scott Farms, which grows sweet potatoes and tobacco in Wilson county, agreed to pay $600,000 to 350 US year-round employees and $175,000 in attorney fees in January 2020 because the US workers were paid less than H-2A workers for packing sweet potatoes and were not paid overtime wages as required.

Since the US workers were in corresponding employment, they should have received the Adverse Effect Wage Rate. Scott Farms in 2015 paid $1.25 million to US workers who did not receive the minimum wage and overtime.

Florida-based FLC SBHLP Inc was debarred from the H-2A program for three years after failing to reimburse H-2A workers for their inbound transportation and failing to provide them with three meals a day when the H-2A workers were employed at five North Carolina farms. SBHLP Inc was ordered to pay 194 workers $224,000 in back wages and was assessed $239,000 in civil money penalties.