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October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Colorado. The Fair Labor Standards Act (SB 87) requires farm workers to be paid at least the state’s minimum wage of $12.32 in 2021 and allows farm workers to join or form unions without retaliation. Farm employers opposed the FLSA, arguing that it could raise farm labor costs by 20 percent or more.

The state Department of Labor and Employment in October 2021 proposed that overtime pay for farm workers begin November 1, 2022, with workers receiving 1.5 times their usual pay for hours in excess of 60 a week. Beginning January 1, 2024, overtime pay for most workers would be required after 48 hours a week, with exceptions for small employers.

New Mexico. New Mexico produces 80 percent of US chili peppers, and chili growers who say that they need 3,000 workers to harvest their crop feared that they would not have enough in 2021, when a large crop is expected due to ideal weather.

The state’s Chile Labor Incentive Program provided $5 million in federal stimulus funds to employers so they could raise the hourly wages of chili harvesters by up to $4.50 an hour and a maximum $19.50 an hour. Most growers pay piece rates, and some employ H-2A workers who must be paid the AEWR of $13.67 in NM.

Doña Ana county in the southern region of the Mesilla Valley has 32,000 acres of pecans, which require five to six feet of water per acre in a region that receives less than a foot of rain each year. Pecan farmers traditionally flood irrigated their orchards, but drought is forcing some to switch to some form of drip irrigation.

Illinois. Electric-vehicle maker Rivian aims to build pickup trucks in Normal, which has a 3.3-million-square-foot Mitsubishi auto assembly plant that closed in 2015. The Bloomington-Normal area has about 170,000 people, and the Rivian boom is increasing employment and attracting skilled workers. Rivian is a non-union plant that starts workers at $20 an hour. Rivian, which makes the RIT pick-up truck and RIS SUV that cost about $70,000 each, has orders for 100,000 delivery trucks from Amazon.

Iowa. Iowa Select Farms, the state's largest pork producer, testified in July 2021 that ISF needed access to H-2A workers to continue to produce hogs. Currently, most animal agriculture is banned from employing H-2A workers because they offer year-round jobs; the H-2A program is limited to seasonal jobs generally lasting less than 10 months. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would allow H-2A workers to fill year-round jobs in animal agriculture, but cap their number.

An unauthorized Mexican dairy worker was sentenced to life in prison in August 2021 for killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared while running in 2018.

Louisiana. Rivet and Sons LLC, with 6,000 acres of sugarcane and soybeans near Baton Rouge, was charged in September 2021 with violating the rights of H-2A workers by not providing them with adequate housing and food and threatening them with firearms.

Mississippi. Pitts Farms Partnership, a cotton and corn farm in Sunflower County, was sued in September 2021 by six US Black workers who allege they were paid less than white South Africans who had H-2A visas. Pitts Farms began to employ H-2A workers in 2014, when it began to hire South Africans with H-2A visas. In 2020, most of the Black workers were laid off as the number of South Africans increased.

Wisconsin. Seneca Foods has 20 US plants, including nine in Wisconsin that employed 1,800 migrant workers in 2020. Seneca had camps near its plant in Gillett for which workers paid $32 a week to sleep in bunk beds separated by hanging plastic; Seneca required employees to wear face masks in the barracks and in the plant.

Seneca paid its nonfarm workers $10 to $15 an hour in 2021 and overtime pay after 8/40. Many Seneca employees migrate each year from South Texas to earn high wages during the vegetable packing season and receive UI benefits in the off season.

NGO UMOS estimates that 40 percent of workers on Wisconsin dairy farms were born abroad and 90 percent of the foreign-born dairy workers are unauthorized. Most newcomers begin as milkers, which involves working eight or twelve hour shifts in parlors that milk cows 24/7. Larger dairies have a higher share of foreign-born and unauthorized workers. Williams Bedrock Bovine milks 1,100 cows with 24 workers, including the owners. Nineteen of Williams Bedrock workers are Latino.

Maine. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September 2021 tightened restrictions on lobster and crab traps to save the remaining 360 North Atlantic right whales. NOAA is restricting the number and strength of ropes that lead from buoys on the surface to traps on the ocean floor so that fewer whales are entangled. Lobstering is prohibited in 950 square miles of the Gulf of Maine between October and January.

Pennsylvania. Mushroom farms that offer year-round jobs are struggling to find workers; they offer year-round jobs and are unable to hire H-2A workers. Many mushroom jobs have been eliminated by machines, including creating and filling mushroom beds with compost. However, most fresh mushrooms are harvested by hand by workers who pick mature mushrooms two or three times from each bed.

Oregon. Oregon and Washington enacted regulations requiring employers to protect their employees from extreme heat in summer 2021. A 69 year-old worker from Zacatecas with heart disease died at the Virgil Gamache Farms near Toppenish, Washington in July 2021. California, Oregon and Washington as well as Minnesota have regulations that require employers to provide water and shade to employees who work outdoors when temperatures exceed 90F.

Washington. Washington apple growers expect 125 million 40-pound boxes of apples in 2021, up slightly from 122 million in 2020. The Gala variety accounts for 21 percent of Washington apples; Red Delicious 16 percent; Honeycrisp and Granny Smith are 14 percent each; the Fuji variety 13 percent; Cripps Pink are six percent; and Cosmic Crisp three percent.

The US apple crop is expected to be 244 million bushels, including 157 million or 64 percent in Washington, 30 million bushels in New York, and 18 million bushels in Michigan. Gala is the most popular US variety, 49 million bushels or 20 percent; followed by Red Delicious, 36 million bushels; Honeycrisp, 31 million; Fuji 29 million; and Granny Smith, 27 million bushels. The US exported 41 million bushels or 17 percent of its fresh apples in 2020 and imported five million bushels.

Stemilt Ag Services in September 2021 agree to pay $3 million to 10,580 H-2A workers who sued in 2018 alleging that they were not paid between 2015 and 2018 for non-productive time spent in transport to and from work and setting up ladders. Instead, the workers received piece-rate wages for the bins of apples they picked, and their earnings exceeded the minimum wage.

Plaintiff lawyers agreed to a $200,000 settlement, with 40 percent going to workers. Columbia Legal Services intervened, arguing that more workers should receive more compensation; a federal judge approved the $3 million settlement, with $2 million going to workers.

Washington dairy workers began to receive overtime pay July 25, 2021. All other farm workers are eligible for overtime pay of at least 1.5 times the state’s minimum wage after 40 hours a week beginning January 1, 2024. SB 5172 eliminated suits for past unpaid overtime wages that could have been filed under the state Supreme Court’s Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy decision in 2000.

Washington's Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued emergency smoke rules in July 2021 for outdoor workers, joining California as the second state to protect workers from smoke. L&I requires employers to provide farm workers with shade and 10-minute paid cool-down breaks every two hours when temperatures exceed 100F.

Alaska. Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska is the US’s premier sockeye salmon fishery, and the place where the planned Pebble Mine copper-and-gold project could affect water quality. The EPA in 2019 withdrew a plan that would have prevented the Pebble Mine from opening to protect Bristol Bay, and reinstated the plan in 2021, likely preventing the Pebble Mine owned by Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals from going into operation.

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