April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2
Florida has more H-2A jobs certified than any other state. WHD found that Arcadia-area FLCs Benjamin M. Ramirez Harvesting Inc, AO Harvesting LLC and Gustavo Cisneros Harvesting Inc did not pay 123 H-2A workers for at least three-fourths of their contracts and ordered them to pay $72,600 in back wages. The three FLCs used CCH Bookkeeping as their agent to obtain H-2A workers, and harvested citrus for Alico.
Florida H-2A job offers for 2022 must guarantee at least $12.08 an hour, but many harvesting jobs pay piece rate wages. Rodriguez Citrus Harvesting of Immokalee offered piece rates of $1 per 90-pound field box to pick Valencia oranges, with an 8.7 box per hour minimum productivity standard so that workers earned at least the $12.41 minimum wage guarantee.
Florida expected 44.5 million 90-pound boxes of oranges in 2021-22, the smallest number since 1945, as citrus greening reduces yields. Brazil expects to harvest 264 million boxes or six times more oranges. Florida’s citrus acreage declined by half between 2001 and 2021 due to urbanization and disease. The price of orange juice is rising, especially for PepsiCo’s Tropicana and Coca Cola’s Minute Maid brands.
Pacific Tomato Growers in Immokalee offered a piece rate of $0.65 per bucket to pick round tomatoes, $0.75 for Romas, $3.25 for cherry tomatoes, and $4.50 for grape tomatoes, setting productivity standards of at least 17, 15, 3.5, and 2.5 buckets per hour.
Harvest CROO Robotics is developing a strawberry harvester. Humans harvest at least 80 percent of the ripe strawberries on each pass through the field and pick a ripe strawberry every two or three seconds. The Harvest CROO machine can pick about half of the ripe strawberries in each pass through the field, and requires more time because the machine moves, stops, picks with 16 arms, and moves again to cover eight acres a day. Harvest CROO was co-founded by Gary Wishnatzki, whose 600 acre Wish Farms currently relies on 600 seasonal pickers, mostly H-2A workers.
Georgia. The Homeland Security Investigations agency on November 17, 2021 charged 24 people with human smuggling and labor trafficking in South Georgia, alleging that they charged fees to the H-2A workers they recruited in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries, required them to pay for housing while in the US, and paid the H-2A workers as little as $0.20 a bucket to harvest onions.
The 26 H-2A workers who were employed when HSI arrested their employers were taken to Douglas, Georgia and provided with assistance. Some are expected to apply for T-immigrant visas, which are available to foreigners who assist in criminal investigations and their families.
The first three defendants were sentenced to federal prison in March 2022.
North Carolina. North Carolina’s 2017 Farm Act makes it unlawful for employer-union contracts in agriculture to include provisions that allow employers to deduct union dues from worker paychecks and send them to the union representing them, so-called dues checkoff provisions. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) challenged the law, arguing that its chief sponsor, State Senator Brent Jackson of the Jackson Farming Company, was retaliating against FLOC because FLOC helped workers who accused Jackson of wage theft reach a settlement in 2017.
FLOC has 6,000 dues-paying members, including 4,800 in North Carolina, but represents 10,000 North Carolina farm workers, including H-2A workers brought to North Carolina by the 700-member North Carolina Growers’ Association (NCGA). FLOC charges 2.5 percent of worker wages as union dues, and says that there are about 2,000 dues-paying FLOC members in North Carolina at any one time who are served by four full-time union staff. FLOC, which first negotiated an agreement with the NCGA in 2004, reported that union dues are over half of its annual income.
South Carolina. The operators of Balcazar Nature Harvesting were charged with labor trafficking and fraud in January 2022. Balcazar allegedly forced H-2A workers to work excessive hours and threatened to deport those who did not work hard enough or produce enough.
DOL’s Wage and Hour Division completed 300 investigations in the southeastern states in 2021 and found violations on 240 or 80 percent of the farms investigated. DOL ordered the payment of $1.9 million in back wages to 4,000 employees, an average $475, and assessed $1.7 million in civil money penalties.