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July 2022, Volume 28, Number 3

Midwest, Northeast, Northwest

Colorado. The Agricultural Workers’ Rights law, SB 21-87 enacted in June 2021, provides Colorado farm workers with overtime pay. State Department of Labor and Employment regulations call for overtime after 60 hours a week on November 1, 2022, with the threshold falling in future years to overtime after 48 hours.

Farmers with seasonal labor needs are allowed to designate their busiest 22 weeks of the year and pay overtime during these periods after 56 hours a week, versus 48 hours during the other weeks. No other state allows employers to designate particular weeks when the overtime threshold is higher.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment issued regulations implementing SB 21-87 in June 2022 that prohibit employers from interfering “with an agricultural worker’s reasonable access to key service providers at any location during any time in which the agricultural worker is not performing compensable work.” Employers who provide housing cannot blocking visitor access to worker housing.

Iowa. Greene county, with 8,700 residents an hour from Des Moines, is attracting more Latinos, who are six percent of Iowa’s population. The county aims to attract Latinos already in Iowa to manufacturing jobs.

Michigan. Ex-employees of Maroa Farms and Mastronardi Produce filed a class-action suit in June 2022 alleging violations of worker safety laws and failure to pay bonuses due to ever-changing production targets. Mastronardi Produce employs 200 workers to produce tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers in several million-square-foot greenhouses 120 miles southeast of Grand Rapids.

Nebraska. The state’s unemployment rate dropped below two percent in April 2022, making Nebraska and Utah the states with the lowest rates. The US unemployment rate was 14.7 percent in April 2020, but by spring 2022 there were two vacant jobs for every jobless worker across the US, and almost four vacancies per job seeker in Nebraska.

Illinois. Billionaire Ken Griffin, the wealthiest resident of Illinois worth $30 billion, announced that he was moving Citadel Securities to Florida, joining Boeing and Caterpillar in moving their headquarters out of Illinois. Griffin complained to Governor J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, about rising crime in Chicago.

Wisconsin. Wausau-based Bauman Farms agreed to pay $180,000 in June 2022 to settle an EEOC suit alleging sexual harassment of female employees and retaliation against those who complained. The EEOC also alleged that Baumann had an English-only policy that discriminated against non-English-speaking Hispanic employees based on national origin.

Foxconn in 2017 promised 27,000 resident Mount Pleasant that the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park would employ 13,000 workers to build flat-panel screens. Government funds expanded I-94 and over $300 million in bonds were sold to provide water, sewer and other infrastructure. Foxconn employed fewer than 600 employees at the site at the end of 2020.

Texas. Texas has a 1,254-mile border with Mexico, and Republican Governor Greg Abbott in 2022 took increasingly aggressive action to deter unauthorized entries. Almost 130,000 unauthorized migrants were found just inside US borders in Texas in March 2022.

The state government aims to reduce unauthorized entries by arresting migrants for trespassing. In April 2022, the governor ordered state officials to inspect all commercial vehicles arriving from Mexico, leading to a queue of hundreds of trucks waiting in Mexico to enter the US. The governors of Mexican states bordering Texas agreed to take steps to reduce illegal migration and enhance checks to ensure that Mexican trucks were safe, prompting Texas to rescind the safety checks at the US border. The federal government also inspects trucks arriving from Mexico.

The Democratic primary election in May 2022 featured a battle in the 28th district between incumbent Rep Henry Cuellar, who wants DHS do to more to keep out unauthorized immigrants, and an immigration lawyer. Many of the Democratic candidates for president in 2020 advocated decriminalizing illegal entry into the US, but Cuellar did not. Cuellar favors the Obama approach to unauthorized migration, that is, couple legalization with tougher border enforcement, and won the primary.

Mississippi. Five Black workers sued Harris Russell Farms in April 2022, alleging that the catfish farm did not hire all of them and instead hired H-2A workers from South Africa; the Black workers were who were hired were paid a lower wage by Harris Russell Realty. A similar suit alleges that Pitt Farms also hired South African H-2A workers rather than local workers.

Maine. Maine wild blueberry growers harvested 105 million pounds worth $0.78 a pound in 2021. Both yields and prices were up from 2020.

New York. The 2019 Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (FLFLPA) created a board to phase in 8/40 overtime for farm workers. The board recommended phasing in overtime after 56 hours a week beginning in 2024, and requiring 8/40 overtime after 2032.

Washington. The H-2A program continues to expand in Washington. About 1,000 farm jobs were certified to be filled by H-2A workers in 2009, and 29,000 were certified in 2021, equivalent to a sixth of average agricultural employment of almost 100,000 if the H-2A jobs last an average six months.

Most tree fruit-picking jobs pay piece-rate wages because it is easier to monitor worker output than worker effort when workers may be obscured in trees. Despite the prevalence of piece rates, DOL has been certifying fruit-picking jobs that offer only the AEWR because the SWA has been unable to collect reliable data on prevailing piece rates.

The SWA surveys both farmers and workers, contacting farmers registered with UI authorities who produce apples, berries, or other tree fruits, and contacts workers who applied for UI benefits after working for an employer in these commodities. If responding employers do not employ at least 15 percent of the estimated total employment for a crop activity, such as harvesting Honeycrisp apples, the SWA does not make a prevailing piece-rate determination.

Total employment to harvest any particular variety of apples is unknown. UI employment data are for all apple growers, some of whom may also have other tree fruit, and there is no mechanism to determine what work is done by employees of labor contractors and others who bring workers to farms.

Washington’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health issued emergency regulations in spring 2022 that require employers to provide paid 10-minute cool down breaks every two hours when temperatures exceed 89F between June and September. Employers must also provide at least a quart of water an hour per employee, and monitor workers for signs of heat illness. Growers say that most tree fruit cannot be harvested when temperatures exceed 90F because the fruit deteriorates too quickly.

World apple production rose every year until 2014, when apple production stabilized with China the largest producer. US apple producers are focusing on the fresh market. About 80 percent of Washington apples are sold fresh, and apple farmers in Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania are switching from the production of processing apples to fresh apples.

Washington apple growers sold a record 92 million boxes of fresh apples in the US in 2014, and exported 16 million boxes. However, apple exports have been falling, especially to China and India as these countries levy tariffs on US apples in retaliation for US tariffs on goods from these countries.

About 100 workers at the Washington Bulb Company (RoozenGaarde) went on strike in March 2022 to demand higher wages and improved working conditions. The 1,600-acre farm includes 500 acres of daffodils, 350 acres of tulips, 150 acres of irises, and 600 acres of wheat. Employees asked Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which won a contract at Sakuma Berries covering 400 employees in 2016, to help RoozenGaarde employees to negotiate a contract March 30, 2022.

Employees of Ostrom Mushroom Farm in Sunnyside in June 2022 waving UFW flags demanded “fair pay, safe working conditions, and respect.” Ostrom opened the 43-acre and $60 million farm in 2019 to produce up to 14 million pounds a year. Ostrom says that harvest workers, who are paid about $0.25 per pound, can pick up to 90 pounds an hour and earn over $20 an hour.

The growing process begins with compost made from dampened straw, peat moss, sugar beets and chicken manure made in tunnels before being transferred into the 48 growing rooms, each with four 10-inch deep growing bins, to produce mushrooms in six weeks. Mushrooms can double in size in 24 hours. Ostrom employs about 300 workers, but would like to hire 20 percent more and grow mushrooms in all 48 growing rooms.

The US expects to produce 275,000 tons of sweet cherries in 2022, including two-thirds in Washington, down over a quarter from 2021 due to frosts in February and March that damaged the crop. The tart cherry crop is projected to be 230,000 tons, including two-thirds in MI.

Alaska. More wild fish are caught in Alaska than any other state, with salmon the most valuable species. Salmon spawn in fresh water, swim to and live in the ocean for several years, and return to spawn in the stream where they were born.

The number of salmon returning between July and September varies from year to year. The chum salmon return run in the Yukon River in 2021 was a tenth of the usual million, while a record 66 million sockeye salmon returned to Bristol Bay 400 miles south. The salmon returning to Bristol Bay spend months in inland lakes before migrating to the ocean, so warming temperatures may increase the food supply for young salmon in fresh water, making them more likely to survive in the ocean and return. One of Canada’s largest salmon runs, the 10 million sockeye salmon return to the Fraser River, was less than 300,000 in 2020.

The EPA in May 2022 ruled that mining waste may not be dumped into Bristol Bay because of the threat to fish, dooming the proposed Pebble Mine that aimed to extract gold, copper and other minerals worth $300 billion to $500 billion.

ConocoPhillips’s Willow project in the 23-million-acre federal National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska could yield three billion barrels of oil. Environmentalists argue that if the emissions from the burning of more oil are considered, the Willow project should not be permitted. ConocoPhillips counters that if it does not extract Alaska oil, oil will be pumped from less environmentally safe areas. President Biden suspended Trump-era oil drilling leases in the 20-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge east of the NPR-A.

Alaska held a primary election in June 2022 to finish Rep Don Young’s (R-AK) term as the state’s House representative, and gave ex-Governor Sarah Palin 27 percent of the vote in a field of 48 candidates. Alaska has 735,000 residents in a state larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined.

Alaska has hundreds of wildfires each summer that are beginning sooner and burning more land. Some 400 fires were reported in June 2022, and over two million acres had burned. In 2004, a peak 6.6 million acres burned.

MEP. The Migrant Education Program provides $375 million a year to serve a declining number of persons under 21 who crossed school district lines for farm work, some 261,000 in category 1 in 2020-21 (eligible children age 3 to 21 who resided in the state at least one day between September 1 and August 31) and 83,000 in category 2 (children aged 0 to 21 who received some MEP services in the state). States increase their MEP funding by identifying more eligible children and by serving more eligible children.

California had 71,000 or 27 percent of category 1 children, followed by 29,000 or 11 percent in Washington, 22,000 each or eight percent each in Texas and Florida, and 17,000 or six percent in Oregon; 60 percent of category 1 children are in these five states.

California had 31,300 or 37 percent of category 2 children, Oregon had 5,000 or six percent, Washington had 2,600 or three percent, and Texas and Florida 2,300 each or almost three percent; 55 percent of category 2 children are in these five states. There were sharp differences in category 2 children enrolled in MEP over time, up over five-fold in Georgia and down over 80 percent in Missouri.

The MEP recruits eligible children and obtains a certificate of eligibility signed by the person interviewed (child and/or guardian), the recruiter and a reviewer. The MEP estimates that it serves about 40 percent of eligible children in K-6 grade ages and a third of those who are in grades 7-12, a sixth of those 0-5, and 10 percent of out-of-school youth.

State allocations are based the average count of category 1 children over the previous three years plus the number of category 2 children served times 40 percent of the state’s average per pupil expenditure. California received $113 million in MEP funds in FY22; Washington $38 million; Oregon $25 million; Texas $23 million; and Florida and Arkansas $21 million each.

The MEP is one of the Big 4 federal MSFW that spend about $1 billion a year to provide services to migrant and seasonal farm workers and their children; the others provide health, head start and job training services.

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