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January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1

Florida, Southeast

Three employees of Los Villatoros Harvesting were sentenced to several years in prison in October 2022 for charging Mexican H-2A workers $1,000 to $2,000 each for US jobs, confiscating their passports while the workers were in the US, and falsifying payroll records. The owner of LVH was Bladimir Moreno.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in October 2022 refused to launch a Section 301 investigation into rising fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico, promising instead to consult industry leaders to help farmers in the southeastern states to better compete with rising Mexican imports of fresh produce.

Hurricane Ian struck southwestern Florida September 28, 2022 as a category 4 storm, damaging up to half of the state’s vegetable, citrus and berry acreage; farm sales are expected to drop by $1 billion. Florida is expecting its smallest citrus crop in over half a century, some 18 million 90 pound boxes or 1.4 million tons in 2022/23 worth $300 million, down from 7.1 million tons worth $1.6 billion a decade earlier. Two-thirds of US orange juice is imported, as suburbanization and citrus greening reduce Florida’s orange acreage from its peak of 655,000 acres in the late 1990s.

California will produce more oranges than Florida in 2023 for the first time since WWII.

Hurricane Ian also destroyed many of the 800,000 beehives of bee keepers who keep their bees in the state during the fall. Three-fourths of flowering plants depend on pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths to produce fruit and seeds, and hives that are in Florida in fall are often sent to California in spring to pollinate almond orchards or tree fruit in Oregon and Washington.

Georgia. Operation Blooming Onion led to the arrest of 28 people who were charged with forcing H-2A workers to work for them between 2015 and 2021, generating $200 million from 700 Central American H-2A workers who paid for their jobs. Some of the defendants may have been aided by staff employed by the Georgia Labor Department that helps to regulate the H-2A program.

In October 2022, three men were sentenced to a year to 30 years in prison. Two are unauthorized Mexicans who will be deported after they serve their sentences. The naturalized US citizen who was sentence received the shortest sentence for transporting the H-2A workers to area farms.

South Georgia FLCs often charge Mexicans $1,000 or more for H-2A visas. Some FLCs say that they will house H-2A workers in hotels, which do not have to be inspected by SWAs, but wind up housing them on the farms where they work, sometimes in substandard housing.

State Senator Russ Goodman co-owns the 600-acre Cogdell Berry Farm in South Georgia that relied on H-2A workers provided by FLCs named Alvarez who underpaid workers to pick Cogdell’s blueberries. Goodman says that Cogdell complies with all labor laws and only signed a letter submitted supporting Alvarez’s request to DOL for 300 H-2A berry pickers between April and July 2018.

North Carolina. The North Carolina Legislature in 2021 approved a law that prevented farm worker unions from settling disagreements with employers by signing union agreements. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee sued to prevent enforcement of the state law, which a federal judge enjoined in 2021. In December 2022, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s decision and held that the state law, which also prohibits dues checkoff provisions in CBAs, was constitutional. FLOC has a CBA with the 700 farms in the North Carolina Growers Association.

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