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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Southeast: Migrants

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is continuing to recruit college students to pressure Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Tricon Global Restaurants (Yum! Brands Inc), to get the growers of tomatoes to raise the piece rate wages they pay to have tomatoes picked in Florida. According to the CIW, tomato pickers receive $0.40-0.45 a 32-pound bucket for picking tomatoes. The CIW wants Taco Bell to pay growers $0.01 a pound more for tomatoes, and then growers to raise the piece rate they pay workers to $0.70-0.75 a pound.

In June 2002, brothers Ramiro and Juan Ramos and their cousin, Jose Ramo, were convicted in U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida of involuntary servitude, harboring undocumented workers, interfering with interstate commerce by extortion and using a firearm; the Ramos' supplied workers to Lake Placid area citrus growers. They will be sentenced in November 2002. In August 2001, Michael Allen Lee, a labor contractor, was sentenced to four years in federal prison for forcing men to work on his farm against their will.

Manatee County officials found 15 farm workers in June 2002 living in east Manatee on property owned by McClure Farms in squalid conditions; McClure also owns West Coast Tomato of Palmetto. McClure Farms said they were unaware that workers were living in the camp, which they said was rented to a former crew leader, Jaime Garcia. The camp was closed; workers said they lived rent-free.

The US has had a stable 1.1 million acres of citrus trees for the past five years, including, in 2000-01, about 755,000 acres in Florida; 270,000 in California; and 28,000 acres each in Arizona and Texas. Citrus canker, a bacteria that produces dark, oily lesions on leaves and fruit, weakens the tree and saps its capacity to bear fruit, was discovered in 1995 near Miami International Airport. To prevent its spread, all citrus trees within 125 feet of a sick tree are cut down, and 600,000 trees in yards and 1.5 million in commercial groves have been removed. However, in May 2002, Broward County Circuit Judge said that the state had overreached, and could not enter private property and cut down healthy trees that were too close to sick trees; he said that Florida's program to eradicate the disease "returns the state to a period of time when the rights of an individual were at the mercy of a whim of royalty."

Kentucky. The 2000 Census counted 711 farm workers in Kentucky. The Department of Labor certified 2,700 jobs to be filled with foreign workers holding H-2A visas in 2000, which state officials said represented 10 percent of Kentucky's 27,000 tobacco work force.

In an effort to replace tobacco, many central Kentucky farmers are trying goats, recalling the effort in the 1990s to raise ostrich and emu for meat. Many immigrants favor goat meat, and Kentucky, using tobacco settlement funds, grants farmers up to $4,500 to buy goats and the equipment. About 85 percent of Kentucky farmers grow tobacco, and goats are seen as an alternative or supplement.

Virginia. The Charlottesville-based Virginia Justice Center for Farm and Immigrant Workers sued the owners of pine tree farm Miller's Evergreen, in Independence in Grayson County on behalf of 10 workers in May 2002; this is the center's third suit against tree growers. In 2001, the Center won $150,000 for 18 workers who sued an Independence Motel that overcharged them for squalid rooms.

Louisiana. The Independence area has an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Spanish-speaking farm workers, and in May 2002 opened a $2 million 40-unit apartment complex. Under the federal guidelines, 16 of the units must be reserved for migrant farm workers and 24 for non-migrant farm workers; up to nine people can live in four-bedroom units, seven people in three-bedroom units and four to five people in two-bedroom units. Federal funds subsidize up to 70 percent of the rent, so that a four-bedroom unit that rents for $485 a month costs residents $190 a month.

Timothy O'hara, "Tomato pickers evicted; Manatee inspectors condemn McClure migrant housing," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 21, 2002. Bruce Schreiner, "Florida farmworkers take grievances to fast-food giant," AP, May 17, 2002. John-Thor Dahlburg, "In Florida's War Against Canker, Judge Squashes Seeds of Tyranny," Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2002.

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