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January 2003, Volume 9, Number 1

H-2As: California

Harry Singh & Sons, a San Diego county tomato grower, was certified by DOL to hire up to 200 H-2A workers between September 26 and December 1, 2002, offering them at least $8.02 an hour plus free housing. California Rural Legal Assistance sued Singh on behalf of workers from the Coachella Valley that Singh hired in previous years, and for whom Singh had provided a bus to make the trip between Coachella, leaving at 3 am and returning from San Diego after 7 PM. Singh said a variable number of workers boarded the bus each day, and he was canceling the bus service and hiring H-2A workers.

A federal judge ordered Singh to send these US workers letters offering them the same wages and housing as were offered to the H-2As.

Singh farms on the Camp Pendleton Marine base. In July 2002, the INS found that about 75 percent of his workers were unauthorized, causing Singh to lose $2.5 million when crops could not be picked and prompting the request for H-2As. According to Singh, 650 workers were needed, but only 480 legal workers were available, prompting the request for H-2As.

Singh was named by the US Department of Labor as Agricultural Employer of the Year for the Western Region in 1996, largely in recognition of the $2.5 million spent on dormitory-style housing. DOL's citation said that the Singhs are "employers who take care of their employees, rather than take from their employees." However, in 1997, Singh paid $172,498 to settle state charges that he failed to pay unpaid overtime wages as required in 1993.

CRLA in September 2002 sued SAMCO, a custom harvester/FLC in Ventura county that brought 38 H-2A workers from Mexico to California to harvest lemons in March-April 2002. Ralph DeLeon of SAMCO said he lost $3,000 because of additional transportation costs, said he was "trying to provide an option to those workers who are risking their lives crossing the border and who come here only to live in deplorable conditions… I just can't understand why anyone would oppose it {H-2A program]."

Onions are harvested by 730 H-2A Mexican workers in Nevada, including 400 at Peri and Sons Farms in Mason Valley, 80 miles southeast of Reno; Peri, with 1,500 acres of onions, calls itself the largest US fresh market onion grower. The onions are unearthed by machine, and the workers pick them up during the August-October harvest season, cut off the tops, and put them into plastic buckets before dumping the onions into burlap bags that hold 140 pounds. Workers earn piece rate wages, and are guaranteed $7.60 an hour.

Leonel Sanchez, "Farm workers claim grower violated laws on hiring, pay," San Diego Union Tribune, November 1, 2002.

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