October 1995, Volume 1, Number 4
US Sugar Mechanizes in Florida
US Sugar, the nation's largest employer of H-2A temporary foreign
workers for over 50 years, announced in late June that it would
harvest all of its sugar cane by machine in 1996. US Sugar employed
1,300 Jamaican cane cutters in 1995.
US Sugar announced that advances in mechanical harvesting
efficiency meant that machine harvesting is now cheaper than hand
Between 1976 and December 31, 1994, US employers of H-2 (after
1987, H-2A) temporary alien farm workers did not have to pay the
Federal Unemployment Insurance Tax on their wages. In many states,
wages excluded from FUTA were also exempt from state
Unemployment Insurance taxes, which can be four to six percent for
employers of seasonal farm workers.
The argument for the exclusion of H-2A worker earnings from FUTA
is that H-2A workers cannot remain in the US collecting UI benefits,
so that US employers should not pay UI taxes on behalf of workers who
will not collect benefits. The argument for requiring the payment of
UI taxes is to ensure that employers do not gain a cost advantage by
employing foreign workers, and to require employers of H-2A workers
to contribute to the cost of certifying their need for such workers,
which is paid out of FUTA taxes.
In FY94, employers of H-2A workers paid $470,000 in DOL
certification fees, but DOL estimated that federal certification
costs for temporary alien farm workers were $1 million, and state
certification and recruitment costs were $8.6 million.
In Florida, the UFW announced that farm workers aged 65 and older
who worked for Minute Maid Groves between 1972 and 1993 may be
eligible for a pension. Some 600 orange harvesters were covered by
UFW contract, which ended in December 1993 when Coca-Cola Foods sold
16,000 acres of oranges. The UFW announced that it has 700 associate
members in Florida.
In nearby Georgia, farm worker advocates estimated that the number
of hired seasonal farm workers in that state more than doubled from
43,000 in 1989 to about 104,000 in 1995.
In Idaho, workers compensation premiums for farm workers will drop
23 percent in 1996. Farmers are not required to cover their farm
workers under workers compensation, and it is not clear whether farm
work has gotten safer, or whether illegal workers are afraid to
report accidents. There are estimated to be 40,000 mostly Hispanic
farm workers in Idaho.
The Idaho Statesman, October 5, 1995; Deborah Vanpelt, "Former
Minute Maid farmworkers may be eligible for pensions," The Tampa
Tribune, July 21, 1995. Lisa Shuchman, "US Sugar to Harvest
Entire Crop by Machine Next Year," The Palm Beach Post, June 29,
1995. Testimony of Raymond Uhalde, Employment and Training
Administration, before the House Ways and Means Committee, May 16,