4517 Ascot Circle SouthSarasota, Florida 34235

(941) 351-8726

Sarasota/Manatee Farmworker Supporters is a branch of the National Farmworker Ministry


Marvin Mills, Secretary and President Emeritus




Public Forum – Saturday, September 1, 2007

“The Detention of Undocumented Immigrants- a Threat to American Democracy”

This month’s public forum will feature Jeanette Smith, a former immigration attorney and a life-long advocate of immigrant rights, now Director of the Miami office of the National Farmworker Ministry.  Ms. Smith will discuss the national New Sanctuary Movement, through which concerned religious groups are helping harassed immigrants in the same spirit as the Underground Railroad once helped slaves seeking their freedom. Jeanette is a member of the Miami Friends Meeting, a faith community that is committed to involvement in Sanctuary.  We urge everyone to learn of the cruel measures that split families and seize immigrants who may have been here since childhood and force them back to countries they may only dimly remember.

Date:  Saturday, September 1, 2007

Time:  2:00 P.M.

Location:  Auditorium, Selby Library, 1331 First St.,  Sarasota.





August 11, 2007


Crackdown on illegal immigration has Florida growers worried about labor shortages


By William E. Gibson and Ruth Morris


South Florida employers warned on Friday that the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal immigration could prompt firings, discourage hiring and send some growers overseas.

A wave of fresh worries about labor shortages greeted the administration's new rules, unveiled on Friday, that would strengthen enforcement against employers and stiffen penalties for hiring undocumented workers. Officials promised to help meet labor needs by streamlining programs that bring temporary foreign workers into this country.

The impact could be especially intense in Florida, where foreign workers prop up all three major components of the state economy: tourism, agriculture and construction.

The president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Mike Stuart, said the state could lose agriculture jobs to other parts of the world.

"I'm very fearful of our ability to grow and harvest at the level we're doing now," Stuart said. "If you don't have sufficient labor, our members will start looking at other growing regions for offshore production," he warned. "And if you don't have the people power to harvest crops, it will limit supply, which will have an impact on prices."

The administration policy, which is effective in 30 days, puts pressure on Congress to transform an immigration system that almost everyone agrees is dysfunctional. A Senate bill that would have stiffened enforcement while giving legal status to an estimated 12 million undocumented people collapsed when many senators called it an amnesty that invited more illegal immigration.

The new rules are designed to answer this objection by showing the administration's willingness to enforce the laws already on the books and get tough with illegal arrivals and those who hire them.

"Obviously, there are employers who deliberately violate the law, and we will come down on them like a ton of bricks, as we have been doing," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff while announcing the rules.

The government already notifies employers when a worker's stated Social Security number does not match federal records. But under the new rules, employers will be expected to fire employees who are unable to clear up the discrepancy in 90 days. Failure to comply will lead to fines.

"We're not looking to punish people for honest mistakes, clerical errors or imperfections in process," Chertoff said. "This rule is designed to create a safe harbor for those who act in good faith, even if they make mistakes."

Rick Ross, a Bell Glade farmer, said current "onerous" guest-worker provisions increase overhead costs.

"It's not something any employer wants to go through," said Ross, who also serves as vice president of the Florida Farm Bureau. "It's a real nightmare."

Labor shortages did not materialize during winter harvests in Florida, but Ross said tougher enforcement could certainly have that effect on citrus fields, seaside construction sites and hotels. Farms in other states did see their labor pool dry up last year when the government stressed border control. In California, pears rotted on the ground.

Many workers now in legal limbo will find a much tougher job market, predicted Greg Schell, managing attorney at the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project based in Lake Worth.

"Are they really going to enforce it? If they do, it's going to have a huge impact," Schell said. "Short term, a lot are going to lose their jobs or go underground. There will be a huge displacement, and people will be more frightened than before. But long term, if it pushes Congress to make comprehensive reform, that would be a real plus for workers."






August 1, 2007


Lawsuit expected to challenge pesticide use

Court action will seek to end use of a substance critics say caused farmworker illness.


By Sarah Jimenez / The Fresno Bee


Several advocacy groups and two Central Coast farmworkers plan to file a lawsuit today against the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the agency is wrongly allowing use of a pesticide that can cause health problems.

The plaintiffs want the agency to ban chlorpyrifos -- widely used on crops, including cotton, oranges and corn.

The pesticide was designed to affect the nervous systems of insects. But it can also harm people who inhale or ingest it, causing nausea, dizziness and confusion. High exposure, such as during an accident or major spill, can lead to respiratory paralysis and death, according to the EPA Web site.

Chlorpyrifos is banned for household use by the EPA.

The groups had planned to file the lawsuit Tuesday, but there was a delay in delivery to the San Jose federal court. United Farm Workers of America is the lead plaintiff.

In a statement Tuesday, the EPA said that during the past decade it "has significantly restricted uses of formerly widely used pesticides, including chlorpyrifos."

The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after at least 28 farmworkers became ill in southern Tulare County after they were exposed to pesticides from an almond orchard.

Agriculture commissioner Gary Kunkel said results from two tests show drift from chlorpyrifos likely occurred. Officials were still investigating the incident and awaiting results from clothing samples.

The county is also investigating a July 10 incident in Terra Bella where 15 workers apparently entered an orange orchard after it was sprayed.

Pesticide-reform and farmworker advocates said they'd been working on the lawsuit long before the July incidents. But the two incidents highlight the need for alternatives to chlorpyrifos, they said.

Shelley Davis, deputy director with Farmworker Justice, said the EPA's failure to ban chlorpyrifos sends the message that "the health of farmworkers and rural children doesn't matter."

It's estimated that 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used on crops annually, according to the EPA's Web site.

Glenn Brank, spokesman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, said the state agency is working to lower the use of toxins, including chlorpyrifos. Efforts include use of technology known as Smart Spray, a device that uses sensors for targeted spraying.

Kunkel said Tulare County has "tens of thousands" of pesticide applications each year and drift incidents are very rare.

However, "any drift or illness is too many. It's never acceptable," he said.





July 20, 2007


Immigration Non-Harvest

Peak harvest season is approaching in much of the country, and the biggest issue on the minds of many growers isn't the weather but how in the world they'll get their crops from the vine or off the tree. Thanks to Congress's immigration failure, farmers nationwide are facing their most serious labor shortage in years.


The problem was bad enough last year that some 20% of American agricultural products were stranded at the farm gate. And it's looking even worse this year, with estimates of crop losses in California, America's largest agricultural producer, estimated to hit 30%. This spring, labor shortages forced Michigan growers to leave asparagus rotting in the fields, while farmers in North Carolina lost nearly a third of their cucumber crop last year. They're growing fewer cukes this summer. In Washington state, the apple harvest begins in mid-August, but growers can't find the workers they need now to thin the crop so trees don't set more fruit than they can support; the cherry harvest is taking all the available hands.


The labor shortage is especially acute in "specialty crops" like fruits, nuts and vegetables. They constitute about half of the nation's overall crop value but require about three-quarters of all farm labor. Growers who can't find enough workers to pick cantaloupe and eggplant are already substituting row crops such as wheat, corn or soybeans that are more highly mechanized. The irony is that specialty crops are also the fastest-growing segment of agribusiness and the least subsidized by taxpayers. So the farm labor shortage could push growers toward government-subsidized crops that distort the world trading system.


All of this is a result of the low U.S. jobless rate combined with a shrinking supply of foreign -- i.e., immigrant -- labor. Migrant workers, often illegal, have picked American crops for decades, crossing the U.S. border during the harvest season and returning home when the work was done. This farm labor system operated almost as its own informal guest-worker program.


But a more heavily fortified southern border and government immigration raids have busted up this efficient North American labor market. Fewer potential farm workers are crossing the border, and when they do make it here fewer are going back because they know it might be harder to return next year. Instead, they stay on as illegals and migrate to other industries such as construction or hospitality.


The resulting labor shortage is leading some employers to desperate measures. In upstate New York, dairy farmers have formed informal networks, so that when one farm is raided and loses workers, surrounding farms spare some of their own labor to help minimize the economic damage. We doubt al Qaeda is intimidated by these farmworker raids, but they are doing active harm to the U.S. economy.


By the way, this turns out to be a good test of the Lou Dobbs theory of labor economics, or the proposition that illegals are "stealing" jobs that Americans would otherwise do. Immigration restrictionists claim that if only illegal labor vanished, U.S. employers would raise wages and Americans would flock to Yuma to pick lettuce.


In the real world, Americans are already employed at other jobs, and growers can only afford to pay so much and stay competitive. So instead the labor shortage is increasing pressure on U.S. growers to move production offshore. According to Tim Chelling of the Western Growers Association, whose 3,000 members in California and Arizona generate half of the nation's fresh produce, "there's a quiet exodus going on already, tens of thousands of acres and millions of dollars in economic activity."


A number of large-scale growers have moved chunks of their operations south of the border to places like Mexicali Valley, Ensenada, Caborca, Guanajuato and Baja. That means the U.S. will be importing more artichokes and other high-value products. If the U.S. can't import foreign workers to help harvest American farm products, the U.S. will have to import more foreign farm products harvested by foreign workers. Either that, or Americans will pay a lot more for fruits and vegetables as their supply shrinks. Blame Mr. Dobbs and Tom Tancredo the next time you're appalled by prices at the grocery.


If the politicians insist on more immigration raids and border enforcement, then they need to allow for more legal farm-worker migration. Part of the immigration reform that failed last month in Congress was an "AgJobs" provision to overhaul the badly broken and little-used system for admitting foreign agriculture workers. The bill has bipartisan support, and it could serve as a pilot program for how a larger guest-worker system might work.


All that's needed is for Congress to show some political will, which these days is as scarce as farm workers.






July 17, 2007


United Farm Workers sign first Oregon contract

It is state's largest agricultural work agreement to date


The Associated Press


PORTLAND -- The United Farm Workers and Threemile Canyon Farms -- at 93,000 acres one of the largest dairying operations in the region -- ended years of often-bitter conflict on Monday by announcing a three-year labor agreement.

It was the UFW's first contract in Oregon and the largest agricultural work agreement ever reached in the state.

Some employees had filed lawsuits alleging wrongful firing and gender discrimination at the dairy operation, which employs about 250 mostly Hispanic workers.

During the dispute, which began with the UFW's first organizing attempts in 2003, the union urged companies not to buy from Threemile Canyon, located near Boardman about 150 miles east of Portland.

A major dairy client for Threemile Canyon, which began operations in 2000, has been the Tillamook cheese factory on the Oregon Coast.

Key provisions of the new labor contract define mutual rights and obligations. Neither side can take labor issues to third parties not associated with the company or union and the contract provides for a family medical plan.

The contract represents the first large-scale union contract on an Oregon farm, although the Woodburn-based Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, or PCUN, has signed several smaller contracts in the Willamette Valley.




July 14, 2007


Yakima Valley farmworkers win $1.8 million in lawsuit

By Lornet Turnbull
Seattle Times staff reporter

Two Eastern Washington fruit growers and the labor contractor they used to bring legal Thai workers to their farms three years ago have been ordered to pay $1.8 million to some 600 Yakima Valley farmworkers — some of them illegal immigrants — who claim they were displaced.

A federal judge this week found Los Angeles-based Global Horizons, and growers Valley Fruit Orchards of Wapato and Green Acre Farms of Harrah, both in Yakima County, in violation of state and federal labor laws, including willfully withholding wages and failing to provide information in Spanish about available jobs.

The ruling entitles each farmworker to damages ranging from $2,000 to $4,000.

In the class-action suit filed two years ago, the farmworkers claimed they were either not hired, or hired and later fired, by Global. They further claimed they were displaced by 170 workers Global imported from Thailand under a federal guest-worker program.

Lori Isley of Columbia Legal Services, which represented the local farmworkers, called the ruling "both a victory for farmworkers who tried to work or did work for the two growers, and for farmworkers everywhere who have been harmed by the unlawful and unscrupulous practice of Global Horizon."

She said many of the farmworkers are still in the area, though some were migrants who have moved on. Some are illegal immigrants, but under state and federal law, she said, "all are entitled to protections, regardless of immigration status."

Additionally, the judge ordered Global and its owner, Mordechai Orian, to pay nearly $40,000 in sanctions by July 24 or face criminal contempt charges.

Global has been dogged across the country by lawsuits and state and federal investigations. The company lost its license to operate in Washington and has been banned by the federal government from bringing new foreign workers into the country for at least three years.

Orian's attorney, Randolph Shiner, said he plans to file a motion for reconsideration. Global is so financially strapped it could not afford the sanctions, he said.

The local workers "are here illegally and don't like the fact that the Thai workers were coming in and taking their jobs," he said. "Ultimately, the ones being hurt are the growers who can't get legal workers."

The ruling comes amid federal crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and as competition from construction and other more stable jobs shrinks the labor pool. Also, as that labor force ages, young people are not replacing the older workers.

The shortages have sent growers scrambling to find workers to pick cherries and thin fields in anticipation of the apple harvest.

More than two dozen of them have applied to bring 1,543 foreign workers here themselves — mostly from Mexico — under the same guest-worker program Global used.

The U.S. Department of Labor has already approved applications for nearly 1,000 of those workers.







For breaking news on farmworkers and their struggle, go to the Sarasota/Manatee Farm Worker Supporters webpage.  Updated daily, the web page contains the nation’s most complete listing of news items relating to farmworkers (plus several years of archives!)






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