Sunday, June 27, 2004

U.S., Florida - Don’t Get In the Van. Farmhands Reap a Harvest of Poverty, Pain, and Exploitation



Although this post is a few months old, it doesn’t hurt to remind people.

The “recruiters,” called farm labor contractors are modern-day slavers, preying on the most vulnerable to do a job so awful that no one else will do. “Step inside the van, say those who have, and journey straight to hell,” working in Florida’s second largest industry.
Their world is filled with sweatshop hours, slum housing, poverty pay and criminal abuse…The brutality in North Florida has an unusual, bitter twist…most farmworkers in Florida and nationwide are undocumented Mexicans who have trekked through the desert in search of fortune, the laborers who toil unnoticed in hamlets like East Palatka and Hastings are mostly poor black Americans.

Who are the “contractors?” They are crew-chief contractors who “serve as middlemen between the farmers who grow crops and the laborers who pick, package, and sort them. The bosses control every aspect of the workers’ lives: their housing, their food, their transportation and even their paycheck.”
And who are the laborers? “Many were recruited from gathering spots for the homeless – soup kitchens, parks and shelters in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, lured with “vows of good pay, sprinkled with promises of partying and $15 in cash when they reached the farm.”
They become “slaves to the boss and their debts which become impossible to pay because they are charged for everything: their food, their ride, their housing, and any other goods or services they receive.” It is debt-peonage.
Many are undocumented foreign workers, and many native farmhands have had run-ins with the law. “ There is a reason for that worker profile, advocates say: Crew bosses hire the vulnerable because they can exploit them. The laborers, hungry for a fresh start, are quick to take the job.”
Of the nation’s 8,832 crew bosses, Florida has 3,027 of them, leading the nation not only in the greatest number of crews, but also in the greatest number of bosses that have stripped of their licenses for labor violations. A full 43 percent of the total have “relegated workers to shabby housing, cheated them of pay, or otherwise skirted federal migrant labor laws.”

Remember - Don't Get in the Van!!!

Read the rest and weep


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