Florida grower settles labor charge

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Talk about giving agricultural producers who hire seasonal help a black eye, the Farmworker Justice group sent a news release announcing settlement of a complaint filed against Bull-Hit Ranch and Farm in Florida, which according to the Farmworker Justice report took advantage of drug-dependent homeless men in hiring them to work for the farm.

The farm and ranch operation was involved in growing and harvesting potatoes when it employed drug-addicted men recruited from the streets of Jacksonville, Fla. The grower was charged with labor trafficking violations and the settlement in federal court requires the grower to reform its labor contracting procedures.

It is uncommon to hear about wins by Farmworker Justice; therefore, the organization apparently is taking advantage of the sensationalistic nature of this one example for publicity. 

“A complaint filed against Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm and farm labor contractor Ronald Uzzle by Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services in April accused Bulls-Hit and the contractor of taking advantage of the workers’ drug dependencies to provide Bulls-Hit with a compliant and low-cost workforce,” according to Farmworker Justice.

“The settlement agreed to by Bulls-Hit owner Thomas R. Lee and submitted to the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville entitles the workers to back-pay for the duration of their employment at Bulls-Hit. Lee has also agreed to reform a number of employment practices, including paying workers directly rather than by channeling money through a contractor, and retaining only reputable licensed contractors,” it was further reported.

Litigation against the labor contractor, with whom Bulls-Hit has severed ties, is ongoing. “The litigation achieved an important goal by holding the grower accountable for the labor violations and not allowing it to use the labor contractor as a shield against liability,” said Weeun Wang, Farmwork Justice director of litigation.

“The complaint filed in April alleged that the contractor took the workers to a squalid, overcrowded labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs, and made to work under virtual servitude conditions,” Farmworker Justice claimed. 

When consumers read such articles about mistreatment of farmworkers, it perpetuates negative thinking about all farming operations, and it doesn’t make it easier to earn support favorable to farmers for overhauling migrant labor and temporary immigrant labor laws. 

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