Florida Potato Grower Accused of Labor Trafficking

 

Written by Mike Hall, AFL-CIO

A Florida potato grower and its labor contractor have been accused of labor trafficking and taking advantage of drug-addicted workers, according to a federal lawsuit filed yesterday in Jacksonville by Florida Legal Services and Farmworker Justice.

The suit was filed in the†U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, on behalf of two farm workers who say they were victims of labor trafficking and other violations of federal and state labor laws while employed in 2009 and 2010 by Bulls-Hit Ranch & Farm, a potato grower in Hastings, Fla.

The complaint alleges that Bulls-Hitís labor contractor, Ronald Uzzle, recruited vulnerable men from homeless shelters in urban Jacksonville, Fla., to form work crews for Bulls-Hitís potato packing operations.

According to the complaint, Uzzle took advantage of† drug dependencies to provide Bulls-Hit with a compliant and low-cost workforce, and that as joint employers of the workers, both Uzzle and Bulls-Hit are liable for having cheated them of wages and for damages resulting from violations of federal trafficking laws and migrant agricultural worker protection laws. Federal labor trafficking laws prohibit the procurement and exploitation of a person for labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion.

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, says:

This lawsuit exposes deeply disturbing labor practices that should have no place in modern agriculture, but that all too sadly are still employed by the most unscrupulous employers.

The complaint alleges the contractor took the workers to a squalid, overcrowded labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs and credit to make drug and other camp purchases at interest rates of up to 100 percent. When the workers received their pay each week from Bulls-Hit, money was taken from their wages to pay for their rent, food and weekly debts. As a result, the workers were left in a constant state of destitution, indebtedness and undue dependency on their employers. Workers were afraid for their safety if they tried to leave while still indebted and were effectively indentured to their work for Bulls-Hit.

The case is Smith et al. v. Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm Inc. et al. and its case number is 3:12-cv-00449-MMH-TEM.

This post was originally published by the AFL-CIO.

 

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Photo from roboppy via flickr

25 comments

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W3 years ago

This is terrible, but I'm not surprised. All that counts is profit.

Ernest R.
Ernest R4 years ago

See ? And I constantly read that only illegals will do backbreaking farm work for slave wages. Now Americans who will do it can be found. Isn’t that considered progress ?

Diana Roth
Diana Roth4 years ago

Thank you for drawing attention to this.

Joe R.
Joe R4 years ago

If covicted, I hope there's some serious prison time involved!

William and Kat Dresbach
Katie D4 years ago

TERRIBLE LABOR PRACTICES!
WHAT A WAY TO TREAT THE PEOPLE WORKING FOR YOU!
THERE ARE LAWS!
PUNISH AND FINE THEM TO THE LIMIT!!

Jane Barton
Jane Barton4 years ago

Jeez, the Florida Neo-Nazis were out waving flags with Swastikas armed to the teeth. Why aren't they patrolling THIS? Deeply disturbing labor practices is their thing, isn't it? That and
cross burning on lawns.

Peter Shrock
Peter Shrock4 years ago

This is the goal of American conservatism. People who vote Republican do so because they fundamentally believe that they have the right to exploit "inferior" people.

Donna B.
Donna B4 years ago

Wow. How very sad. This would just be a very vicious cycle for these workers and they would never be able to leave... If it's true. But it all has to go through a court of law first.

John Mansky
John Mansky4 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Don H.
Don H4 years ago

Rose L, unfortunately in Florida there is a lot of ugly for the media to talk about.

For example, Florida elected the greatest medicare fraudster in history to governor. Surely the people of Florida wouldn't have voted for this guy had they known his criminal history.

It seems to me we need more investigative journalism in Florida, not less.