Protecting Farmworkers Amid a Pandemic

Monday, September 14, 2020
By John Bowe, The Nation

Green Empire consists of a 270-acre site with two adjacent 32-acre greenhouses creating a structure so large, workers told me, that walking from end to end takes half an hour. The buildings are capable of producing millions of strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers per year.

For an operation juggling staggeringly complex logistics—from controlling light, temperature, and humidity to following protocols for planting, tending, harvesting, shipping, and food safety, not to mention dealing with pricing, contracts, procurement, and (last but not least) bumblebees, which must be enlisted to aid crop pollination—the company seems to have put remarkably little forethought into worker safety.

That may be because Green Empire didn’t hire the workers. Instead of employing them directly, the company looked to an Indiana-based contracting firm named MAC Contracting (which has also supplied workers to Mastronardi facilities in Michigan) to provide its workforce.

Labor contractors, also known as recruiters, are common in low-wage industries like forestry, meat processing, and building maintenance. Especially widespread among fruit and vegetable growers in California and in the Southeastern United States, they are often tasked with hiring and housing workers who may lack papers and local language skills. For decades critics have charged that their primary purpose is to serve as a legal firewall, shielding larger employers and corporations from civil and criminal liability for failure to comply with labor, worker safety, and immigration laws.

Read the full story from The Nation

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