Farm Labor Services explained at Rotary

Published 5:29 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2016

James Shannon McNeill of McNeill Labor Management, Inc., spoke to Rotary this week about agricultural labor, its sources and regulations.

As a contractor for farm labor services, McNeill, with offices in Belle Glade, Florida, recruits labor crews and works with farmers to bring the two together in compliance with the regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor.

He began by saying there are two ways to have agricultural workers. They can be undocumented migrants or be H-2A Visa holders.

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The farmer must be certified by applying to the U.S. Department of Labor 75 days before the crew members are needed. He must be certified and apply through Homeland Security. Once approved, he must then apply to the U.S. Department of State in Mexico or other countries.

The farmer pays fees anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per person hired. He must agree to pay $10.59 per hour, pay transportation fees to Georgia and back home to Mexico, provide transportation to the store, etc., pay a surety bond up front, provide Workers Compensation, provide free housing with cooking facility, or a cater.

It must be temporary work, not to exceed two months in one location and must also offer the job opportunities to local workers by advertising in local newspapers. Workers living over 50 miles away from the job site must also get transportation benefits.

That is the condition of agricultural workers today.

McNeill raised questions about the future of farm workers as impacted by pending comprehensive immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, national security issues regarding the local food supply, and increased enforcement on employers.

Farmers can be cited for violations such as poor conditions for workers, failure to keep adequate records, failure to provide wages when due, failure to provide safe transportation, to name a few.

Questions were posed as to how many locals apply for the jobs, to which McNeill replied three or four years ago they applied frequently, but most did not last. “They come and go,” he said. He believes most of those have now moved on to construction jobs, as he said the percentage of local workers in the last four years ranged from zero to one percent.

Regarding the Affordable Care Act, dependent upon the number of employees, the health care must be provided to workers must be offered health care to workers on the job. He also elaborated on some of the living conditions, saying many companies use local hotels or have labor camps.

Each room must have 10 percent window space, with screened doors and windows and space for one person per bed.