Migrant workers file suit against Arkansas farm operation


June 4, 2006


By Brittney Booth

The Monitor

McAllen, Texas

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McAllen, Texas - An Arkansas berry farm is the target of a federal lawsuit claiming the farm violated the rights of 13 Hidalgo County migrant farm workers.

The workers filed suit on May 15 against Pitts Farm Inc., in U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosas court, claiming the farm did not abide by the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

This federal mandate, passed in 1983, sets protections for migrant workers and employers, including safe housing and disclosures about wages and duties.

The workers were recruited in the Rio Grande Valley during the summers of 2002, 2003 and 2004. The migrants entered into an agricultural employment agreement at Pitts Firms, which produces blueberries and blackberries, the suit states.

Court records show the farm has not been served with the lawsuit and the farms owner, Grover Pitts, could not be reached for comment.

The suit claims the farm did not disclose in writing their terms of their employment and the housing failed to meet the minimum safety and health standards under state and federal law as well as not being certified. Also, the plaintiffs claim the farm violated its working arrangements with the migrants by not providing the terms of employment promised.

Most of the plaintiffs allege they were not paid the minimum wage, said Douglas L. Stevick, a Tennessee attorney who represents the migrants as part of the Southern Migrant Legal Services project of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

Stevick said his office represents hundreds of cases where migrants claim employers violated their rights and often the suits end in a settlement.

Several of the lawsuits originated with migrants based in the Rio Grande Valley. In October, 17 local farm workers sued a Minnesota-based nursery and landscaping company.

Then in April, 48 migrant farm workers from Hidalgo County sued Indiana-based seed company Hubner Farms, its owners, and migrant labor recruiter Pedro Zarate and his company. The workers allege the company failed to keep its promises of bonuses, four weeks of work and decent housing during 2004 and 2005 work seasons, according to court documents.

The abuses that led to the great united farm worker movement have not been extirpated, Stevick said.

We'd like to think that some progress has been made.

Copyright 2006, The Monitor.



Additional, related reading:


The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-msawpa.htm