Farm Worker Protection Act

Advocates for Florida’s farm workers say the sunshine state is finally doing right by the thousands of migrant laborers who keep its multi-billion dollar agriculture industry afloat.

Florida relies on the labor of thousands of migrant workers to keep the agriculture industry growing. But advocates say the traditionally Spanish-speaking, often illegal workers have been abused by the system for years.

Neil Ramana is an immigration law attorney who’s heard the horror stories first-hand. He tells of people making barely subsistence wages for backbreaking labor who were then forced to buy all their families’ basic necessities at overpriced corporate stores.

“You were putting people in severe debt and they were never able to get out of it. You were also exposing people to pesticides that were inherently dangerous and those people did not know that there was no disclosure.”

Ramana says Florida’s new Farm Worker Protection Act should make life a little easier, at least for the workers here legally.

“The new law prevents labor contractors from requiring the workers to buy certain necessities from them, like food, water or housing. It also prevents them from charging outrageous prices.”

The worker protection act also requires better notification of which pesticides are used on the farm, their potential health risks and how to work around them safely. It requires labor contractors to keep records of hours worked and wages paid.

Will Maxwell is president of the Gadsden County Tomato Growers’ Association. He says many of the protections were already in place under federal law, but he’s happy to do his part.

“We have a hard enough time getting help, decent help, anyways, that we’ve got to do all that we can to treat these people fair and square, be sure they’re paid like they’re supposed to be.”

Advocates hope the next step will be to crack down on the illegal worker crisis by pushing growers to legally sponsor all their workers.

The Farm Worker Protection Act bans labor contractors from retaliating against any worker who reports violations. To report a violation, call 1-800-633-3572.