News / USA

It's a 'Hard Knock' Life for Haitian Farm Workers in Miami

Haitian farm workers pick beans on a farm in Homestead, Florida, 21 Apr 2010
Haitian farm workers pick beans on a farm in Homestead, Florida, 21 Apr 2010

A car ride to Homestead, Florida where several hundred people are working the fields reveals beautiful scenery. The sky is blue with few clouds, there are palm trees, emerald green grass, flowers and perfectly manicured crops.  The scent of fresh soil and plants fill the air. For a tourist it's a lovely escape from the intensity of Miami, but the reality is that life for the farm workers tucked away deep in the fields is not easy.

There are more than 400,000 farm workers in Florida. The majority are Mexicans or from South and Central America. About 35 percent are Haitian.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida says this type of work can be hazardous because workers are often exposed to chemicals used to treat crops. In addition, it is one of the lowest paying jobs. Farm work demands a physical effort.  At night, workers complain of sore arms, legs and backs.  

The work day begins between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. for Haitians working in the bean fields. A "contractor" picks them up in a bus or van between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.  They pick beans or tomatoes from about 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. when they board the bus or van to return home.

The next morning, the process starts all over again - seven days a week.

When you talk to the farmworkers - men and women alike - they tell you the work is hard, but they don't have a choice. Even though the labor can be back-breaking most Haitians are smiling at the end of the day. They say they are thankful to be able to make a little money to send home to Haiti. Some of them prefer to avoid conversation alltogether, for fear of opening themselves up to problems with their supervisors on the farm.

"It's a lot of energy, a lot of effort. Sometimes I spend the entire day working. You get up and eat or drink but then it's back to work," one woman explains. She's thin and looks drained but is smiling at her accomplishments for the day. She was able to fill more than 10 buckets.

"Thank God, we are getting along, we aren't doing too badly," a man tells me. "I don't know how many buckets I filled today, but it was a lot."

Another woman who says she's 76 (but looks about 50) has just left the bean field.  She stands near the bus wearing a pastel-colored floral dress that has faded. There are three holes in the front. "I came here in 2001. In 2003, I started working in the fields. It helps me pay for everything, everything," she explains.

But the contractors who shuttle the workers to the fields are less complimentary. They say their biggest problem is a lack of leadership and discrimination from some officials. They don't know where to go for protection.

Laroche is a contractor who came to the United States 30 years ago. He's from Cap Haitien, in northern Haiti. Laroche has been working on farms for 25 years and is full of information about how the work is done.

"Haitians need to know they are going to make lots of money," he explains. "One makes 40 [dollars] another 50, another 60. They are always trying to outdo eachother, so as not to be the one to pick the least amount [of fruits or vegetables]."  Laroche says the workers earn $3.50 for each bucket of beans they pick. Most of them pick between 15 and 40 buckets a day. A meager wage, considering the intense effort required.

"It's not illegal," Laroche says in reference to the small salary. "That's how the government wants it. Each time the minimum wage goes up, they raise the price."  He says when the farmworkers pick fruits such as tomatoes for example, they can fill buckets faster and with less effort.

After the bucket is filled, the worker puts it in a large plastic bin. The beans are later washed, boxed and sent off to market.  According to Laroche, Mexicans are the biggest competition for Haitians working in the fields.

Florida state law requires that anyone who recruits, transports, furnishes or employs farm workers obtain a license.  Contractors must also adhere to strict regulations and high standards. According to the state of Florida, the regulations are meant to protect the farm workers as well as their employers.  Among the responsibilities of contractors are safe transportation, sanitation and water.

"We're here to protect the worker," explains Jerry Willson, Division Director for the Division of Regulation. His office regulates investigators, professionals and the farm labor program.

"We're there to protect the workers and the transportation, making sure they have water, sanitation and making sure people are licensed," he adds.

Periodically, inspectors visit the farms to make sure the workers have all the resources they need. Wilson says there is a checklist of items that are meant to safeguard them. "It should be pretty difficult to deviate from that list," he says. "In terms of transportation, they arrive to the grove and we check these vans and buses.. we check tire pressure, lights. We check the payroll to make sure the minimum wage is applied. If they get paid by the volume that they pick, we check the records."

Laroche and several other Haitian contractors say the biggest thorn in their side is Lydia Vilar Reynolds, an investigator for the Department of Regulation. She makes life difficult, they say.  The contractors give examples of how in their view she targets Haitians, holding them to the highest standards and issuing tickets for violations without mercy. When it comes to the Mexicans, they say, she turns a blind eye.

Several other contractors share the same opinion.

"They [authorities] came here and held a meeting...immigration [officers] gave me a paper and they told me I can call any time. Mexicans work without papers, no problem.  We have papers and we can't work," contractor Joseph Fisteyak says. " Gregory [a lawyer] and Lydia are the ones who create problems for us. If only there were a Haitian who could help us. But we have no leaders."

According to the contractors, the Haitian political leaders in Miami haven't done anything to help their situation.

Jerry Wilson, Division Director for the Division of Regulation says he is aware of the complaints about investigator Lydia Vilar Reynolds. "Yes, I think I heard about it approximately six months ago," he says. "We sent a supervisor to the area and conducted interviews with the farmers and contractors and workers and were not able to substantiate it. We were not able to take any action against her. Certainly as a division we have to apply the law evenly and fairly."

Wilson said although there are no plans to move the investigator from the area, he is "very concerned" about the complaints.

"I'd be happy to look into this," he said. " We are out there to apply the law and enforce it."  

Wilson says there is currently one Creole speaking investigator and that person is assigned to the Palm Beach area. He says the Department of Regulation may send that investigator to Homestead to talk to the farmworkers and contractors.

The Division of Regulation also notes that there is a toll-free hotline available for anyone who wishes to report a concern. They can do so confidentially.

"We would take that very seriously," Wilson said.

The toll-free number is 1-800-633-3572.  Wilson says they have distributed brochures and cards in the field that contain the number as well.

You May Like

Nearly 900 Dead, Missing in 2014 Air Disasters

Southeast Asia took a particularly heavy hit; 3 major events involved weather, two planes were shot down in eastern Ukraine, and one crash was attributed to mechanical problems More

Video Islamic State Emergence Transformed Syria, Iraq in 2014

'It was very clear that there were problems building up in Iraq at the end of 2013 but everybody was distracted by Syria,' says one expert, explaining group's rapid rise More

Rights Group: IS Executed Nearly 2,000 in Syria in 6 Months

Islamist group also killed 120 of its own members, most foreign fighters trying to return home, in past two months, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaisei
X
Daniel Schearf
December 25, 2014 4:34 PM
Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video 2014 Saw Intensification of Boko Haram Insurgency

The year 2014 saw Nigerian militant sect Boko Haram intensify its five-year insurgency and target civilians in large numbers as it seized territory in the northeast. The kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in April sparked global outrage, but failed to become the turning point against the sect that Nigeria’s president said it would be. The picture at year's end is one of devastation and uncertainty. VOA’s Anne Look reports.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Fight to Survive Water Crisis

In a region choking from dwindling water supplies, Lebanon has long been regarded as one of the few places where there is enough. But in recent years, half the people in the country have faced severe shortages. And the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are hit the worst by the water crisis, making the country's most vulnerable people increasingly impoverished and sick. Heather Murdock reports for VOA in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid