Victory for Farmworkers: Florida Potato Grower Charged with Labor Trafficking Agrees to Settlement
A Florida potato grower charged with labor trafficking violations for employing homeless, drug-addicted men recruited from the streets of Jacksonville has reached a settlement in federal court with the workers and agreed to reform its labor contracting procedures.
A complaint filed against Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm and farm labor contractor Ronald Uzzle by Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services in April accused Bulls-Hit and the contractor of taking advantage of the workers’ drug dependencies to provide Bulls-Hit with a compliant and low-cost workforce.
The settlement agreed to by Bulls-Hit owner Thomas R. Lee and submitted to the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville entitles the workers to back-pay for the duration of their employment at Bulls-Hit. Lee has also agreed to reform a number of employment practices, including paying workers directly rather than by channeling money through a contractor, and retaining only reputable licensed contractors.
Litigation against the labor contractor, with whom Bulls-Hit has severed ties, is ongoing.
“Abusive treatment of workers is far too common in modern agriculture,” said Farmworker Justice’s Director of Litigation, Weeun Wang. “The men and women working to put food on our tables deserve better. The litigation achieved an important goal by holding the grower accountable for the labor violations and not allowing it to use the labor contractor as a shield against liability.”
The complaint filed in April alleged that the contractor took the workers to a squalid, overcrowded labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs, and made to work under virtual servitude conditions. Bulls-Hit was previously sued in 2004 when using a different labor contractor for similar abuses, including preying on vulnerable homeless workers, feeding their drug addictions and driving them into debt.