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C. Other Factors that Complicate Protection

Even where protective legislation does exist for farmworkers, agricultural employers have historically used labor arrangements that can circumvent this regulation by shifting the risks of farmwork away from the employer onto other parties. Such practices include temporary worker programs and the use of labor contractors (also known as crewleaders) Temporary worker programs have been a mainstay of the agricultural industry since the 1940s, when the Bracero program was initiated. This program resulted from bi-national agreements that allowed Mexican citizens to migrate into the United States and work as temporary farmworkers. While this stream of accessible labor was originally justified as necessary to replace the United States citizens that had become involved in World War II and in wartime industries, the arrangement was extended for more than two decades and was fraught with exploitative practices. Employers had maximum control over their workforce and introduced the piece rate system of compensation and production quotas. All contracts were renewable, but temporary, and the competition for these jobs discouraged labor organizing. Temporary worker programs have recently gained popularity again among employers concerned about tightening immigration controls that could limit their access to cheap labor. As with the Bracero program, the current programs benefit employers by ensuring a stream of available, documented workers, but they also allow those employers to maintain maximum control over their workforce while discouraging collective action or expression of workers' rights.

Employers hire crewleaders to recruit, manage, pay, and fire farmworkers. The practice of using crewleaders is indicative of an unorganized, irregular, and relatively powerless workforce, and it has increased with the rise of restrictive immigration policies that pressure employers to avoid hiring undocumented workers. The practice allows employers to be insulated from workers, shift responsibility for occupational safety onto workers, and avoid liability for regulatory violations involving matters such as training, injuries, and lost wages. It also has the potential of being highly exploitative and even dangerous for workers. In the past fifteen years, for example, prosecutors have brought numerous cases in Florida against unscrupulous crewleaders charged with crimes including extortion, kidnapping, illegal use of firearms, involuntary servitude, smuggling, and peonage--against members of their crews.

 

. Director, Social Policy Division, Center for Governmental Responsibility, Levin College of Law, University of Florida; B.S., M.A., J.D.,

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