(Some aspects of the FLC are provided here, while more specific detail can be found through sources cited at the end of this article.)
Many Ohio producers employ migrant labor to help with their agricultural enterprise but they also have diversified operations with grain, beans, corn, dairy, livestock, farm markets and maybe even ag tourism. Time IS money, and a helping hand managing migrant labor can be a wise investment, given factors of Hispanic language, culture and social frameworks. Very often, this role is filled through a Farm Labor Contractor (FLC) or crew leader.
Role of the Contractor
The traditional view of a farm labor contractor revolves around their ability to obtain labor for an employer, and then manage that labor on site. While the FLC helps identify, recruit and otherwise contract the necessary labor…and is therefore also referred to as recruiter, he (or she) may serve in other capacities. Some FLCs may recruit labor but only provide transportation to the employer/job site. Others may travel to Ohio apart from the labor but live amongst them in temporary labor housing during the season. An FLC may also supervise labor, keeping time/hours, directing the work assignments and serving as a go-between for the employer. Often, they manage the physical housing facilities and deal with the daily social issues of the workforce.
Two Farm Labor Contractor Examples
Contractor A is an older female, with past and present experience as a farmworker, joining her labor in the field work. Coordinating with the grower, she helps manage production to fill market orders while serving as field supervisor for the crew. A big part of the labor is single males, so, on lunch breaks, she serves as cook and crew leader, watching the time as well as the stew. After work, she may be counselor, social worker or transportation to run errands. Significantly, she has been coming to Ohio for many years and has much experience with the programs and services directed at Hispanic labor. In fact, she has developed relationships with staff of many agencies, and she is a board member of a national health organization.
She observes that the best recruitment involves word-of-mouth job information, and she also cites good housing, good pay, and good agency services as factors. The traditional way of recruiting through strong family/extended family bonds has somewhat given way to a workforce of singles with less committed relationships. Some inexperienced workers need skills training to be productive, and a worker’s attitude also plays a part.
Contractor B is a male in his mid-20s who started by helping FLCs in transportation of workers. Like Contractor A, he also serves as field supervisor, housing manager and monitor of labor social needs. In recruitment, he also favors the referral of candidates by present labor, through their family and friends. However, he also stresses the review of work history, the provision of work references, and consulting with other crew leaders who may have had contact with the worker seeking employment.
His situation differs from that of Contractor A, who works for only one grower and has asmaller crew, housed in one labor camp. His grower has three separate housing facilities, and this FLC oversees the two closest to each other. He also coordinates efforts with two other crew leaders because of the size and distance of the operations. Also, Contractor A comes and goes with her labor as the crops go, but Contractor B remains as a general farm hand for a few more months, including the hauling of grain. Then he goes south for the winter, returning in spring to help with planting and preparing the labor housing.
The unrest and unknown in the immigration controversy is no secret. The Ft.Worth Star-Telegram recently reported :
“…since January 2009 more than 2,700 employers have been audited and $40 million in penalties assessed for immigration violations, more than during eight years under President George W. Bush…Napolitano told members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers that comprehensive immigration reform must include tougher employer sanctions as well as harsher penalties for immigration fraud and smuggling.”
Nationally, the Farm Bureau Federation has estimated that $5 billion to $9 billion worth of farm production would be lost in the short term if access to immigrant workers were cut off, and as much as one fifth of U.S. output in fruits, vegetables and nursery products would shift to other countries.
Unless something positive and workable is done for the ag industry, the role of the Farm Labor Contractor will remain as a crucial part of the whole.
For some of the legal aspects of the farm labor contractor role, see the Dept. of Labor’s Wage & Hour Fact Sheet #49: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs49.pdf
For a broader overview of contractors, visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/mspa/index.htm