By Cynthia Rice
Times investigation: Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables
“I need to pay more attention and stop buying those tomatoes from Mexico.” That’s what I first thought when I read “Product of Mexico.”
As an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, however, I know such illegal practices occur in California. Without aggressive litigation, they would be just as pervasive here as in Mexico.
At one Stockton asparagus farm, workers from Mexico were housed in horrific conditions and charged $1,500 to pay for the privilege of working for less than minimum wage. Store shelves are filled with romaine lettuce and tomatoes from Salinas and San Diego County companies that violate heat-stress or field-sanitation standards, or wrongly classify packers to avoid paying daily overtime. Our local milk is often the product of “salaried” milkers who work 12 straight 14-hour days with no overtime. Herbs, baby carrots and specialty vegetables come from Imperial Valley farms where workers spend eight hours bent and stooped, hand-weeding or using the short-handled hoe outlawed decades ago.