Six Black farmworkers in Mississippi say in a new lawsuit that their former employer brought White laborers from South Africa to do the same jobs they were doing, and that the farm has been violating federal law by paying the White immigrants more for the same type of work, reports the Associated Press.
Mississippi Center for Justice and Southern Migrant Legal Services filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of the six workers against Pitts Farm Partnership, which grows cotton, soybeans and corn in the Mississippi Delta’s Sunflower County.
The lawsuit said the farm violated regulations of a foreign worker visa program, which requires equal treatment of U.S. workers and their immigrant counterparts. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages, including money the U.S. workers say they were shorted because of the uneven pay scale.
Four of the plaintiffs — Andrew Johnson, Wesley Reed, Gregory Strong and Richard Strong — said they did agricultural work from February through November and Pitts Farm Partnership usually paid them the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, with $8.25 an hour for weekend work.
Two of the plaintiffs, Stacy Griffin and James Simpson, drove trucks for the farming operation during harvest time, usually from late July or early August through November. The lawsuit said they had been paid $9 an hour since 2018.
The farm paid the White workers from South Africa $9.87 an hour in 2014 and that rate increased most years until it reached $11.83 an hour in 2020, the lawsuit said.
Amal Bouhabib, an attorney for Southern Migrant Legal Services, said the H-2A program allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign workers when no U.S. workers are available.
“It does not allow farmers to pay their American workforce less than the foreign workers, or to replace willing and able U.S. workers,” Bouhabib said in a news release.
The lawsuit said the farm started bringing in White workers from South Africa in 2014, using a placement firm to hire seasonal labor, and that from 2014 to 2020, the farm did not make the same effort to recruit U.S. workers as it did to obtain immigrant workers.
Ty Pinkins of the Mississippi Center for Justice said in the news release that with high unemployment in the Mississippi Delta, “it is unacceptable and unlawful” for farmers to hire outside workers when local residents need jobs.
“Unfortunately, this case is emblematic of a disastrous pattern in the South. Our research indicates that farm owners are increasingly abusing the H-2A program and denying opportunities to U.S. workers,” Pinkins said. “The case also reflects our nation’s deep, ugly history of exploiting Black labor. For too long, powerful businesses have abused Black Americans for profit.”
Mississippi is a largely rural state with poultry, soybeans, timber, cotton and corn as the top agricultural products.
In August 2019, U.S. immigration agents raided seven chicken processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 mostly Latino workers in the largest such operation in at least a decade. Two years after the raid, Mississippi Center for Justice said about 230 people had been deported because of previous immigration orders or other causes, and about 400 were awaiting hearings.
Steph, Aisha Curry roll into Oakland with bus to feed and teach kids
The bus is loud — in color and sound. That’s the way NBA star Stephen Curry and his entrepreneur wife, Ayesha Curry, prefer it. They want the kids to see it coming, reports NBC News.
Yet, it would be difficult to miss what the Currys call the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus, a hot pink, pale blue and yellowish gold mobile unit that rolled out for the first time last Wednesday blaring music at an elementary school in Oakland, California.
This multifaceted converted school bus is designed to do much more than the ice cream truck from a bygone era: feed, teach, energize and engage Black children and other youths of color in Oakland’s stressed communities. In Alameda County, nearly 42 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, according to one report. Also, according to Coach.org, Black children in Oakland are four times more likely to be reading multiple years below their grade level than White students.
“This idea came basically from me wanting to find a way to eradicate food deserts within the Oakland area,” Ayesha Curry said. “At first, the idea was around, ‘How can we find locations where people can come and pick up fresh produce and other things for their families?’ Logistically, especially with Covid, that idea started to seem far-fetched.”
But Eat. Learn. Play Foundation President and CEO Chris Helfrich tossed out the thought of a bus, and the Currys and their team ran with the notion as if pursuing a loose ball. One idea spurred another, and before long the concept was solidified: a bus that would fulfill the foundation’s three pillars of healthy eating, fun learning and active playing. Cruising Kitchens, a custom food truck builder, was solicited to convert the bus, and Oakland mural artists Illuminaries created the visuals on the bus that include Ayesha Curry cooking, Stephen Curry shooting a basketball, local landmarks such as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and more.
It is quite a vehicle, and not just because of its look. One side functions as a food truck or mobile pantry to provide complimentary hot food and fresh produce to children and families. The other side is a library, the couple’s attempt to address Oakland’s troubling literacy rate.
“And I know a guy who plays basketball,” Ayesha Curry quipped, “so we added a basketball hoop for the play pillar.”
“It turned into this bigger-than-life idea,” she added.