Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ ( Publisher's URL )
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00001915/00001
 Material Information
Title: Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus
Physical Description: Fact Sheet
Creator: Roka, Fritz M.
Publisher: University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2001
Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Melanie Mercer.
Publication Status: Published
General Note: "Published September 2001."
General Note: "FE 304"
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the submitter.
System ID: IR00001915:00001


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Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus1 Fritz Roka and Stuart Longworth2 1. This is EDIS document FE 304, a publication of the Department of Food and Resource Economics, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Published September 2001. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. 2. Fritz Roka, assistant professor, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, Immokalee, FL, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL; and Stuart Longworth, president, Longworth and Associates, Inc., Winter Springs, FL. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean. Citrus production in Florida depends on a significant number of workers to plant, grow, harvest, package, and process citrus products for the retail market. During the establishment of new groves, young trees are hand-placed in the field by manual labor. Therefore, more than one-fourth of the planting costs for citrus goes directly to labor (Muraro, et. al., 1997). While it is the owner's plan to establish a citrus grove only once, disease outbreaks, severe freezes, and changing market conditions force sizable blocks of citrus acreage to be periodically replanted. Even during the course of "normal" operations, between two and five percent of trees within a grove die and are re-set annually. The task of tree planting has been largely taken over by companies specializing in this service. Since citrus trees in Florida can be planted year-round, tree-planting crews tend to be staffed by permanent workers. Grove-care activities occur year-round, and workers engaged in these activities usually are considered permanent employees. Grove-care operations can be performed by grove employees or contracted through companies specializing in fertilizer application, chemical spraying, mowing, hedging, and topping. In either case, much of the work is done with the aid of tractors and other power equipment. As a result, in 1999, one full-time worker could manage up to 150 acres. Payments to full-time workers account for 10 to 15 percent of total grove-care costs. In addition, workmen's compensation insurance, training, worker safety, and other government-mandated programs increase labor expenses. Packinghouses and juice processing plants handle and package raw fruit in forms suitable for consumer consumption. Packinghouses run concurrently with the harvest season. As a rule of thumb, packinghouses open on Labor Day and close on Memorial Day. As many as 90 percent of packinghouse workers are seasonal workers employed as fruit graders and packers. Most of the work in juice processing plants also occurs during the harvest season. However, since juice processing is controlled by automated equipment, only 25 to 30 percent of juice plant workers are employed seasonally. The balance of these workers remain employed during the summer months to blend and package bulk juice supplies to consumers' specifications.


Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus 2 Citrus Harvesters Most citrus farmworkers are hired as harvesters. The technology of removing fruit from trees has not changed since the Spanish planted the first citrus trees in Florida some 300 years ago. Harvesters comb lower tree branches and scale ladders to heights of 18 feet to pick individual pieces of mature fruit. Workers collect the fruit into shoulder bags and fill large field tubs (the equivalent of eight to ten 90-pound field boxes). Over time, the equipment that removes harvested fruit from the grove has evolved from horse-drawn wagons to specially designed tractors (goats). Goats mechanically transfer fruit from the field tubs to truck trailers waiting at the edge of the field. Recent Florida labor studies indicate that harvesters pick an average of one field tub (equivalent of eight to ten 90-pound field boxes) of processed oranges per hour (Polopolus, et. al., 1996). Worker productivity is significantly affected by tree yield and grove conditions. Heavier yields from smaller compact trees will increase harvesting productivity. Worker productivity will decline as yield drops and tree heights increase. A worker's effective hourly wage depends on both the contracted piece rate and his productivity. Federal labor laws require that all workers be paid at least the minimum wage. Currently, minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, and all harvesters are entitled to at least an equivalent of that wage for every hour they are in a grove. The minimum wage establishes a floor for hourly and daily earnings. However, with favorable conditions and adequate work effort, harvesters have the opportunity to earn more than the minimum wage. For the past six years, hourly wages of harvesters have averaged $7, and under extraordinary conditions a productive harvester can earn more than $10 per hour. Most harvesters expect to earn between $50 and $70 during an eightto ten-hour workday (Polopolus, et. al., 1996; Roka and Emerson, 1999). Seasonal farmworkers generally do not enjoy the same accrued benefits of their year-round counterparts. Other than for workmen's compensation insurance, which covers job-related injuries, the majority of seasonal farmworkers do not receive health benefits. Nor do most seasonal farmworkers receive paid vacations or sick days. Citrus harvesters are seasonal farmworkers and are hired on a day-to-day basis. Consequently, they only earn income when they have access to the groves. Bad weather, short harvest seasons, and an oversupply of workers can limit the number of work days and thus adversely impact a harvester's annual income. The social demographic features of seasonal farmworkers have changed over time. During the 1970s, almost 60 percent of the citrus harvesters were African-American, and only ten percent were of Mexican origin. Also, nearly 95 percent of the citrus harvesters were U.S. citizens, and 60 percent lived in family units (Fairchild, 1975). Today, more than 70 percent of the citrus harvesters are recent immigrants from Mexico, who are mainly single, non-U.S.-citizen males working in Florida only during the harvest season. Most citrus harvesters typically migrate to Florida just for the harvest season (October-May) and then travel during the summer to the Carolinas, New York, and Michigan to harvest peaches, apples, tobacco, and vegetable crops. Within the citrus industry, there has evolved a labor contracting system to manage and supply harvest-labor requirements. While grove owners are free to hire their own harvesting crews, the labor contracting system offers several important advantages. A labor contractor provides a grove owner with harvest labor for just the required period (e.g., it takes approximately 55 people, working one 40-hour week, to harvest a 40-acre block of oranges, averaging 500 90-pound boxes per acre), and he provides field supervision and handles some of the accounting and added paperwork that accompany seasonal farmworkers. Because a labor contractor is not bound to a single grove, he can provide a more stable flow of employment hours for seasonal farmworkers. However, while using labor contractors is common place in the citrus industry, it is not without its potential liabilities. For instance, the United States Department of Labor has taken the position that growers are "joint employers" of harvesting workers. Growers have been held accountable for the legal transgressions of independently hired crew leaders.


Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus 3 Averting Labor Shortages Recruiting, training, motivating, and retaining workers in the citrus industry, particularly harvest workers, has become an increasingly difficult challenge for agricultural employers. A booming economy has lured away many farmworkers to jobs in construction, manufacturing, and the service industry, where hours are shorter and employment is available on a year-round basis. Agricultural labor shortages could be ameliorated, in part, by improving personnel management techniques. Most employers in the citrus industry have not spent enough time and attention on workers in the groves. At the very least, agricultural employers should become familiar with their responsibilities outlined in the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act (MSPA) and related Florida statutes. Employers are required to provide workers' compensation insurance. Further, they are obligated to verify that crew leaders are properly licensed by the State of Florida and the United States Department of Labor and that crew leaders have the proper authorization to provide transportation and/or housing if they do so. If a grower-employer pays workers through a crew leader, he should also obtain and review copies of payrolls regularly to ensure that wage and hour laws are being met. The law requires that in-field workers have access to porto-lets and other field sanitation stations. Worker Protection Standards require that workers be trained to avoid pesticide exposure. Other training requirements focus on equipment operation. Employers who implement effective safety training programs are being rewarded with insurance premium discounts. Intelligent personnel and communication practices are essential to maximize workforce effectiveness and reduce worker turnover rates. Positive employee relations involve the use of positive reinforcement and recognition for work well done. This is a very powerful tool in motivating people. Discipline has to be handled in a careful, measured, and consistent way if it is to be effective. Most employers have adopted a system of progressive discipline where the outcome is related to the severity and frequency of the violation. More progressive employers have developed a system of employee involvement or team building to go along with more traditional tools such as performance appraisals and individual and group incentive pay programs. Employee benefits such as medical insurance and pension plans are becoming more common as growers strive to compete for better workers. Housing on the farm has long been an accepted benefit for full-time supervisory and hourly-paid grove workers. However, only a minority of employers have provided housing to migrant seasonal employees. Several citrus growers and agricultural employers are beginning to re-examine housing as an inducement to secure a stable and adequate workforce. The experiences of those employers, who have provided housing to seasonal workers, suggest that this investment may pay for itself in reduced turnover and better quality and quantity of work effort. Personnel management and housing strategies may only go so far toward securing a reliable workforce for the citrus industry. A real concern remains regarding long-term labor availability in Florida. Influencing these concerns are the facts that most farmworkers in Florida are not U.S. citizens and do not possess legal immigrant documentation. So long as the Florida citrus industry is dependent on imported foreign labor of questionable legal status, a steady long-term supply of harvest labor will be vulnerable. One option to alleviate labor shortages is the foreign guest worker program. Unfortunately, the current guest worker program, known as H2A, is bureaucratically cumbersome. To date, few citrus growers have used the guest worker program. Amendments to the H2A program, which have strong grower support, have been proposed in the U.S. Congress. However, the political future of any guest worker program remains in doubt, largely due to the avid opposition from farmworker advocacy organizations. The position of most farmworker advocacy groups is that the supply of domestic labor is adequate, but wages are much too low. The Florida citrus industry faces mounting pressures from global competition. Maintaining a competitive advantage is dependent on reducing unit harvesting costs. Towards that end, the Florida citrus industry has mounted a concerted effort to perfect


Labor Requirements in Florida Citrus 4 mechanical harvesting systems. Much progress has been made, and several machine prototypes are in commercial harvesting situations. The successful adoption of mechanical harvesters will reduce harvesting costs and, at the same time, reduce the industry's demand for seasonal labor. It will not, however, eliminate the need for some seasonal workers. It is likely that the crews who will operate mechanical harvesters will be employed seasonally. More importantly, fruit harvested for the fresh fruit market will continue to require hand pickers, graders, and packers. If agricultural employers cannot devise strategies to keep workers from continually exiting the industry, then, in time, labor shortages will re-emerge despite the adoption of mechanical harvesters. References Fairchild, G.F. "Socioeconomic Dimensions of Florida Citrus Harvesting Labor." ERD Report 75-2. Florida Department of Citrus, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. December 1975. Muraro, R.P., R.E. Rouse, and F.M. Roka. "Budgeting Costs and Returns for Southwest Florida Citrus Production, 1996-97." Economic Information Report 97-6. Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. August 1997. Polopolus, L., R. Emerson, M. Chunkasut, and R. Chung. "The Florida Citrus Harvest: Prevailing Wages, Labor Practices, and Implications. Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. September 1996. Roka, F. and R. Emerson. "Piece Rates, Hourly Wages, and Daily Farmworker Income, Immokalee Report." Citrus and Vegetable Magazine 63, no. 8 (April 1999): 10-13.