Labor Department Blacklists Labor Contractor in the Blueberry Business

By David North on March 17, 2021

Even before nominated Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (currently Boston's mayor) has been sworn in, the staff of the department has blacklisted an H-2A labor contractor in the blueberry business.

This means two things, one for certain: There will be no H-2A workers for this contractor for three years, and it may foreshadow more of these blacklistings (debarments) in the months to come.

For reasons I do not understand, the department does not have a list of current debarments on its website, but it does have one for now-terminated ones. In FY 2015, in the Obama days, the department (where I used to work years ago) debarred 32 firms and individuals; but in three years during the Trump administration (FYs 2018, 2019, and 2020), the total was only 16. Maybe debarments are about to expand again.

The contractor, according to a Law360 article, is Francisco Valadez, Jr., and he managed to touch all the exploitation bases, being charged with:

  • Failing to pay some workers at two North Carolina farms;
  • Failing to reimburse their visa costs, their travel expenses, and border-crossing fees;
  • Allowing seven Mexican nationals to be forced to pay recruiters for their jobs; and
  • Failing to provide them with housing that was "sanitary and free of waste material".

Valadez also has to pay a civil penalty of $18,000 and is being sued, separately, for other problems by Legal Aid of North Carolina and the North Carolina Justice Center.

Among the farms listed is Sleepy Creek Farms, in the southeastern part of the state. Sleepy Creek sells to, among others, Trader Joe's, Food Lion, and Driscoll's, a big berry distributor.

Blueberries are grown for the U.S. market for many countries, ranging, south to north, from Chile and Argentina through Peru and Mexico to the U.S. and Canada. Why not figure some way to siphon a few million out of the $1.9 trillion Covid package, or from USAID funds, to grow some of the berries in the mountains of the Northern Triangle of Central America, thereby presenting alternative employment for some of the people now surging across our southern border?