Farms settle suits on using immigrants over Black US workers

Jan 5, 2023, 10:54 PM | Updated: Jan 6, 2023, 3:38 pm
FILE - Richard Strong, left, his brother Gregory Strong, center, and Stacy Griffin pose for a photo...

FILE - Richard Strong, left, his brother Gregory Strong, center, and Stacy Griffin pose for a photo on Sept. 9, 2021, in Indianola, Miss. They are among Black farmworkers in Mississippi who said in a lawsuit that their former employer, Pitts Farm Partnership, brought white laborers from South Africa to do the same jobs they were doing, and that the farm violated U.S. law by paying the white immigrants significantly more for the same type of work. The lawsuit and a similar one filed by other Black workers against a catfish farm in the Mississippi Delta were settled in December 2022. Terms of the settlements are private, but an attorney said the Black farmworkers will be compensated for the discrimination they suffered. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two agriculture businesses in the Mississippi Delta and some Black farm workers have settled the workers’ lawsuits over claims the farms hired white laborers from South Africa and paid them more than the local Black employees for the same type of work.

Federal court records show the two lawsuits were settled in December, with terms of the settlements remaining private.

“This particular form of discrimination is a recent manifestation of the age-old problem of exploitation of Black labor in America and particularly in the Delta,” Rob McDuff of the Mississippi Center for Justice, one of the workers’ attorneys, said in a news release Thursday. “These settlements are an important step and we are going to keep moving forward in an effort to eradicate these abuses throughout the Delta.”

Southern Migrant Legal Services and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed one of the lawsuits in September 2021 on behalf of six workers against Pitts Farms Partnership, which grows cotton, soybean and corn. Two more plaintiffs joined the suit in November 2021.

The groups filed the other lawsuit in April on behalf of five workers against a catfish grower, Harris Russell Farms.

Both farms are in Sunflower County, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Jackson.

Court records show U.S. District Judge Debra M. Brown filed the settlement order in the Harris Russell Farms case on Dec. 6, and U.S. Magistrate Judge David A. Sanders signed the settlement order in the Pitts Farms case on Dec. 22.

Amal Bouhabib, a Southern Migrant Legal Services attorney who also represented the workers, said the plaintiffs will be compensated “for the discrimination they suffered at these two farms.”

“But many other Delta farms are engaging in these unlawful practices and more suits will be coming against those who do not pay fair wages to the local workers,” Bouhabib said.

Tim Threadgill, an attorney for Pitts Farms, said Friday that the business “is glad to have reached a mutual settlement with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the farm.

“Pitts Farms denied liability, but litigation is expensive and the farm believed it was in everyone’s best interest to settle if the parties could reach mutually agreeable terms, which they did,” Threadgill said.

Robert Warrington, an attorney representing Harris Russell Farms, said Friday that he could not comment on the settlement.

The lawsuit against Pitts Farms said the business 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 for immigrant workers.

The H-2A program allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign workers when no U.S. workers are available, but it does not allow farmers to pay American workers less than the foreign workers, Bouhabib said.

Southern Migrant Legal Services and the Mississippi Center for Justice also contacted the U.S. Labor Department, which investigated allegations of wage theft and displacement of U.S. workers. In November, the department announced it had recovered $134,532 in unpaid wages for 54 workers at 11 farms in the Mississippi Delta and set fines of $122,610 against those farms.

Mississippi Center for Justice president and CEO Vangela Wade said the lawsuits and the Labor Department’s enforcement “worked in tandem to improve the lives of many of these local farm workers.”

“We look forward to continuing this campaign in the Delta and bringing some measure of justice to the workers who have been underpaid and mistreated for many years,” Wade said.

Mississippi is a largely rural state with poultry, soybeans, timber, cotton and corn as its 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.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Paul Njoroge, right, points to photos of his wife and three children that were killed in the 2019 c...
Associated Press

Boeing pleads not guilty in case over deadly Max crashes

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Boeing pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge that it misled regulators who approved its 737 Max, the plane that was involved in two crashes that killed 346 people. Family members of passengers who died gave emotional testimony, calling for criminal prosecution of top Boeing officials. The families are trying […]
18 hours ago
abortion Capital gains tax Olympia meeting legislature abortion...
Associated Press

Washington lawmakers hear testimony on 7 abortion bills

Abortion rights proposals have been front and center in Olympia, Washington, this week as state lawmakers heard hours of public testimony on seven proposals that would reinforce abortion access.
18 hours ago
FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at t...
Gene Johnson, Associated Press

Justices weigh effort to balance Washington state’s tax code

SEATTLE (AP) — An effort to balance what is considered the nation’s most regressive state tax code came before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, with justices hearing arguments about whether they should overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. Washington is one of nine states without an income tax, and […]
18 hours ago
FILE - In this April 4, 2017, file photo, fountains erupt along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas. A...
Associated Press

Lawsuit: Vegas Strip resorts used vendor to fix hotel rates

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal lawsuit in Nevada is seeking class-action damages for countless hotel patrons who booked rooms in Las Vegas since 2019, alleging that most hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have used a third-party vendor to illegally fix prices. The complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleges […]
18 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Associated Press

Police: Oregon fugitive kidnapped woman like 2019 Vegas case

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Police in southern Oregon were searching Thursday for a man accused of torturing a woman he held captive less than two years after he was convicted in Nevada of critically injuring another woman he held captive for two weeks. Police Chief Warren Hensman, of Grants Pass, Oregon, said in a telephone […]
18 hours ago
Brittany Lampkin of Yazoo County, extolls the Mississippi Black Women's Roundtable legislative agen...
Associated Press

Maternal deaths and disparities increase in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Deaths from pregnancy complications have become more prevalent in Mississippi, and racial disparities in the health of those who give birth have widened in recent years, according to a report released Thursday by the state’s Department of Health. The Mississippi Maternal Mortality Report shows that the maternal mortality rate increased by […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Farms settle suits on using immigrants over Black US workers