Field of Lost Dreams

There is no shortage of workers; only a shortage of justice," read a poster at a farm worker rally near Orlando, Florida, last November. It was Thanksgiving Day, and Florida Gov. Bob Martinez had proclaimed "Farm Workers Week" as a time of public gratitude to the hands that grow our food. But the farm workers, who can't afford to give their families a festive dinner and have no paid holidays, declined the honor and decided instead to hold a protest for decent wages and working conditions.

Members of the Central Florida farm workers association were protesting the attempts of agribusiness to bring in foreign temporary workers under contract in spite of an oversupply of labor in the fields. Citrus growers, claiming a labor scarcity, had petitioned for "H-2A workers," who come to the United States under a U. S. government-certified contract, to work for one employer for one season and then return home.

A month later, on Christmas Day, tempera-tures throughout most of Florida plummeted to sub-freezing levels, where they stayed for three days. All crops were hurt to some degree, from the vegetable fields in the southern part of the state to the citrus belt in the center, and the valuable fern beds in north-central Volusia County.

The Florida agricultural industry, worth $6 billion annually, lost $1.1 billion-income that most growers will recover, in part through higher prices passed on to consum-ers. But for the workers, the loss in wages amounted to $176 million in one season, ac-cording to figures provided by the National Farmworker Ministry. Close to 90,000 Florida farm workers lost their jobs due to the freeze.

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