US farm ticks-off locals – by hiring white South Africans
The turbulent legal case is set to shine a light on the H-2A visa programme. The set-up allows US businesses to bring in foreign citizens if they cannot fill employment gaps with American workers. This has been an extremely popular route for white South Africans looking to find a job Stateside – and Pitts Farms, allegedly, got very comfortable with this.
Trained workers from SA who end up on US farms do bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with them. The H-2A visa is extremely favourable to this particular crowd of South Africans. But for a number of workers in Sunflower County, MI, this dependence on their labour has put a clutch of black Americans on the scrapheap.
Why is Pitts Farms being sued?
According to the Mississippi Centre for Justice, their complainants have filed their case for the following reasons:
- The six black workers behind the lawsuit say this practice has ‘cost them thousands of dollars in unpaid wages’.
- Two of these plaintiffs have worked a combined 43 years for the Pitts Farm operation.
- The group claims that racism was common on the job, and one supervisor in particular frequently used the N-word.
- Pitts Farms was required to pay foreign workers and its black US workers $9.87 (in 2014) and $11.83 (in 2020) per hour.
- However, while white SA employees got their full wage, black counterparts only got the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
- Eventually, this dispute saw Pitts Farms intensify their foreign workforce, relying exclusively on manpower from SA.
White South African workers cause a storm Stateside
Pitts Farms’ so-called ‘change in employment strategy’ has left a local community reeling. What started out as a workers’ rights issue soon descended into an ugly row about race and the exploitation of black US citizens. The white South Africans employed by the farm have ended up in the crossfire of this complex litigation.
“According to the lawsuit, Pitts Farms once employed a majority Black workforce drawn from Sunflower County, which is over 70% Black. In recent years, however, Pitts Farms recruited and hired only white farmworkers from South Africa. In 2020, Pitts Farms laid off most of the plaintiffs while it recruited more white H-2A visa workers than ever.”
“In addition to discrimination, the lawsuit claims that Pitts Farms’ failure to pay its Black U.S. workers at the same wage rate as its white H-2A workers violated federal law. It’s also argued that Pitts Farms should have offered the jobs to its US workers at a higher rate before it could hire foreign workers to fill the positions.”
Mississippi Centre for Justice