Iowa Corn Grower Misrepresented?

There are few large farming organizations that participate in the H2A program because it is so expensive and litigious.  The program is not user-friendly and it can be very difficult for an agri-business person to navigate the paperwork process themselves.

 

Recently, an H2A employer in Iowa was unfairly represented in their local paper, read the article at the Muscatine Journal.

The article sticks to the facts for the most part until we are introduced to Mr. Carlos Rich.  Mr. Rich takes credit for the article being written when he says he called reporters out to Bell’s farm so that he could bring some alleged mistreatment to light. Alleged is the key word here.  But when reading the article one could be lead to believe that with a great amount of certainty some kind of mistreatment was happening at Bell’s farm.

The complaints as stated by Carlos Rich and the workers that gave a comment:

  • Unjustly fired
  • Illness not treated
  • Receiving bad food
  • Lack of water

Bell’s response to these allegations:

  • the workers were not fired, “They cannot hack the field,” he (Bell) said. “We try to find them light work but there’s not a lot to do but send them back if they don’t want to carry out the job.” Bell has a right to terminate an H2A worker for a lawful reason, which is disclosed to the workers in a copy of a written contract that they receive
  • Bell said that all of the workers had seen a doctor, they were also not forced to work if they were sick, it doesn’t appear that the reporter nor Carlos Rich asked to see proof that the workers had received medical treatment
  • Bell replied to this allegation by saying that the workers received meals prepared by cooks who had also worked in local restaurants.  Did Mr. Rich or the reporter taste the food?
  • Bell’s workers are all given water bottles which clip on to their belt loops, there is also water available at the end of the rows.  Did the reporter go out to the field to see the water bottles, has Mr. Rich witnessed the availability of water?

I’d like to direct your attention to one of the statements in the article, “Cardona-Ramirez said said he (Tom Bell) doesn’t force people to work if they can’t, but he pays them only for the days they work.”  Is it obvious to anyone else that this policy is not unfair?  So…if you work you get paid and if you do not work you do not get paid. OK– I just wanted to make sure I understood that.

It is also important to note that the worker’s hourly pay is mentioned in the article, which is $10.44 per hour.  Yes thats right, $10.44 an hour.  Not minimum wage, not $8 bucks an hour, $10.44 an hour.  The federal government requires Tom Bell to pay all of his H2A workers and any other worker who performs the same job as the H2A workers, $10.44 per hour.  Even at $10.44 an hour, Tom Bell cannot entice enough U.S. citizens to work those corn fields.  Some folks will argue that it should be that high because of the intensity of hand harvest work.  And farmers will argue that at that rate it’s difficult if not impossible to compete in the market.  Others will say these farmers should pay even more to attract U.S. workers, but I would speculate that those people have never farmed or owned any type of business.

There is a trend in most articles you read about H2A employers and that is a lack of true investigative reporting.  If no workers complained and everyone was behaving honestly and ethically and Carlos Rich called the Muscatine Journal to report that Tom Bell was setting the bar for world class employers, would the Muscatine Journal still have gone out there to run the story? Who knows. But I do know that abuse allegations are a lot more news worthy than good deeds.

It is also important to note that there were 18 comments left about this story.  Most of the comments were left by angry Conesville natives who have a bone to pick with the Bell’s.

The reporter is Melissa Regennitter, she can be reached at 563-262-0526 or at mregennitter@muscatinejournal.com

More articles were located about Bell’s Detasseling & Bell’s Melons, the links are below

Muscatine Journal article about the effects of H2A workers on the community

Slate’s article about their visit to the Bell’s farm

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This entry was posted in H2A.

2 comments on “Iowa Corn Grower Misrepresented?

  1. Melissa Regennitter says:

    This was a classic case of he said/she said. The work done on Bell’s farm is difficult and exhausting. Work that FEW will do — hence the reason for H2A in our area.
    I personally would love to go to the Bell farm when the season begins.
    but as a reporter in this situation, I acted and reported the facts as told to me by both parties that day. My personal opinion is not in this article, nor will i express it here.
    How is this article a misrepresentation?
    A. the men said they had injuries — i reported they were bug bites, light rashes, bumps, ect. (true, i saw them myself)
    B. the men complained about food. Bell said the food was cooked by restaurant workers who serve food in places I’ve eaten. I recognized one cook in the kitchen area and wrote that information to allow readers to form their own opinion.
    C. the men said they didn’t have water – turns out that bell gave them water bottles and water at the end of the rows.
    How is this biased, unfair or unfounded?
    1.I responded to a call of worker abuse and this was the story I found
    2.As a reporter i only had a minimal access to the property that day.
    3. I allowed all parties involved to speak on their own behalf and refute what the other had said. I put that information in writing.
    If you have questions, feel free to give me a call.
    Thanks for your time.

  2. ilmc07 says:

    Melissa,

    We appreciate your comment and your interest and commitment to balanced reporting, a concept that I personally feel has faded. We hope that if Mr. Bell or any other H2 participant invites you to their farm or place of business to talk about the positive effects the H2 program has had on their lives and lives of their foreign workers, you will report then too.

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