Indentured servitude in Florida

Writing for In These Times, Michele Chen reports that:

They called it “The Bullpen.” Farm workers were roped in from the street by recruiters and herded into the enclosed camp, where they worked during the day and slept in dirty, overcrowded bunks rife with bugs. Some, according to the workers’ legal complaint, wrestled with grinding drug addictions and were sated periodically by dealers who would come by to sink them deeper into debt and dependency.

Though reminiscent of any chain gang from the old South, this labor camp was in modern-day Florida, and these human chattel were harvesting vegetables that might have nourished your family. Brought by the legal advocacy groups Farmworker Justice (FWJ) and Florida Legal Services, this landmark suit alleges a group of homeless men were taken from Jacksonville to the Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm in nearby Hastings by recruiters, to work the yearly potato harvests in 2009 and 2010.

There, according to the suit, which recently reached a partial settlement, they were warehoused in squalor with inadequate food and filthy surroundings. Drugs from outside “were sold to workers on a daily basis, openly and in plain view of everyone at the camp.” The complaint charges that agent who recruited them, Ronald Uzzle, earned his keep by skimming their wages for housing and food from week to week. Bulls-Hit also served as their loan shark. Uzzle and another employee  known as “Too Tall” allegedly lent them money at “usurious interest rates of 100 percent.” Workers sank deeper into debt when dealers sold them drugs “on credit,” to be paid back when they could collect their wages later on.

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