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GAO REPORT PRAISES U.S. SUGAR INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE H2A FARM WORKER PROGRAM; CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT INACCURACIES, OMISSIONS IN REPORT

 GAO REPORT PRAISES U.S. SUGAR INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE H2A FARM WORKER
 PROGRAM; CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT INACCURACIES, OMISSIONS IN REPORT
 CLEWISTON, Fla., July 27 /PRNewswire/ -- A General Accounting Office (GAO) report that examines the U.S. Department of Labor's oversight of the H2A program for foreign workers in Florida's sugar industry highlights initiatives instituted by United States Sugar Corporation. The company said, however, the report contains inaccuracies and omits critical information about the program.
 The GAO released an addendum to its main report, called an "Accomplishment Report" which credits U.S. Sugar with initiating and implementing changes in the labor program that became standards for the industry.
 Despite this praise, the GAO report, prepared for members and committees of Congress, made "broad statements" that fail to provide an accurate picture of the situation, according to U.S. Sugar Corporate Counsel Steven D. Lear. The result, he said, is that it falsely implies that U.S. Sugar is responsible for certain actions taken by the foreign workers' home country governments.
 Moreover, the report fails to disclose that in each instance the U.S. government knew of and approved the longstanding practices criticized by the GAO.
 According to the Accomplishment Report: "U.S. Sugar Corporation, the largest Florida employer of H2A sugar cane workers, designed and instituted procedures for authenticating the voluntary nature and accountability of workers' wage deductions...U.S. Sugar notified GAO that it had worked out changes in the way the deductions should be made...because of U.S. Sugar's actions four of the remaining five sugar companies began following the same process U.S. Sugar implemented. The fifth company also discontinued the original practices."
 In the H2A report, the GAO details these accomplishments by U.S. Sugar:
 -- Changing the worker agreement beginning with the 1990-91 harvest season to clarify that wage deductions for health care and savings were completely voluntary decisions of the workers.
 -- Demanding the Jamaican government enter into an agreement with U.S. insurance company permitting U.S. Sugar to remit the insurance wage deductions directly to the insurance company instead of to the West Indies Central Labour Organization ("WICLO"), an agent of the foreign government, who previously received the deductions. This was accomplished in January 1992.
 -- Insisting the Jamaican government provide the workers with written notice clarifying that the savings plan is voluntary, which the government provided in January 1992.
 U. S. Sugar however took exception to the overall findings of the report. For example, the GAO report raises the issue of reimbursement of transportation costs to foreign workers. The report, however, fails to mention that U.S. Sugar has always been able to supply all its foreign labor needs from Jamaica, and has always paid these transportation costs. More than 20 years ago, when the governments of lower islands, such as Barbados and St. Lucia, asked to have their workers included in the program, the foreign government guaranteed that the full transportation expenses would not exceed those from Jamaica to U.S. Sugar and back, Lear said. The company noted that this arrangement had been known of, and approved by, the Department of Labor since at least 1974, a significant fact not mentioned in the report.
 The report correctly states that the workers' governments, not U.S. Sugar, charged workers for the extra transportation costs. In response to worker complaints, the Department of Labor changed its position regarding this expense in 1990 and required the growers to incur extra transportation costs for workers from the lower islands. Regrettably, U.S. Sugar no longer hires those workers, due to the additional costs.
 While critical of the Department of Labor's indecision about whether to seek recovery of these transportation expenses for harvest seasons prior to 1988-89, the GAO failed to acknowledge that U.S. Sugar voluntarily has agreed to reimburse lower island workers up to $365,000 for harvest seasons as far back as 1986-87 through the last season it hired these workers.
 The GAO report also states that workers do not receive all their savings program deductions. This may be technically true, because, as the report discloses, the Jamaican workers entered into separate agreements with their governments in Jamaica. The report states the funds are used for administration of the labor program by WICLO. The report does not make it clear that this deduction is solely a result of actions between the workers and their government and that U.S. Sugar plays no role in that arrangement, Lear said. On a comparative basis, the situation is very similar to the deduction of union dues for representation of workers' rights under a contract negotiated on their behalf.
 Participation in the savings program and optional health insurance program by the Jamaican cane cutters at U.S. Sugar is completely voluntary and has been unquestionably so since the 1990-91 harvest season when the issue was brought to the attention of U.S. Sugar. In addition, the company notes that it instituted changes unilaterally in response to concerns of farmworker advocates. Moreover, U.S. Sugar does not now, nor did it ever, retain these funds, nor does it have any interest in them.
 In the case of the savings deduction, the funds are sent to a depository bank in Jamaica and then deposited in the worker's personal account. Any deductions from the worker's foreign savings account to fund the Jamaican administration of the H2A program are not made by U.S. Sugar, but by the Jamaican Government, according to written authorization by the workers, after the workers' savings had been deposited in their own accounts in Jamaica.
 U.S. Sugar is concerned that the GAO report will be misused by professional labor legal activists who have been seeking to shut down the H2A labor program. Typically these legal activists have filed suits ostensibly on behalf of the H2A workers, but with the result that labor is being replaced by machines in order to escape the never-ending cycle of lawsuits.
 U.S. Sugar previously announced that for the upcoming harvest season, due to the increasing litigation from labor legal activists, it has laid off 1,110 foreign workers in an accelerated step toward total mechanization. While U.S. Sugar prefers to utilize hand labor, the pressure of activist lawsuits has unfortunately resulted in the loss of the workers' jobs.
 -0- 7/27/92
 /CONTACT: Otis Wragg of Wragg & Casas, 305-372-1234, for U.S. Sugar Corporation; or Sylvia Walters of U.S. Sugar Corporation, 800-237-2948/ CO: U.S. Sugar Corporation ST: Florida IN: SU:


JB-AW -- FL011 -- 3695 07/27/92 17:08 EDT
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