GLSP Attorney Weighs in on Vidalia Onion Shipping Date Dispute

In a letter to the editor in the AJC, Georgia Legal Services Senior Staff Attorney Dawson Morton weighs in on the recent headlines made by the dispute over Vidalia Onion shipment dates. Read the AJC article below.

There’s human side to Vidalia onion spat

There has been much recent press coverage of Delbert Bland and his early Vidalia onions (“Ga. judge won’t stop rule on Vidalia onions,” News, April 16), but there are far more pressing issues than whether or not Vidalia onions ship early. While the Agriculture Commissioner and Mr. Bland fight about shipping dates, the real concern should be not whether the onions are sweet enough to ship, but rather, whether they have been soured by poor labor conditions.

All too often, the treatment of the thousands of workers employed in the Vidalia onion harvest is an afterthought. Mr. Bland was found to have violated the federal minimum wage and ordered to pay back minimum wages to Mexican laborers in a federal court trial a few years back. That trial happened only after a protective order was issued against Mr. Bland for sending his supervisors to Mexico to confront workers in attempts to avoid such a trial.

Many of Mr. Bland’s competitors, regardless of which side they take on the shipping date dispute, also face or have faced suits for failing to pay workers fairly. Currently both Stanley Farms and Hendrix Produce — two of the next largest onion growers — face suits for allegedly violating wage requirements and, in the case of Stanley Farms, for allegedly discriminating against workers and exposing those laborers to pesticides.

Before we talk about onion shipment dates, should we not first focus on the conditions in the onions fields? Can Georgia really be proud of a sweet onion if it’s produced in conditions that underpay workers, threaten workers for speaking up, and knowingly expose workers to pesticides? The truth may be that labor conditions, not shipment dates, are what keep Vidalia onions from being truly sweet.

DAWSON MORTON, GEORGIA LEGAL SERVICES

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