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Unscrupulous Employers Condemn Drug Addicts To Life Of Servility
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A recent lawsuit filed by a worker at Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm in Hastings, Florida has uncovered, a shocking truth that slavery, believed to have been abolished in America, more than a 100 years ago, still existed in certain southern farms.

A report in the Tampa Bay Times, says that there is a thriving underground slave trade in which drug-addicted workers, were held captive and forced to work, without any financial remuneration. The report says that in exchange for their work they were given alcohol and drugs.

Times reporter Ben Montgomery, has written how farm workers told him of how their addiction had confined them to a life of servitude at the farm. The newspaper says that despite many testimonials from workers, who have given evidence of their exploitation, Florida law-enforcing authorities have been unable to stop this practice.

  
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The exposé came in the wake of a lawsuit filed on behalf of LeRoy Smith in April, who has claimed in his suit that he was enticed into the job whilst he was playing a game of chess at a Jacksonville park on May 1, 2010.

He alleged that labor contractors, exploited his drug addiction, betting that he would work for nothing to feed his habits. However, Smith says, that what he experienced was “Slavery. Abuse. Overwork. Deplorable, unsanitary conditions. Drugs.’

The suit, filed by Florida Legal Services and Farmworker Justice, on behalf of Smith and Dennis Nash, both former workers at the Bulls-Hit Farm, alleges that the men were tricked into their jobs and that they were victims of labor trafficking during their employment period, between 2009 and 2010.

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They have alleged that the firm’s labor contractor, Ronald Uzzle, with the intention of building a low-cost work force, targeted men from homeless shelters in the area and took advantage of their drug dependencies.

LeRoy Smith describes how he was lured into working for the farm, saying that he was taken to a filled to capacity labor camp, where workers lived in filthy conditions. There they were sold “crack, marijuana, alcohol, and the services of prostitutes.” Money was made available to these workers on credit at interest rates of 100 per cent.



The lawsuit further elucidates the modus operandi of the contractors, saying that the accumulated debts were cleared from worker salaries. The vicious cycle of debt, ensured that they could never leave their workplaces and they continued working, mortally afraid of their employers.

Smith told the newspaper, ‘The only reason there’s no shackles is because now they make the people submit to the cocaine. That’s what they use to basically control the people.”

Smith agreed that since their addiction habits were being fulfilled, and they had steady and easy access to drugs and alcohol, many workers were content to spend their lives there. Some, he said, had been there for a decade.

Smith says that during the time he was there, he mowed, scrubbed toilets and cleaned shower stalls, but never received any paycheck. He ran up debts of $210. “I had no idea where we were,” he said. “All there were was potato fields and asphalt roads. … You’re just stuck there. This is where you reside until the season is over or until you get out.”

Smith is not the only one who has spoken out.  Bennie Cooks, a 57-year-old Army veteran, told the Times, that after being recruited in the farm from a homeless shelter, it took him more than a year and a half to escape the menacing environment.

Cooks said, ‘They’d intimidate people. If you owed them money, then one guy’d say, “You owe me money. You can’t leave.” He’d threaten you.”

There have been other men who have come forward to lend credence to Smith’s story. The farm has earlier also, been accused of being in infringement of labor laws and had been sued in 2004 for a similar state of affairs.

Even though the owner Thomas R. Lee could not be contacted, Raymond Uzzle said that no drugs were sold, nor were workers kept enslaved. They are free to go as and when they like, he said.

He also denied selling drugs to the workers. He told the Times reporter, ‘There’s no drugs sold on this camp. I’m not going to tell you people don’t do drugs, but if people want to do drugs, they do it. I can’t stop them.’



 

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