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Sen. Alexander fired American citizens, hired guest workers instead, lawsuit says

UPDATED: The following is a prepared statement from JD Alexander's company, Atlantic Blue, released Friday. The original blog post follows: At this time, Blue Head has not had an opportunity to study the complaint. However, it is our understanding that the main issue appears to focus on the $8.56 per hour minimum wage rate at which the seasonal workers were hired. This rate is of course significantly above the $7.25 Federal Minimum Wage. The questin of whether farm workers were entitled to a wage rate even higher than the $8.56 is the subject of litigation that is pending in Federal Court in North Carolina. The company bleieves it has acted ethically and legally in its treatment of all of its employees and will vigorously defend against any allegations to the contrary.

In the waning days of the 2011 legislative session, Sen. JD Alexander, one of the state's most powerful lawmakers, delivered an impassioned floor speech against a measure that would have required employers to check the immigration status of new hires.

Alexander, a Republican from Lake Wales, offered a firsthand account of housing guest workers from Mexico to help pick his crops.

"You can't get anybody to come do this stuff, folks. And it's the same thing, whether it's construction, or whether it's hotels. Americans don't want to do it," Alexander said moments before the Senate defeated the legislation, a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott. Now, Alexander, who owns a farm in Polk County, is facing a lawsuit from two farmworkers who say he violated federal law by firing American citizens and green card holders and replacing them with guest workers.

Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, declined to comment for this story. "It's pending litigation," he said. "I've been advised not to comment."

According to the lawsuit, Jose Luis Castro-Mata, a green card holder who picked strawberries on Alexander's Blue Head Farms in the 2009-10 season, was fired after Alexander discovered he was not a guest worker, said Gregory Schell, part of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project. "They told him we don't need you anymore. Get lost," Schell said, adding that Alexander then hired guest workers instead.

Why would Alexander do that?

"Guest workers only can work for one employer, the one who got them their Visa. So they're less likely to complain," Schell said. "They want to hire the young motivated Mexican whose choice is to work here or go back to Third World poverty."

Read the story here.