Ohio tomato grower shuts down without migrant workers - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Major Ohio grower shuts down without migrant workers

OAK HARBOR, OH (Toledo News Now) -

The largest tomato grower in northwest Ohio has shut down operations and moved to South Carolina.

Charles Jones Produce in Oak Harbor usually employs up to 500 migrant works each summer to help harvest and ship out their tomato crop, but this year, the owners says he couldn't hire enough workers and had to shut down.

According to Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), it is a sign of the immigration problems of the southwest growing into Ohio.

"Well, it's been a problem now for a number of years, but intensified when they built that new border patrol station up in Sandusky," Velasquez said.

The FLOC represents thousands of migrant workers in Ohio and other states, and has been on the forefront of immigration reform for years. Velasquez says the extra pressure from immigration authorities in the area over the last year has created a hostile environment for workers.

"When you have that threat, that intimidation on a work force, they're going to be looking over their shoulders," he said. "They're going to be worried about their families' safety."

And because of that worry, workers did not make the trip to Jones Produce this year. According to Velasquez, the economic impact of the 500 lost jobs to the area is around $3 million.

Velasquez hopes the shutdown of this major grower will show people that immigration issues have a rippling effect on the economy and that immigration reform should be a top priority in Washington.

"The door is not closed on whether Jones [Produce] will operate next year," he said. "It depends on immigration reform."

Toledo News Now called the Charles Jones Produce offices in South Carolina, but did not get a response.

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