By law, each worker must earn minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour. But there's an incentive system. Harvesters get a green ticket worth 50 cents every time they dump a bucket of cucumbers. If they collect more than 15 tickets an hour, they can beat minimum wage.
The Latino workers moved furiously Thursday for the extra pay.
Jose Ranye, 37, bragged he's the best picker in Americus, the largest community near the farm. His whirling hands filled one bucket in 25 seconds. He said he dumped about 200 buckets of cucumbers before lunch, meaning he earned roughly $20 an hour. He expected to double his tickets before the end of the day.
None of the probationers could keep pace. Pay records showed the best filled only 134 buckets a day, and some as little as 20. They lingered at the water cooler behind the truck, sat on overturned red buckets for smoke breaks and stopped working to take cell phone calls. They also griped that the Latinos received more tickets per bucket than they did, an accusation that appeared unfounded.
Robert Dawson, 24, was on his fourth day of fieldwork. On probation for commercial burglary, he said the governor's idea was a good one and long overdue. He said farmers were at least partially to blame if they're experiencing a labor shortage because they hired illegal immigrants.
"I feel like they should have gone and hired us first before they even hired them," he said in the morning. "You pay us right and we'll get out here and work. If you don't want to pay us nothing and we're out here in this hot heat, 100-and-some degree weather, it ain't gonna last."
By the afternoon, Dawson had sweated through his shirts, and his steps had become labored. His arms and back were sore, but he continued to work after other probationers had quit or were sitting under the shade of the truck. In a quiet sign of mercy, a Latino supervisor helped Dawson fill his bucket and walked it to the truck.