New Times Broward • Palm Beach Online - newtimesbpb.com | Letters | January 20 - 26, 2000

New Times Broward • Palm Beach News

Letters to the Editor
Letters for January 20, 2000

Fiberglass Caskets: Too Cheap to Be True
Got a kick out of Emma Trelles and Kathy Glasgow's great piece of writing on the coffin business ("Coffin Corner," January 6).

Up north, where I come from, there's a pristine inland lake called Skaneateles, where the First Family spent a brief vacation last summer. Just three miles down East Lake Road at Five Mile Point on the lake lives Paul Zechman, "Mr. Z" to his many local friends. He is in his early nineties and his mind is sharp as a tack. He has patents on a number of items he invented -- one of the most interesting being his creation of fiberglass caskets!

Anyone living in Florida must know that over 90 percent of today's boats are made of fiberglass due to the strength, long life (maybe forever), and watertightness of this material. Mr. Z built some casket molds a few years ago and produced several models, one for if you wanted to go alone, and one if you wanted to be buried with a friend. He proceeded to ship these models to the annual undertaker's convention in Minneapolis along with color choices, prices, et cetera. Of course his biggest selling point was an answer to concerns from the majority of people who want their bodies protected from water and worms. The single casket was offered for $150 and the double for $275.

So, what happened when the convention committee unpacked the caskets? They shipped them right back to Mr. Z with comments to the effect that their markup would be too low to warrant their handling them. "Our customers prefer cherry or mahogany," they said.

Bill Rapp
Boca Raton

Abuse of Farm Workers? Try Abuse of Journalistic Standards!Regarding Paul Demko's December 30 story concerning John Thomas and the Thomas organization ("At Work in the Fields of the Lord"), I would like to offer a few facts and comments:

All workers hired from Belle Glade under the 1997-98 job order were paid no less than the mandated $6.36 for each hour worked. It is true that each worker was offered the standard industry piece rate, which provides an incentive to produce and also provides the worker the opportunity to earn well above the rate of $6.36 per hour. But the fact remains that each worker was paid no less than $6.36 per hour or more. No worker was ever shortchanged by the farm labor contractor or Thomas Brothers Farms, Inc.

Regarding the claim that packinghouse workers from Miami were charged $3.00 per day for transportation, thus reducing their wages below the federal minimum wage, the Thomas organization had no prior knowledge that Cellular Labor Contracting, an independent contractor with its own payroll and that actually paid the packinghouse workers, was involved in any such scheme. The Thomas organization has never charged any worker for transportation.

The story stated that Thomas was cited in 1999 for utilizing the services of an unlicensed farm labor contractor. Thomas was not cited in 1999 for such a violation.

Philip Martin, the University of California professor who stated that the farm labor market is one of the most regulated labor markets in the United States, is correct. The market is so heavily regulated that there is a possibility that one day, all fruits and vegetables sold in American markets will be produced in foreign lands! I can't imagine the American consumer paying $7 a pound for tomatoes, but it could very well happen.

The story suggests that most farmers intentionally "flout" regulations pertaining to farm workers. The Thomas organization has not and would never intentionally or knowingly violate any state or federal regulation.

Your article states as fact that the routine abuse of farm workers takes place in Palm Beach County. In the 20 years I have been involved with farm labor, I have never seen the abuse the news media writes about.

Richard L. Wilson
Thomas Produce Company
Boca Raton

Paul Demko responds: Thomas Brothers Farms could easily settle the dispute over whether the Haitian workers were properly paid $6.36 an hour by making available time sheets for the employees. So far, for whatever reason, the company has declined to do so. Richard Wilson is correct in stating that Thomas Brothers Farms was not cited for utilizing the services of an unlicensed farm labor contractor in 1999. The company was, however, penalized for such violations in 1989, 1992, and 1994. New Times regrets the error.

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