Updated 5 yearss ago
"Christian faith" are the first words in Duda's mission statement. Aside from individual Dudas' donations to Lutheran and other causes, the corporation tithes 10% of profits. A quarter of that goes to company-specific projects such as farmworker services and aid. Three-quarters is divided among the foundations created and run by each of the three family branches that grew from Andrew Duda's sons, Andrew Jr., John and Ferdinand. "Families are going to have conflict," says Joseph Duda, Ferdinand's son. "But religion is something you can count on to keep you together."
Duda employs about 1,000 fulltime and 1,500 migrant/seasonal workers a year. The company has become known for its unusually generous migrant/seasonal worker benefits, which include free housing (the employees pay a weekly service charge for utilities of no more than $20 per person); free day care; vacation pay; holiday pay; a retirement plan; life insurance; free hospital and medical insurance; a 401(k) savings plan; and free transportation to and from work. "I would call them amazing in the way that they take care of their employees," says Barbara Mainster, executive director of the Redlands Christian Migrant Association. "You just wish everybody could be like that."
Environmentalists are not always happy with Duda -- by sheer size one of the major contributors of phosphorous into the Everglades. But they say the company has earned a reputation for its willingness to compromise and spend money to fix environmental problems. When Duda and a dozen other agricultural companies were pinpointed as causing severe pollution and fish and wildlife deaths in Lake Apopka, Duda was the one that tried to reduce its discharges, and when that didn't work, it cooperated with the state to sell its land for restoration. "I would describe them as very cooperative while the others were digging in their heels," says Charles Lee, policy director for Audubon of Florida.
In 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Tracy Duda Chapman to Florida's Environmental Regulation Commission, which approves all standards and regulations set by the DEP. During arduous debates over phosphorous standards for Lake Okeechobee, environmentalists were sure she would vote the way fellow sugar cane growers wanted her to. Instead, she surprised both sides by taking a middle ground. "Hers was the swing vote that led to the right outcome," Lee says. "It was frankly not what we expected."