The moral squalor of the ag labor "market"

Submitted: Jan 03, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 The moral squalor of agriculture built on the backs of defenseless undocumented workers ignored, abused and exploited by their own government, sequestered by the drug cartelized coyote/labor contractor system, exploited by the growers of California's partly hand-cultivated/picked luxury crops and isolated in their own communities, grows deeper and more hopeless every year.

This year we have the pronouncements of Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League and worthy successor of League-founder Harry Kubo, a man whose hatred for a union of American citizen farmworkers was legendary.

Cunha announces here the fear of California agribusiness that "President Barack Obama's executive action to block some 5 million people from deportation" will mean the loss of a surplus army of unemployed farmworkers driving wages down. This is similar to the Great Whine of the early 2000's when the agribusiness denounced the construction industry for offering as much as $10 an hour for framers.

They had their chance years ago but the lure of the absolute domination over illegal alien labor was irresistible to the plantation mentality of our fine class of Jeffersonian yeomen personifications of finance/insurance/agricultural real estate, always so generous to the political classes that do their dirty work in Sacramento and Washington.

And, of course, it isn't they who hire people without proper paperwork, it's the labor contractors that are responsible for all that.

So, it absolutely must continue. Corporate agriculture, increasingly concentrated in land ownership, increasingly dominated by financial institutions very, very far away from the terrors of the US/Mexican Border, must be allowed to do what it wants to do, otherwise ...

Otherwise, what? How much farther can these corporate grandees pull down this local economy for the promise of "jobs," which dwindle by the year under the relentless attack of technology and capital-intensive crops like almonds, the current darling of the Bubblocracy.

It's not clear if Jason Resnick, mouthpiece for Western Growers, is related to the owners of Paramount Farms, Pom-(Pom) Wonderful, etc., the latest agricultural megalith to arise from the sandy soils of Kern County in recent years. It doesn't make any difference. Jason just sounds the alarm and we're all supposed to panic and wait for the miraculous solution for 2015 to the age old California agribusiness question: "Where can we find the cheapest labor force larger than we need, politically, legally, and culturally helpless, which we can work half to death when we need them and discard with as little fuss and expense as possible when we don't?"

What is the public stake in this?

Whatever it is, people who look around see that it is not worth the price of the moral squalor that creates it and that it creates. Maybe it's one of only three or four "legs" the economic stool California squats  on. If so, let the stool fall where it may and start over. There is no individual to blame but the stink of this industry hangs over the whole state like rancid lard. -- blj  

 

12-28-14

Associated Press

Farmers brace for labor shortage under new policy

BY SCOTT SMITH

Associated PressDecember 28, 2014 

http://www.centredaily.com/2014/12/28/4528052/farmers-brace-for-labor-shortage.html

FRESNO, CALIF. — Farmers already scrambling to find workers in California — the nation's leading grower of fruits, vegetables and nuts — fear an even greater labor shortage under President Barack Obama's executive action to block some 5 million people from deportation.

Thousands of the state's farmworkers, who make up a significant portion of those who will benefit, may choose to leave the uncertainty of their seasonal jobs for steady, year-around work building homes, cooking in restaurants and cleaning hotel rooms.

"This action isn't going to bring new workers to agriculture," said Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel of the powerful trade association Western Growers. "It's possible that because of this action, agriculture will lose workers without any mechanism to bring in new workers."

Although details of the president's immigration policy have yet to be worked out, Resnick said the agricultural workforce has been declining for a decade. Today, the association estimates there is a 15 to 20 percent shortage of farmworkers, which is driving the industry to call for substantial immigration reform from Congress, such as a sound guest worker program.

"Hopefully there will be the opportunity for comprehensive immigration reform," said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "That's the right thing to do for this country."

California's 330,000 farmworkers account for the largest share of the 2.1 million nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas comes in a distant second with less than half of California's farmworkers.

Once Obama's executive action starts going into effect next year, it will protect the parents of legal U.S. residents from deportation and expand a 2012 program that shields from deportation people brought into the U.S. illegally as children.

Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, estimates that 85 percent of California's agricultural workers are using false documents to obtain work.

Cunha, who has advised the Obama administration on immigration policy, figures that 50,000 of the state's farmworkers who may benefit from the president's executive action could leave the fields and packing houses in California's $46.4 billion agricultural industry.

"How do I replace that?" he said. "I think we're going to have a problem."

Many farmworkers are paid above minimum wage, earning more hourly than they will in other industries, but he said that workers that leave will gain year-around jobs and regular paychecks, rather than seasonal employment.

While farmers may face a setback, Obama's order is good for workers, who support families and fear that any day they may be pulled over driving to work and deported, said Armando Elenes, national vice president of the United Farm Workers.

With proper documentation, workers will feel empowered and be more valuable, Elenes said. Confronted with abuse at work — such as being paid less than minimum wage or denied overtime — workers will be able to challenge their employer or leave, he said.

In addition, their newfound mobility will create competition for farmworkers and potentially increase wages, Elenes said, adding, "It's going to open up a whole new world for workers. A lot of times, if you're undocumented, you feel like you're stuck."

Ed Kissam, an immigration researcher at the immigrant advocacy group, WKF Giving Fund, said he doubts a significant number of farmworkers will leave the industry. Farmworkers often lack the language, education and technical skills to move up the employment ladder, he said. "Surely some will," Kissam said. "It's not going to be a mass exodus."

Edward Taylor, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, said a shortage of farmworkers could be exacerbated by a dwindling flow of workers from Mexico, the largest supplier of labor to the United States. Taylor said the lower birthrates, more industrial jobs and better schools in rural Mexico are cutting into the supply of farmworkers.

"U.S. and Mexican farmers have to compete for that diminishing supply of farm labor," he said. "Once this change hits, there's no going back."

Central Valley farmer Harold McClarty of HMC Farms, who hires a thousand workers at harvest time, said there is no replacing the human hand for picking the 50 varieties of peaches he grows. His workers pick a single tree five or more times, making sure the fruit they take is ripe.

"We haven't found any machines that can do anything like that," he said. "You can't just pick the whole tree."

<!--[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]--><!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->

 

 

Unitd Farm Workers
Friday, Oct. 4,  at 10 a.m. in Fresno

UFW and agriculture employers to collect thousands of letters urging Congressman McCarthy to vote on immigration reform with citizenship

http://ufw.org/_board.php?mode=view&b_code=news_press&b_no=14445

Fresno, CA – Tomorrow at 10 a.m., Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, Manuel Cunha Jr., president of Nisei Farmers League, will kick off their campaign to collect more than 10,000 letters from those working in California agriculture urging House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to support the agricultural agreement in the Senate bill which includes a path to citizenship. The campaign kick-off and press conference will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at the UFW Foundation office, 2409 Merced Street Suite 103, in Fresno. There will be also representatives from other agricultural associations.

The goal is to have as many people who work in California agriculture sign letters urging Congressman McCarthy to exercise his authority to persuade every member of the House to vote on comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship this year. As Majority Whip and California’s most powerful Republican, Congressman McCarthy not only has the power but a duty to represent one of California’s leading industries.

The UFW and growers want House Republican leaders to allow the democratic process to move forward and schedule a vote on meaningful immigration reform legislation, including the jointly negotiated compromise between the UFW and the AWC to ensure America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a secure and stable workforce now and in the future.

When:              Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 10 a.m. PST

Where:             United Farm Workers Foundation

                        2409 Merced Street Suite 103

                        Fresno, CA 93721

Who:               Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America

                        Manuel Cunha Jr., President, Nisei Farmers League

 


October 2002

Legalization for Mexican Workers

Volume 8, Number 4

http://migration.ucdavis.edu/rmn/more.php?id=623_0_4_0

A great deal has changed in the past year. On September 5, 2001, President Bush said: "the United States has no more important relationship in the world than our relationship with Mexico." President Fox, who said he was working for the best interests of 100 million Mexicans in Mexico and 23 million in the United States, made his top foreign policy priority the legalization of the three to four million unauthorized Mexicans in the US.

Before the meeting, Bush said: "Immigration reform is a very complex subject. This is going to take a while to bring all the different interests to the table…our desire is to make it easier for an employer looking for somebody who wants to work and somebody who wants to work to come together, but that in itself is a complex process."

Fox in September 2001 said: "The time has come to give migrants and their communities their proper place in the history of our bilateral relations…we must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year...[so that] there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States, and that those Mexicans who come into the country do so with proper documents." Fox continued: "Regularization does not mean rewarding those who break the law. Regularization means that we give legal rights to people who are already contributing to this great nation."

The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) in September 2001 asserted: "ACIR's mission is to pass comprehensive immigration reform to the H-2A Agricultural Guest Worker Program and to offer an earned status adjustment to the current undocumented work force in the agriculture industry. We're trying to do the same thing for the H-2B Guest Worker Program." To qualify for temporary legal status, unauthorized foreigners would have had to have worked at least 150 days in the 12 months prior to enactment of the bill, and then have to work four to six years, at least 150 days per year, and do a total of at least 600 days of farm work to become immigrants.

Prospects for a new legalization or guest worker program have dimmed, and so has Fox's credibility. Fox hoped that a "new relationship" with the US would lead to a regulated flow of Mexican workers into the US, and legal status for the three to four million unauthorized Mexicans in the US. Texan Tony Garza, nominated to be US ambassador to Mexico, called for an "orderly, secured and legal" northward flow of Mexicans that is "tied to our labor needs. It cannot be an amnesty program. It must be some sort of earned legalization ... that allows the path to citizenship." US First Lady Laura Bush said during a Mexican visit that Bush and Fox "are going to meet again to try to revitalize and refocus the issue of immigration.

Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO), introduced the Earned Legalization and Family Reunification Act in October 2002 to provide earned legalization for foreigners with at least five years physical presence in the United States, two years work experience in the United States, have paid state and federal taxes, and can pass a background security check. The legislation would also make it easier for immigrants to unify families in the US by removing spouses, children and parents of immigrants from existing numerical limits.

SAW Legalization. In 1984, farmers discussing immigration reform noted that the Border Patrol was slated for 850 new positions in FY85, bringing the total to 1,000, and that many of them would do interior enforcement, which might make it harder for farmers to hire unauthorized workers. Farmers wanted Border Patrol agents to have search warrants before they could enter open fields, and they also wanted any federal immigration laws to pre-empt state and local laws (some state and local governments had or were considering employer sanctions).

Discussions among California farmers emphasized that, since unionization had begun to ebb in the late 1970s, and FLCs hiring unauthorized workers were spreading, wages and benefits had slipped, and that farmers needed an adjustment period to raise wages and restore benefits in order to hire only legal workers. Farmers proposed a new Q-visa farm labor transition program in 1984, under which farm employers would register their unauthorized workers, who would receive Q-visas. Farmers could hire 100 percent of those registered the first year, 67 percent the third, and 33 percent the fourth, that is, by the fourth year, farmers were supposed to adjust to a legal work force.

The Panetta-Morrison program would have granted P-visas to foreign farm workers. The Department of Justice would have divided the US into 10 farming regions, and then farmers producing perishable crops would have applied for P-visa workers by specifying the number and qualifications of the workers they needed. Farmers would have been allowed to specify desired workers by name, and these workers would have had top priority for entry. P-visa holders could have remained in the US up to 11 months, and been barred from the program for five years if they violated its terms. Employers would have paid their FICA and FUTA payroll taxes to a fund to cover the cost of administering the program, with any balance refunded to P-visa holders who surrender their visas in their country of origin.

In the Senate in 1985, then Senator Pete Wilson (R-CA) won Senate approval of a guest-worker program over the bitter objections of Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), the Senator most closely associated with immigration reform. Simpson succeeded in capping the number of free-agent guest workers to be admitted under the Wilson program at 350,000, a then widely-repeated USDA estimate of the number of illegal aliens employed in agriculture.

Representative (now Senator) Charles Schumer (D-NY) during the summer of 1986 brokered the compromise to legalize the illegal aliens employed in agriculture in the mid-1980s through a separate farm-worker legalization program. If these newly-legalized SAWs left the farm workforce so quickly that there were farm labor shortages, probationary immigrant farm workers could be admitted-they could earn an immigrant status by doing at least 90 days of farm work for three years.

 

| »

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Copy the characters (respecting upper/lower case) from the image.

To manage site Login