Sunday, July 11, 2010

Take Our Jobs, Please

One of the more interesting ideas to influence public perception on the contentious immigration issue is the United Farm Worker union’s Take Our Jobs campaign. Comedy Channel’s Stephen Colbert has joined to help promote this campaign that uses existing (and therefore likely undocumented) farm workers to train U.S. citizens and legal residents in farm labor. The premise is that few, if any, U.S. citizens will actually want to undertake this grueling career (as of last week three had signed up), thus conveying a valuable lesson on our reliance on the sweat and grit of undocumented workers. The UFW website solicitation of trainees ( warns that: “Job may include using hand tools such as knives, hoes, shovels, etc. Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.”

In the interest of full disclosure, those U.S. residents interested in supplanting the labor of mostly Latino/a immigrants should know a few more things before they treat agricultural labor as the solution to our unemployment woes:

1. Salaries are abysmal. A 2005 report found it was rare for a farm worker to earn over $10,000 annually. In 2000, the median income for migrant and seasonal workers was just $6,250 a year.

2. There is almost no chance of salary advancement. Twenty years ago, a worker made 12, 13, or 14 cents for each bin picked of oranges. Today, that same work pays 15 or 16 cents despite 250 percent inflation in the interim.

3. Forget about health insurance and paid vacations.

4. Your salary might be undercut by a host of deductions for services ostensibly provided by your employer or the labor contractor—for example, gloves and transportation to the remote job-site.

5. You may be exposed to hazardous pesticides that you will share with your family when you arrive home with contaminated clothing.

6. Housing is hard to find proximate to farming locations, meaning you may be living in substandard converted housing and your children may be commuting long distances to school.

7. Most exciting of all, you can look forward to the average life expectancy of a farm worker—just 48 years!

U.S. residents undervalue the labor contributions of Latino/a immigrants, documented or not. Consider just the vitally important food supply, which used to anchor our economy and which we now largely take for granted as we focus national attention on other sectors such as the financial industry and manufacturing. Let’s thank these Latino/a immigrants for their contributions in the fields and beyond, as I don’t expect their labor to be displaced by Anglo workers anytime soon.

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