Did Georgia law cause significant labor losses? - The Packer

Did Georgia law cause significant labor losses?

07/21/2011 10:22:00 AM
Andy Nelson

A new immigration law in Georgia reduced the number of workers available for harvests this spring and summer, and a new survey will gauge the economic fallout from it.

The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association has commissioned a survey of the state’s growers to determine how short of workers they were during 2011 harvests, and how it affected their ability to get crops harvested, said Charles Hall, executive director of the LaGrange-based association.

“There were significant labor shortages in Georgia this spring because of concerns over immigration issues,” Hall said.

Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, signed Georgia House of Representatives bill No. 87, which cracks down on illegal immigrants in the state, into law on May 13.

Within days, Hall said, growers were saying that harvest crews weren’t coming to Georgia because of the new law.

The association, which opposed the bill, predicted such an outcome in their efforts to convince legislators not to vote for it.

“What we said could happen, did happen,” Hall said.

Harvests of Vidalia onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, squash, watermelon and blueberries were among those affected by the loss of workers, Hall said.

In June, Gov. Deal announced there were 11,000 job openings in the Georgia agricultural industry.

For the survey, the association has commissioned John McKissick, former director of the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia.

Questionnaires will go to growers the week of July 25, Hall said.

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Columbus, GA  |  July, 21, 2011 at 12:14 PM

It is totally unfair to analyze the impact of illegals on one industry without telling the whole story. It's true enough that farmers who have taken advantage of cheap labor (which was illegal from the first day) as well as roofing companies, lawn maintenance companies, etc will have to make adjustments and act like Americans. The above article conveniently omits a discussion of what happens when one of the onion pickers goes to the emergency room or what school his children will attend at the expense of Americans. What happens if he causes damage in an automobile wreck? He can't have insurance because he can't get a driver's license. Is he using a stolen social security number, or is the farmer paying him under the table? There is just no way to justify millions of people breaking into our country and stealing our assets, no matter how sappy the writer gets.

Fresno, CA  |  July, 21, 2011 at 03:32 PM

I can't state for GA, but here we take our workers to Job Care if they get injured because you have to have a healthy work force. Given the number of people we employ, I am certain some of them probably have forged documents or a borrowed SS# from a relative but we still pay their doctor bill. There are plenty of American citizens who don't have car insurance. It is easy to say they are stealing our assets, but they are also paying into social security, disability and medicare but not being given access to what they are paying into so one could say we are stealing their assets. If what they pay in doesn't cover what they pull out, then couldn't the same be said of that person regardless of where they were born? Our country sends a lot of mixed signals. We build a wall up with a no trespassing sign on it. Next to that is a help wanted sign. Then we send billions of dollars to their drug dealers as we buy their products, letting the war on drugs wage in their country and then lamentthat the hardest working of them come here. We try to strip away their rights and call them criminals just for coming and standing in line for the chance to take jobs that we don't want. I don't know how we went from a country populated by immigrants and build off the sweat of their backs to a country that hates them. Somehow, we went from a country that was willing to work harder for success into a country that cannot even give respect to people who work like a slave to provide a better life for their kids.

joe jones    
Texas  |  July, 21, 2011 at 03:40 PM

@pylar... I believe that your argument also omits the millions of dollars in profits that US companies make on the backs of the illegals and the millions of tax dollars paid on those profits.... do they offset? No one is stealing your assets.. the problem is no one else wants those jobs.. you prefer to sit at home on a computer, collect unemployment and continue buying inexpensive food product produced and picked by the same illegals you want to get rid of...

Mark DeAngelis    
Los Angeles, CA  |  July, 21, 2011 at 03:49 PM

Columbus GA's response is a perfect example of how difficult it is in this country to have civil discourse on issues that divide us. His/her stance on the article above is that it is slanted pro-illegal, when it is written in an extremely objective manner. The "lesson" is that facts are not good and should be avoid. You should just entrench in your position no matter what evidence is pointed out - one way or another. I'm not pro-illegal workers but Americans must realize that exploitation of cheap labor ultimately will raise prices for everyone. It's a trade-off and we must accept that. 99%+ of Americans are not willing to pick food for the wages we pay migrants. We need to make a call on accepting people into the country to do this work for the cheap wage or raise the wages high enough to produce the demand from those here to do the work.

California, Land of Abundance  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:08 PM

Wow, we're all over the map here. First, a tremendous myth needs to be busted about who will do field work. I am a white female and I've been a field worker, so quit saying Americans wont take these jobs. That's simply untrue. There are many reasons mostly illegals are hired for farm labor, some of them unsavory. It is well known someone here illegally usually will not file compalints regarding unsafe or unfair labor practices. It's also a myth all illegals have taxes deducted from their pay. Although some do, many, many farm workers are paid cash...they go through labor contractors who are also paid cash. The Georgia lawmakers also suggested that ex-cons would be perfect for farm labor, however, no one is willing to work with that opportunity. Keep in mind, the last time amnesty was granted, you couldn't get anyone to pick your crops...I know, I became a labor contractor then and made a substantial amount of money using "Americans" as my labor force. If we're going to fix what's broken, we need to quit coddling and subsidizing everyone, get real and put people to work who are living off the system.

Beatrice,Ne  |  July, 21, 2011 at 03:57 PM

Im glad some states are standing up for the American Workers, If the Growers would pay a Decent wage ..The American Workers will come .

joe jones    
Texas  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:04 PM

@bill... the problem with not subsidizing farmers is that the country will then become dependent on foerign countries (imports) for its food supply...like oil and gas! If we stop subsidizing, then non-farmers will compalin about how rich foreign countries are getting because they are spending way too much of their hard earned money on high priced food... once again like the oil and gas we are paying for today!

mike wilson    
north carolina  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:57 PM

You say if farmers would pay a fair wage we could get american help,Get your head out of the sand and educate yourself on the facts everytime a farmer makes money the fert. and chem. companies raise there prices and the price we get for our produce is the same as it was in 1960 this i can prove with sales tickets from my grandfathers farming days but our input is more than 1000 times what it was then this summer i sold yellow squash for 7.00 a 20lb box to Wal-Mart when i go in there store and see that they are selling them for 1.69lb i wonder how can the consumer afford them.Also bell pepper i sold for 12.00 a bushel which is about 55 pods sales for 1.99 ea i dont understand.So if you can pay that much profit margin to them lets blame ourselfs for this monopoly they have over the produce industry.If they would pay a higher price then so would most of the good Farmers

Jerry Metcalf    
Florida  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:10 PM

Just for the record, I wonder if the unemployment rate in Georgia dropped during this time. After all Georgia put a stop to the flow of immigrants who were snapping up the farm jobs. Why didn't 11,00 Georgians step up and take those jobs in June?

joe jones    
Texas  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:10 PM

@ terry.. i think the issue has to do more with consumers willing to pay the grower more for his higher priced commodities...In a capitalist, consumer driven economy, thats not likely to happen anytime soon..

Savannah,Georgia  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:17 PM

I am a big supporter of local produce www.findlocalproduce.com. I have blogged about this issue as well. To me the problem is that there are not enough US citizens to work in the fields. If you want a job pick watermelons, vegetables or other crops just contact me through my web site and I can hook you up. My bet is the response will be very few and where can we find people welling too do this type of work?

California, Land of Abundance  |  July, 21, 2011 at 04:41 PM

Rest assured, when you cut welfare and unemployment benefits, offer "American" workers the same gimme's (transportation to and from the job, and housing in some cases) that "guest' workers are often offered, decent wages and consider training a workforce of folks such as ex-cons or young adults, you will have "American" farm workers. Thing is, no one wants to make the effort and our society has created a stigma about menial labor jobs. Keep in mind all illegals aren't here working in our fields either, in fact, those folks are the minority. Most illegals work in construction, food service, or other service industries, and many come here, give birth and live on social benefit programs and don't work at all.

Dave Peck    
Santa Maria  |  July, 21, 2011 at 06:10 PM

Everyone who eats benefits from the honest hard labor of immigrants, be they leagl or illegal. It's all of us, and it's dispicable we can't agree to ANY program that recognizes the necessity of stoop labor and the lack of native born workers who will do it. Rid us of the illegals without a system to re-employ lost workers and we all eat food grown south of the border, with all the questionable safety and quality assurance that comes with it.

Texas  |  July, 22, 2011 at 06:06 AM

I agree with John. Let's require people receiving welfare and unemployment benefits (for extended periods of time) to work in the farms in exchange for their benefits.

Florida  |  July, 22, 2011 at 08:08 AM

There are a few things missing in the long list of comments here. Did anyone see the news piece where the local TV station in ATL went into the unemployment office and asked people if they would work in the field? They ALL said no. More importantly, forced labor simply doesn't work. They did use prisoners in GA and the farmers said that their field workers picked at more than double the rate. The fruit will rot on the ground if you force people to do jobs they don't want. Also, why do people insist on using the word "illegals" to describe people who don't have work documents? People are not "illegal". I also find it interesting that everyone forgets that farm work and domestic work are two areas that have no labor protection other than in California and, most recently, the beginning of some protection for tomato workers in FL. Why? Because field and house work was the domain of slaves. This is history. We have perpetuated these system through debt peonage and other means since before the Civil War. Major social change is required but meanwhile hardworking people who harvest your food should be given the documents needed to legitimize them and offered the same workplace protections that you and I enjoy.

Winter Haven, FL  |  July, 22, 2011 at 09:36 AM

I'm a farmer myself and have just recently been to Washington D.C. to talk to our politicians about the implications of a national E-verify program. I don't profess to know much about construction or other industries, but I would like to provide some information regarding the fruit and vegetable industries in this country. Unemployment agencies from California to Florida, have in told agricultural employers and politicians, in writing, that the unemployed will not seek the harvesting jobs available on farms the work is too difficult, hot, and dirty. Most agricultural migrant harvesters earn between $10-$20 per hour, however, they are in shape to work long hours in the hot sun 6 days a week. Also, they are willing to migrate from South to North following the seasons from Florida to Michigan. There are over 10 million U.S. citizens who work jobs that pay less than they could earn harvesting fruits and vegetables. "Each of the 1.6 million hired farm employees who work in labor intensive agriculture supports 2-3 full time American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors." Without hard working undocumented workers our domestic fruit and vegetable production would plummet, and nearly all of the our affordable fruits and vegetable would have to be imported. The work ethic that the current undocumented workers have is the same spirit that has made America what it is over the last 200+ years. We need to find a way to channel this energy and work ethic in a positive direction, not destroy it.

Vona Wohlenberg    
Fellsmere, FL  |  July, 22, 2011 at 10:38 AM

When Ronald Reagan was governer in CA and the Mexican Farm workers went on strike, he had every able bodied person who was on any kind of government assistance to either harvest the crops or lose their assistance. The crops got harvested. It should be that way in Ga and every other state.

Vona Wohlenberg    
Fellsmere, FL  |  July, 22, 2011 at 10:38 AM

When Ronald Reagan was governer in CA and the Mexican Farm workers went on strike, he had every able bodied person who was on any kind of government assistance to either harvest the crops or lose their assistance. The crops got harvested. It should be that way in Ga and every other state.

New York  |  July, 23, 2011 at 06:58 AM

There should be a requirement that in order to submit a comment you need experience working on a farm full time for at least a full harvest season. Only in America can you give your opinion in an area you have no experience in. For all those persons who accuse farmers of not paying enough to get the work done - Just how much is enough? It is not about the pay - it is about working in the heat and providing physical labor. Americans have become a bunch of whiners.

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