UPDATED: Union to Congress, unemployed: Take our jobs

06/25/2010 01:48:01 PM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 25) “Take Our Jobs,” please. That’s the message from the United Farm Workers union, which is turning the tables on Congress after years of inaction on comprehensive immigration reform.

The union launched a campaign called Take Our Jobs, showcased on the website www.takeourjobs.org, to highlight the reality that illegal immigrants in agriculture are not taking jobs away from U.S. citizens and other legal residents.

“We are a nation in denial about our food supply,” said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the Keene, Calif.-based union, in a June 24 teleconference.

Rodriguez outlined the group’s plans: UFW staff members across the country are offering to help unemployed legal residents find jobs at farms and other agricultural operations.

“We will help them replace the undocumented farmworkers everyone believes are such a problem,” he said.

Rodriguez said people visiting the campaign’s website can provide their contact information under the headline “I want to be a farmworker” so they can be connected to employment offices in farming regions across the country.

The campaign also is scheduled to be featured July 8 “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. The campaign seeks to prod Congress to act on immigration reform and particularly the bipartisan AgJobs legislation backed both by grower and labor leaders.

The campaign is a creative attempt to drive home a worthy point, said Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers’ Washington, D.C., office.

“We see (the campaign) as an additional effort to make the point that proponents of AgJobs have been making for years, that foreign labor is going to harvest your crops, either here in the U.S. or abroad,” she said.

Rodriguez said farmworkers do the work that most Americans are not willing to do.

“Many Americans believe that undocumented people are taking jobs from our citizens and legal residents,” he said. “But missing from the immigration debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat at homes, in restaurants and in workplace cafeterias comes to us from the labor of undocumented farmworkers.”

With more than half of farm labor illegal immigrants, according to Rodriguez, America’s farm economy would collapse if they left their jobs.

He said the UFW will use the campaign to highlight the need for the AgJobs bill that would give illegal immigrant farmworkers presently in the U.S. the right to legal status by continuing to work in agriculture.

“The U.S. depends on these farmworkers for food, and AgJobs secures America’s food supply and it is the most practical and equitable solution in addressing growers’ concern about labor shortages and the insecurity that makes farm workers so vulnerable to abuse,” Rodriguez said.

Rob Williams, director of the Florida-based Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, said up to 2.5 million people work in agriculture, about 75% of which were born outside of the U.S. Williams said between half and two-thirds of farmworkers don’t have legal authorization to work in the U.S.

The Take Our Jobs campaign comes on the heels of a strict anti-immigration law in Arizona.

Williams said the campaign may illustrate that unemployed Americans are not interested in farm jobs.

“We need these workers,” he said. “There is no replacement work force for the 1.4 million unauthorized famworkers in the U.S.”

The union said it has sent letters to U.S. lawmakers, asking them to urge unemployed constituents to take the UFW up on its offer.

Michael Rubio, Kern County supervisor, said in the teleconference illegal immigrant workers have essential skills needed to maintain the viability of agriculture in California.

He invited politicians to spend one day in the shoes of an immigrant farmworker.

“They should do that before they categorize these hardworking individuals as the problem of our economy.”

The UFW said it will schedule a news conference in about a month about the reaction to the campaign and how many people have inquired about farm labor.



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