The New York Times published a story May 6 headlined “Workers Claim Race Bias as Farms Rely on Immigrants.” The story recounts the tale of legal action against some Georgia growers because of what plaintiffs are calling racial bias. The legal actions contain complaints against farms that say Americans say they had been fired because of their race and national origin.
The 400 plus comment to The New York Times story ran the predictable range “anti-immigrant” to those who hold the U.S. work ethic in question.
One agriculturally-oriented reader didn’t hesitate to commend the immigrant work ethic:
Here's my experience as a California employer in food processing with close ties to local farmers: immigrant workers of all ethnicities, legal or illegal, work very hard, are generally smart contributors to their job processes, and are loyal to employers who treat them with consideration. Americans of all ethnic backgrounds, on the other hand, do not want the jobs we offer and in the rare instances where they take them (or are placed into them by well-intended social service agencies) are unable to keep up with the team, have poor work skills and poorer attitudes, are untrustworthy and unreliable, and never in my experience stay longer than a few weeks. Oh, and the children of immigrant workers are remarkable for carrying full academic loads AND working productively alongside their parents. This article angers me because it leaves the impression all farm employers are abusive and all farm workers are abused. Hard physical labor is not de facto abuse, people. Personally, I chose it over the corporate world and I've never regretted my decision. As for farmers being villains, on the whole I'd much rather break bread with a farmer than a banker.
I'm a landscaper. I pay $10/hr for completely unskilled, $15 if a worker can pop a plant in the ground and $20 if s/he can tell the difference between a pansy and a dandelion. I've given up hiring Americans of any race, creed, color or age. They don't work. They complain, they don't show up on time, they think they know more than they do, they lose equipment, they call in absences with every excuse under the sun, they show up stoned or hung over. And then they quit. Everyone I know who has to hire unskilled or semi-skilled hard labor has had the same experience, regardless of wages.
Farmers, restaurants, landscapers, chicken farms, food processors, etc are not getting rich. We are no more cruel or abusive or exploitive than anyone else. But we are catering to a public that wants their radishes for $.69/lb, canned peas for $.59 a pound, sandwiches for $6, and lawns mowed for $15/wk. If you want my workers to have hourly breaks, to leave early pick up the kid from school, to come in late to take Granny to the doctor, to take Friday off for the family reunion, to forget where he left the shears, to hold up another worker because he doesn't know how to change the line in the weed-whacker after all, to train him how to mix 2-cycle oil and gas, and to replace the shrub he thought looked better pruned to death, then I'll be happy to change my working conditions. But until you, the public, are willing to subsidize that, I'll hire an immigrant.
Personally, I don’t think farm labor is a profession that many Americans aspire to do. God bless those Americans who do embrace it; as Jesus might have said,”suffer the American workers and forbid them not.”
Still, after all the lawsuits are done, the legal fees paid and proper encouragement is given to U.S. workers, American fruit and vegetable growers are still going to need immigrant labor. Lawmakers must not lose sight of that fact, and fashion an easier and responsible way for growers to legally access immigrant workers.