Poorly investigated article about migrant agricultural workers and their whining employers.
The headline story of the Idaho Statesman investigates the whining of Idaho’s elite about how they can’t get migrant workers through the H2A migrant visa program fast enough. There is a serious problem with the article, which features a woolgrower who complains that the process is too onerous. It doesn’t even mention the wages offered by these employers, a mere $750 per month. Just do a Job Search on the Idaho Works website using the word “herder” and see for yourself.
Prominent names in Idaho are mentioned while there is simply no investigation into why Americans really don’t want to take these jobs. Instead, the article just gives the impression that American workers are lazy and don’t work as hard. Well, when you can get paid more to work at a McDonald’s than you can by working as a farm laborer, what do they expect?
The system for farm workers has changed radically in this country and there are very good reasons that Americans don’t work on farms doing this kind of labor. Obviously there are wage issues, but farm workers also don’t get paid for overtime and there are no other benefits associated with the job either. The industry has pushed to get exemptions from all kinds of other rules too such as the H2A program which lets them hire immigrant workers at slave wages. It is a subsidy that externalizes their costs?
On initial glance, this article has nothing to do with wildlife, but it does, particularly with relation to domestic sheep grazing on public lands. Domestic sheep grazing has many impacts to wildlife, including to bighorn sheep, wolves, and the general health of the land. It also points out how well connected these interests are to the power structure of Idaho and how well represented they can be in the media who blindly parrot the elite’s complaints without investigating their subsidies. Next time they should write the other half of the story.
Idaho farmers: We need immigrant workers | Idaho Economy | Idahostatesman.com.
Also, the author should read about the perspective of H2A workers:
Captive Labor: The plight of Peruvian sheepherders illuminates broader exploitation of immigrant workers in U.S. agriculture. By Alvaro Bedoya. Dollars and Sense.
Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.
33 Responses to Poorly investigated article about migrant agricultural workers and their whining employers.
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But those sheep wagons are so romantic and Western. They are landscape art!
The wages in Idaho is $10.19 per hour. This would give you a monthly wage of over $1630 for 40 hour weeks. However farming is not a Monday thru Friday 9-5 job. While this is good money, I personally won’t do those jobs unless I have to. I’m a farmers daughter and while I help out when needed, I can’t handle it like I could when I was younger. In Ohio last year the employment office staff went to work in one of the tree nurseries so they could better serve the employer. Needless to say after a day they have a better understanding of the job, and were very happy to get back inside to work.
When certain U.S. employers complain that they just can’t find enough U.S. workers to fill certain jobs, my first thought is that “free” market principles would require that those wages be raised enough to attract those workers.
Ah, but of course “free” market ideology is only rhetorical for the employer in those cases.
I think you have a good explanation for part or. Foreign labor often serves to depress wages. Wages should be higher, but this is not enough. There need to be benefits for these people who work in remote locations under relatively dangerous and harsh conditions.
I resent the complaint in the article that Americans are lazy. The theory of the market assumes that resources such as labor are mobile and able to respond to changes in demand. The reality is that most people in need of, or interested in this kind of work never hear of these jobs and also need to learn how to do them.
Sheep operators or their associations need better ways to spread the information and also (very important!!) to train Americans how to do it. Of course, a new worker will be inefficient and unproductive. Training is needed. It is very likely the sheep industry would rather do as they have done — hire foreign workers from known sources and use language barriers and the H2A process to keep their initial effort low. Then they can sit back and complain about their fellow citizens and act superior.
Folks should read the second story Ken Cole posted today http://is.gd/rB99Uc
Well, McDonalds doesn’t have to pay for your housing and food or your round trip travel back to your home either! Those “farm jobs” you mention, working for “the elite” do pay both, in addition to the wage you are so happy to
Why would you use McDonald’s as some kind of counterexample?
Did you bother to read the article you are commenting on? The original author noted that mcdonalds pays more per hour to some workers— per hour rate is only part of the story— mcdonalds also limits hours you can work— often to WELL under 40 so you do. Ot become a full- time employee. h2a workers usually have the privilege (and they consider it a privilege— or even a right) of working well over 40 hours a week AND have their inbound and return transportation, housing and meal allowance paid. So, the SPENDABLE hourly rate for h2a workers is well ABOVE the normal local hourly wage (that is why they call it an adverse effect wage rate.)
You know its not just agriculture that does this -bring in the cheap workers from out of country under a special visa. Boeing got its hand slapped for some of this stuff awhile back. Microsoft does this stuff too, as do many other businesses.
The real question is why any business would do it, and whether they should be allowed to do so (over the objections of labor unions)?
Back during WWII while caucasian American males were off in Europe and the Pacific fighting for our way of life, a throng of mostly Mexicans back home were brought in to work the farms. They were the workforce that were were feeding the nation. This was called the Braceros Program. It was of questionable legality at the time sicne the US Government was behind it , but Mexico chose to remain neitral and totally stay out of the War. But guess what ? —the Braceros were such a good deal they were allowed to remain . So the whole cheap labor poor working conditions thing and all that came with that was actually instigated by the federal government. From a wartime econonomy to the glow of the peacetime economy in a nation not bombed or ravaged, we sorta got addicted to having Mexicans do our manual labor for us. It became the norm.
There is no nation on Earth that does not have some degree of immigration and/or foreign worker issues , even North Korea ( their native workforce is trying to leave ). But the double standards and hypocrisy that surrounds these issues leave me dumbfounded.
American business want cheap labor and are clever about getting it without paying for social scruity, medicare, and other amenities . IMHO—The more conservative Republican employers want to use cheap foreign labor as a blunt instrument to drive down our own domestic workforce’s wages and benefits , and kill off the remaining unions along the way.
The net gain is American wages and bennies being ratcheted down , Third World wages and bennies coming up, and immense sublimation of the working class which is another way of saying elimination of the Middle Class. Which in the end destroys democracy and leaves behind a plutocracy , oligarchy , or corporatocracy where an elite class lives in luxury above a pool of worker bees and drones.
In one perspective anyway . Which goes to show how the whole foreign worker -illegal immigrant- cheap wages for agribusiness are all faces of the same larger issue.
Can I add another form of government to the list here ? Hypocritocracy ??
I think you have a highly selective (maybe even wrong)interpretation of the Bracero program. It was never intended the Mexicans which came to the US to work during WWII and thereafter would permanantly migrate here. It was contract work supported and endorsed by the US and Mexican governemnts. And, ultimately, in 1954 during the Eisenhower administrtion over one 1 million illegals were forecably removed from the US. It was a military operation.
The Bracero program in various forms authorized and periodically reauthorized under federal law was in place until 1964. If it was not a permissible program under federal law it never got challenged apparently during its twenty year run.
The program worked. Unemployed in Mexico made a decent wage following crops from the southern border to northern latitudes as crops matured. They went back home, flush with cash, when the harvest season was over. And did the same thing the following year. As a kid I worked with a number of these good folks bucking hay and picking fruit (cherries in July, then other soft fruit and apples in October). In those days kids of junior and senior high school age worked. My high school and many throughout the entire Yakima and Wenatchee Valleys even stopped classes for 2-3 weeks in the early fall for kids to pick apples. Lots of us even worked this time of year (April – May), putting out and tending smokeless heaters (and nasty smudge pots) or sprinklers, on cold nights to ward off freezing temperatures that could kill blossoming fruit trees and ruin entire crops.
We just have made it too easy for illegals to stay, especially when growers whined, and then when an illegal drops a kid, a US citizen by birth right, it makes them even harder to deport. They know this, take advantage of it in a flauting way, and have made a huge burden on the health care system, using hospital emergency rooms as primary physicians (by law they can’t be turned away from a hospital ER, and guess who pays for/subsidizes this most expensive form of treatment?).
And, yeah, I have seen the studies on the net benefits. Just wait until those who are here are unable or unwilling to do the labor that brought them here – uneducated and untrained – they will be a huge social albatross when they age and require subsidized health care without ever having paid into the system (we won’t leave them on the street). The elite, extremely wealthy light skinned Castillian or Salamancan heritage ruling class (our equivalent of the 1%) of Mexico are laughing their heads off as we take their poor and undeducated to do our cheap labor and who send money back to Mexico (or other latin country of origin) to the tune of about $50 Billion a year. Talk about subsidy and to whom for what reason?
Personally, I think the focus on illegal immigrants is a red herring. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of shoring up our population growth by reducing immigration–especially illegal immigrations (our birth rate puts us in the negative, or near replacement). However, the 800 lb gorilla in the room isn’t the ~11 million illegals (who don’t use health care unless they have to, and are generally younger/healthier), but ~75 million baby boomers, who have grown up with the welfare programs their parents put in place (e.g., accustomed to a very high level of medical care), and have now reached an age where they are having serious health problems. The boomer generation has been able to have their cake–in the form of big government programs–and eat it too (i.e., low taxes), and is in the position to demand another slice (i.e., largest and most politically active voting block). You want to tackle fiscal woes, then go to the source.
“However, the 800 lb gorilla in the room isn’t the ~11 million illegals (who don’t use health care unless they have to, and are generally younger/healthier)”
I haven’t seen any proof yet that illegals avoid health care unless they have to. If you focus on areas that are generally friendly towards illegals (Southern California, for example), it may create an environment where they will readily access the health care system?
My information is anecdotal, and it comes from public health workers that deal specifically with migrants. I’ve been told that they avoid health care if they can, generally because they fear they will be caught and deported.
++… they avoid health care if they can, generally because they fear they will be caught and deported.++
With due respect, I am not sure that is universally true, especially not in the Northwest. Illegals know (and believe me the word travels fast) that they do not need to supply immigration status information to receive low cost or free health care (federal and state law prohibits asking for immigration status I believe, and under HIPPA even if obtained the file could be conveniently misplaced if a health care provider chose to take that route). So if an illegal shows up at an emergency room they are treated in the very highest cost care environment without question (lots of mom’s with little ones that need and deserve care, but most often they not ER worthy health conditions).
Same is true for migrant farm worker clinics. My general knowledge of the system is the Yakima Migrant Worker Clinic and affiliated clinic network which serve the entire Columbia River Basin in WA and OR (our famiy has care-givers who work in the system). WA has a very sophisticated network of these clinics, which operate as non-profits that receive ALOT of federal and state grant money. See link below, and look at the Programs Clinic Tab, which shows a map.
And if one stops to think of it, these clinics and the ER’s play a vital role in keeping tabs on communicable diseases in which there is public health interest (thus a link to grant $$), TB and certain flue strains being just a couple of constant monitoring concerns for outbreaks. This is subsidized health care for lower economic class populations who are residents of another country, and for whom there really is no legal obligation to provide. But with general taxpayer assistance we do it.
My argument is not whether they deserve it, but it is who pays for it, and I think that burden should fall more heavily on the agricultural employer. Their counter argument is everybody eats, so why not pay from general tax revenues. Of course, work related injury treatment expenses by legal employees of businesses comes from the worker compensation fund paid by businesses, which agriculture employing illegals conveniently avoids. This system needs to be fixed.
just another example of how agriculture is an exceptionalist enterprise, exempt from even the most basic human dignities.
the work is worth more – that’s the bottom line.
There should be heavy fines for systematically hiring illegal immigrants, not only in agriculture but across the entire spectrum of business.
“when an illegal drops a kid” – like livestock …
“it makes them even harder to deport.” – like livestock …
“They know this, take advantage of it in a flauting [sic] way, and have made a huge burden on the health care system” — right … it’s the poor, the meager, those without a voice who are the problem with the healthcare system … that’s where we should direct the ire …
Appealing to someone’s sense of empathy is a common tactic used by illegal immigrant advocacy groups.
“it’s the poor, the meager, those without a voice who are the problem with the healthcare system … that’s where we should direct the ire …”
There are several reasons why I have big problems with illegal immigration and the misguided liberal and/or ethnocentric groups & corporate/agricultural lobbies who advocate for what essentially would be an open door policy (without actually calling it that, of course). However, when someone makes a social justice play on the topic, one question usually comes to mind:
What do you believe our obligation is, as U.S. citizens, to individuals who have or will come here illegally, in violation of our current laws?
There are a lot of nice, feel-good answers that the self-righteous among us love to cast from their ivory towers, but illegal immigration involving multiple generations is an ugly and complicated issue.
it appears as though you are implicitly suggesting that appealing to someone’s sense of empathy is a bad thing ? hmmm … i guess that pretty much sums up the question.
the borders are an artificial construct ~ a pretense that gives affluent white Americans a thinly veiled pretense to justify their classism, racism or whatever other self-entitled sensibility they use to feel better – or more deserving of opportunity – than any other human being.
You are not better than nor more deserving of opportunity than any other human being.
My obligation to other human beings has nothing to do with their citizen/legal status – it has everything to do with our common humanity.
That’s true of food, education, health-care and basic human dignity. ~ those are fundamental obligations.
the most ugly thing about the economic refugee crisis taking place between the US of A and Mexico and other southern countries is the mass disparity of wealth, the racism, the poverty and violence. it is easy to point at the victims of such violence – to blame and hate them for it – especially when they’re on the other side of a wall – it is not so easy when you’ve lived among it.
my father lived in a border town – I spent summers there growing up. i spent several years after school living there as well. i’ve walked the trails my whole life ~ filling water tanks, distributing blankets, looking into the eyes of the womyn and children. i have seen first hand the toll of faceless lives found dead in the desert post clinton’s policy of herding border crossers into the most rugged and unrelenting terrain – watched the borders militarize in the past decade and seen the impact on communities that such has had. i’ve also seen the commerce, the community of border spaces. it’s a relatively new thing, the rigid border. only recently have families been separated, it used to be members of border towns would walk across with ease from and to both sides. it was the same community. then the walls go up, that exchange goes underground, criminalized – and black-markets, with all the associated undesirable activities emerge. white people on the privileged side cite the crime as reason to further militarize and it goes even further underground – more violence.
of course, there are still beautiful communities in border towns – mostly so, the darker elements get more attention. in the town with which i am familiar they hold an annual celebration – play volleyball over the wall.
where you see a law, I see a human being – a great many of them i have met, laughed with, cried with, walked with and shared among the most compelling and rewarding experiences of the potential for human compassion with.
where you see a law, I see a human being – who’s position on this topic is cast from an ivory tower ???
“where you see a law, I see a human being – who’s position on this topic is cast from an ivory tower ???”
We can debate who has the more patronizing tone, but I don’t think either of us is interested in that.
I understand you have experience in border areas and that you want to see people suffering under crushing poverty given opportunities.
What I don’t see from you, or the millions of other people who feel the way you do, is any consideration of how to successfully integrate millions of uneducated, desperately poor illegal immigrants with few prospects, or what the implications are in Mexico for us implementing an open-door policy for its most marginalized citizens. Have you ever considered that we might be partially responsible for helping the current currupt government stay in place by alleviating just enough suffering to keep the machine rolling? Mexico NEEDS major political and social upheaval.
I’m not here to defend white males, corporations, rich people, etc…..All that stuff does is divert attention away from the real issues surrounding this topic. If we hammer corporations who hire illegals, that part of the equation will be taken care of.
The wage issue is really a different topic. We can eliminate the loopholes employers use to dodge the minimum wage rules, but expanding on that goes into a whole different discussion.
We should tighten the border, have a discussion about how many folks should be allowed in legally, legalize marijuana, and start leaning on the Mexican government via foreign policy.
Gross is a good way to put that.
I have watched the community in which I grew up turn into the beginnings of a third world country, not much better than some of the US-Mexico border towns. High crime rate with lots of knifings, drive-by shootings, depressed economic areas, a dying down-town, drug busts all the time with companion complaints by the police that they do not have enough resources, and host of other things that make a community a less desireable place to live, or in my case visit.
I had occasion to pass thru the hospital emergency room after visiting hours when I was attending to my dying father last year (most the folks there were not emergency patients, a matter duly noted by hospital care-givers and ER doctors, who are stretched thin because of these non-paying patients, which then affects care level for other hopspital patients).
Where does the money come to pay for the services to attend to this new and growing population and its needs – extra police enforcement for the crims, insurance for robberies and thefts of property, uninsured motorist collisions, expensive interpreters for court proceedings, bi-lingual teachers, social services care for prolific child bearing age women who do not have health care insurance and have babies anyway, the young mother whose macho knife bearing husband from Michoacan beats her and the kids, and by the way there are lots of older illegals 60+ who are here without social safety nets and need health care (they came 20 years ago and stayed and are no longer in the fields). Mexico imported its problems. We pay for it, especially the American middle class, on both ends. Money sent back to Mexico or Guatamala does not stay in the US economy. We get slammed with the tax burdens to support the services described in the paragraph above. And, again, the ruling class in Mexico just laughs while getting richer. So do the corporate makers of Huggies, and the cheap crap bought at WalMart, and the ranchers/farmers who keep asking for more of them.
Brian, You need to experience some of these externalities of cheap labor in your community first hand for awhile. Then in about two or three years we’ll talk.
you characterize the problem as if it is borne in Mexico or some other countries.
What do you suppose would happen to those communities if regulators forced agribusiness to pay its workers a living wage ? if enforcement of that basic human dignity were to take place ? maybe more Americans would take the jobs – great, but whether American, Mexican, Guatemalan, or any other nationality or race – a workforce that’s paid a living wage – what the work is worth, and given the opportunity to exist ‘on the books’ is not going to be a drain on the economy.
The problem is not the laborers, not their nationality, legal status, nor race – it’s the crooks behind the industries that exploit them for their own economic gain. that’s what creates those social conditions which persist and grow with poverty – NOT race, religion, nationality, etc. Those crooks (usually American !) are the ones externalizing the costs you describe onto the backs of the tax-payers – exploiting tax-payer and undocumented worker alike. The social problems/injustices that you describe are just as characteristic of any community that is economically exploited and undervalued whether borne in Mexico, New Jersey, or Antarctica.
WM, I’ve lived in these communities – served in them and worked toward amelioration of the very conditions that you describe. Don’t make ignorant assumptions about my experience.
The problem is borne in Mexico. To better understand the origins may I suggest to you James Michener’s novel, “Mexico.” It will give you a better understanding of the country, how it developed (or didn’t for its native population), and how that has translated into a huge socio-economic mess that will never be easily solved short of violent revolution (drastic, I know, but it seems inevitable given what is happening there now in the drug world). The safety valve is out-migration of the poor undereducated class to the US, with the blessing of the ruling class.
I think the US problem would be simpler solved by allowing immigrant agricultural labor here under tight visa rules for both the labor and the employer/contractor. No right of US citizenship by birth (most countries do not allow this anyway, so we need to come into the mainstream).
The worker goes back to country of origin with wealth that buys them more in their own country, than it would here.
That woud mean no free passes and stiff penalties for employers who cheat. Good luck with getting that past our new 1% ulta-conservative ruling class.
Trying to raise agricultural wages to where the wage reflects the value to the American worker will increase food costs, and contribute to inflation, driving dollars away from other consumer goods to food. Wall St., the ruling class and agriculture won’t like that – so it won’t happen, no matter how much you/we want it to.
While its not Idaho I am talking about. I’ve lived in the Caribbean and other states in the US. Our film production work took us to some amazing places where we often worked with equally amazing locals. Back in the states we have occasion to need workers for freelance projects. We work with a number of Jamaican nationals, other Caribbean nationals and many brazilians. Without exception, these people are extremely hard workers often taking the cleaning jobs, hard construction labor and other undesirable jobs that people don’t want. They work their butts off, don’t complain and many of them go to a second or even third job after a long day of labor. They send money home to their families, keep low profiles and have strong family ties, strong work ethics, good senses of humor in the face of terrific adversity and are good kind people. All of them hope to gain residency and they love and appreciate this country more than I can say a lot of the spoiled, self entitled do.
Not Idaho, but Western WA, and here is a very recent and eggregious example of an ag operation employing illegals even after an audit and being warned. They ought to throw these bastard owners in jail for a very long time.
Same scenario in the roofing business, construction, landscaping, or general day labor (just go by a Home Depot parking lot to see available illegal supply). Cash under the table and don’t pay taxes.
I have a cousin who had to shut down his once successful commercial carpet laying business in the Portland, OR area (they did hotels and business offices). He uses LEGAL US workers, pays workers comp insurance in WA and OR, Social Security, B&O taxes, etc. He could not compete with the businesses who don’t play by the rules and don’t get caught. He is too ethical to cheat, apparantly to his disadvantage and ultimately his livelihood. What a damn shame!
the people we have worked with hold legal visas, they do play by the rules, they do care about their kids and they emphasize education. In law school one of my closest friends was a Jamaican man. His father came here, started an auto repair shop and brought his family over one by one over a period of 10 years. He became a successful businessman, contributed to inner city programs, and volunteered his time to youth programs. He continued to send money home to his extended family and friends. They treated me like family always from the minute I was invited to their home. I saw my friend’s family rise up together when one their sons got dragged into a Boston drug group and every single member of that family came together to crush the drug use. They did an informal intervention that included sending the son back to Jamaica to get back to his roots. They did not give up on him until he was drug free, employed and back in college. The drug group was comprised of white kids mostly. My friend’s family was not unusual. I’ve seen it over and again with immigrants. They work like crazy to better themselves against insane odds and obstacles. The people up here that yell about immigrants taking away their jobs generally don’t want the jobs and or may be disgruntled, angry and looking to blame someone for their status and place in life. I’ve spent some of my best moments with Caribbean and other immigrants here and abroad. They love life in a way some Americans take for granted. Thats my experience, I’m sorry yours is different.
The people of whom you speak from the Carribean are few in number – I would guess less than 10-20,000 total, and I suspect most don’t work in seasonal agriculture. By the way, I spent time in the Carribean, years ago.
Their values, contributions and willingness to play by the immigration rules should be aplauded and rewarded. This is very much a different issue than the huge systemic economic, social and political impacts of 11 million from Mexico.
Another concern about illegals is something that WM brought up. Perhaps the illegals themselves have a great work ethic, but their kids become “Americanized”. Education is not stressed as highly. WIthout the work ethic of the parents, and little to no education to boot, the children of illegals are more prone to join gangs, and put a greater strain on the legal system and contribute to the woes of inner cities.
It’s not that I/we don’t have empathy, we do. The only reason we can sit here and actually have civil conversation on th topic is by fortune of where we were born. I’ve heard the Mexicans are not fond of those from Guatemala who pour across their borders.
++… and little to no education to boot, the children of illegals are more prone to join gangs, and put a greater strain on the legal system and contribute to the woes…++
Your comment hit the nail squarely. Sorry to be regional, but this is my experience from where I grew up. I think there is some appliclbility elsewhere. Cheap illegal immigrant agricultural labor has dominated the Yakima Valley for the last 15-20 years. The children of those who came for the work and stayed (because of lack of enforcment of immigration laws) are now making their way through the school system and becoming troubled adolescents and adults. Below is a link to a very recent article on increasing gang membership in the area. Note the contributing cause:, “Yakima County has a high rate of at-risk youth and multiple risk factors for gang involvement including a culture of poverty which is magnified by single parenting, low adult educational attainment, and high seasonal unemployment rates …”
This same scenario is being played out in agricultural communities in CA, AZ, OR, CO and other Western states. Maybe even ID is seeing some of this.
The real issue is how to deal with it. This is not going away. The sad thing is that the discussion shuts down when someone throws out allegations of racism rather than objectivley addressing the econommic, socio-cultural and political changes that result in increased crime, and a spread of poverty for these kids without skills, no work ethic and too much time on their hands. And, by the way this affects wildlife, too. Poaching by this element has increased, as well.
+++ The sad thing is that the discussion shuts down when someone throws out allegations of racism rather than objectivley addressing the econommic, socio-cultural and political changes that result in increased crime, and a spread of poverty for these kids without skills, no work ethic and too much time on their hands.+++
I have also witnessed this claim of “racism” over 20 years ago. We could carry this particular conversation on in a way that would be looked upon by some as sinister. We already have a subculture in this country who cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and we are piling another on top of them.
From your old hood on this topic:
“Yakima Valley’s fat asparagus season lean on skilled cutters”
I love asparagus. Broiled or barbecued with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.