Slavery or Indentured Servitude in Idaho?
The average sheep herder who comes to work in the US under the H2A immigrant worker program gets paid only $650-$750 per month. Many of the workers come from South American countries like Peru or Chile and spend months in remote areas of Idaho with little communication and poor access to medical facilities.
Contrast this with the vast subsidies that the woolgrowers who employ them receive. From practically free grazing fees, predator control conducted by USDA Wildlife Services, sheep meat subsidies, wool subsidies, to cheap labor programs.
That’s just not good enough for the elite woolgrowers in Idaho who hold high office throughout our state government. Now they want to make it illegal for these poor workers to leave their crappy, low paying jobs.
What do you call this? Indentured servitude? Slavery? It’s certainly not the oft vaunted “free market” that Republicans go on and on about. Common sense would tell you that if you want to keep an employee around you improve their pay and work conditions not penalize them for fleeing.
A new Idaho crime? Idaho shepherds abandoning their flocks.
Dan Popkey – Idaho Statesman
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.
68 Responses to Slavery or Indentured Servitude in Idaho?
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Let these people leave then go through of getting citizenship and pay their fair share of taxes. The more you hear about any bussiness boss hiring illegals,it is underhanded Ken,they should pay them a decent wage and then let them pay taxes. It’s always for the bussiness man !
They’re brought here on work visas, they’re not illegal.
It would also be lovely if you could write a coherent paragraph, complete with proper spelling.
When you think you’ve heard it all, just brush up on the latest in the Idaho legislature. Even if they (livestock “producers”) want it all don’t they have some boundaries of morality with fellow beings? It was once illegal to leave the employee of a plantation owner in Georgia. What’s next will the livestockers want to brand or ear tag their herders? This proposal embrasses the state of Idaho.
Just to add then they or BLM or whatever agency killed a pack of wolves by Soda Bute I think I get the wrong spelling,to protect a bunch of sheep.
This is the way it is with most jobs anymore here in the U.S. it seems. Low wages, no benefits, and lots of work being treated like an indentured servant. It is called being wage slaves for a reason. And this is not only in the Sheep – Wool Industry in Idaho but everywhere with both parties being blamed for allowing this to happen all over the country. Here in Jackson it is the Illegal Aliens with their Compatriots who are here on some work Visa (usually from Eastern Europe) who go to the front of the line when they are looking for work. And someone like myself who was born here in the USA and in my 50s get placed at the end of the line when it comes to the hiring. This day and age it is the Greed and Selfishness that rules and is found all across this country this day and age. And both parties are to be blamed for allowing this to continue. Why can’t this country be for Americans First then Everyone else first with the profits for the super rich also. there is becoming only two classes of people, the super rich and the wage slaves.
Good point Kayla.
Agreed. Too many jobs could be fulfilled by American citizens in many areas. Media and politics have kept telling the citizens that this import of workers fill job positions that Americans feel too good for. NOT TRUE. It’s propaganda that eventually generates false beliefs about working Americans. Look at the healthcare jobs that are seldom given to American citizens, these days. (I also think that criticizing another’s writing skills is rude.)
Now contract law does prevail, if the sheep herder signs a contract and then walks off without notice, they are in violation of their contract. I don’t think it should be a violation of law, but they should be subject to civil agreements that they sign. If the owners are sponsoring their visa to work, then when they walk off, they no longer have a sponsor and they are considered illegal.
Should they pay better? Yes, should the worker, who knowingly signs the contract be able to just take off without notification, no, both sides need to abide by their agreement.
Making it a criminal matter is wrong.
While this article certainly has some valid points, it might be of use to explain the H-2A program and corresponding salary a bit better.
The woolgrowers are doing ALL the following in order to get visa workers:
1)They MUST advertise in their state, several surrounding states and on a government sponsored website for workers to make sure that there are not any American workers who wish this job.
2)They are suppling Department of Labor approved housing for their workers at NO COST to their workers.
3)They have paid for all transportation costs to and from Peru and to and from their worksite for the workers.
4) They are paying a company to process their paperwork and to insure that they are following the many rules and requirements that the H-2A program mandates.
5) The workers basically clear $650-$790 per month as many taxes are not taken out. For example, they are not allowed to get Social Security so they do not have to pay into it.
As an H-2A employer, I only turn to this program when I have exhausted all other ways to find legal employees. It’s very expensive to use and extremely cumbersome. I would also like to say that my visa employees love it. It gives them a chance to make a much higher wage than they would make at home and a chance to visit the USA and get to know us better.
Do wool growers using H-2A employers pay into state the workers compensation fund on behalf of these employees, and if the employee is injured on the job ae they are entitled to medical coverage for the injury as well as time loss payments? Are they entitled to unemployment compensation if they are let go for reasons other than cause?
“Do wool growers using H-2A employEES…”
And thanks for the explanation of the program, Katie M.
Does the wool grower with an employee who leaves without notice or cause, have any leverage for reimbursement/recovery of the costs the employer has fronted to get them here?
Under the typical contract does the employee clearly and unequivicably understand the terms of employment before they ever get on the airplane?
Did you try offering U.S. workers a living wage?
The whole program is a fraud including the fake search for local workers. Get the sheep off of our public lands!!!!!
Ken’s is an interesting take on a complex problem. “Slavery or endentured servitude?” or is it another leak in the illegal immigration seive?
Let’s start with the premise that nobody forced these individuals to come to the US. They chose to do so under a temporary visa, to work for an employer under a written contract with certain terms and condition, and who paid their way over, and who is obligated to pay into state workers compensation funds and other taxes for these employees. The federal government sets the rules that allow these people to be paid lower. So there is the first flaw.
Then, for whatever reason, the temporary employee, in violation of US immigration law leaves the employer without notice, and puts the employer’s assets at risk when doing so. This also makes them now illegal workers, and the exclusive problem of ICE to track them down and deport them. How is this working so far?
OK, so now these once temporary special skill, legal employees are working in the underground economy, with some doing jobs US legal workers can do(remember they are now illegals), which means many will work under the radar taking jobs that US citizens could do (recall here the H2A visa program is for people with special skills not found in the US), and many taxes are not collected by these shady businesses like landscape operations.
While there are humanitaian issues for the home country of the employee/illegal involved here, there are also issues of breach of contract of the employee with the employer, reimbursement for the expenses of getting these special skill employees here, and the frickin’ costs of Immigration to round them up, give them due process and send them back to their country of origin. There may even be claims of fraud against these employees who had no intent of honoring their contract in the first place. And, if they are not found, which is usually the case, they procreate and we have even more uneducated illegals, making it even harder to eventually deport them. Isn’t a number of about 11 million illegals enough for some of you?
I think the whole damn program is screwed up, the least part of which is some sheep rancher wanting cheap temporary help from out of the country.
I’d add that an untended flock of sheep on BLM or Forest Service land is an invitation to create (and thus destroy, usually sooner than later) livestock-killing predators. That is a situation many on the site definitely do not want to see. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to see the retaliatory consequences on lions, wolves and bears when they take advantage of that idiot buffet wandering the wilderness. Aren’t we always railing about better animal husbandry to offset depredation? Add in general damage to habitat and losses to the woolgrower, and it makes sense to have some deterrent to herd abandonment. If I were to leave a running bulldozer to try my hand at say, running for Senate, and the dozer ran through a building, I’d be in legal trouble and so would the company who owned the equipment. I’d much prefer the system be ‘fixed’, to include better pay, rather than trying to patch it with more tax-subsidized enforcement, but where is the political and social will to enact those changes? That’s the answer we need to get to. This legislation is unappetizing and looks self-serving on one hand, but there should be something in place to deter breach-of-contract and the environmental negatives that come with it.
Yes, this crossed my mind also.
I must add another comment: This legislative proposal is sytemic of those with power and wealth. My admiration is always for those that can remain humble, charitable and deliver empathy of hope to others regardless of political party or wealth. We all have faults, however to manifest contempt of others is to lose our purpose of being. If we busy ourselves with fixing our own fence we will feel better about ourselves and cast a radiance of encouragement around us.
It’s hard to remember that sometimes. 🙂
your a good hearted person elk.
If these employees are unhappy with the conditions, fine, but don’t abandon the flock, for heaven’s sake! Don’t take the job, but once you have it, at least give notice. It isn’t fair to the woolgrowers and it is cruel and inhumane to the animals.
I guess I’m tired of reading about animals always taking the fall for battles among humans. 🙁
Here is an article about the shepherds brought to the US for the H2A program.
The plight of Peruvian sheepherders illuminates broader exploitation of immigrant workers in U.S. agriculture.
Ken this is just slavery in America this is very sad, words cannot explain the way I feel.Political people on both sides, their hands are dirty.
What happens to the visa’d worker if he approaches his “sponsor” with grievances? Are they threatened with deportation? Would their H2-A permit be revoked? These questions would leave me to believe that the visa’d worker, who probably speaks little to no English, is caught between a rock and a hard place. Their only option may be to “vanish”.
Agree Immer. Seems the people in charge of running the H-2A program would have a vested interest in discussing grivances BEFORE a worker vanishes. But then again, maybe its factored in that a certain percentage of workers won’t be as grateful (as others might) for slave wages and sub-human living conditions.
If their are american workers who are willing to do this type of work why is this allowed in the first place,just makes things more complicated H2 visa’s etc, if they leave for something better,they are illegal and must be found or does anybody even bother?
Think before you hike the Inca Trail.
Would be porters line up at the trekking offices in Cuzco at four in the morning hoping for a chance to secure $5 a day, four day job, $20 for the trek. When the trekking company buses leave for Ollantatambo more unemployed porters are left standing than those hired. Those hired hike 33 mile carrying 50 pounds every day. There day never ends, someone stays up all night watching the camp, breakfast is started at 5 in the morning and the trek starts at seven. Several porter stay behind to pack up camp over taking the trekkers so the camp is set up before the first trekkers arrive at that evening.
At the end of the trek the porters hope is for tips. Our guide lined up the porters and the trekkers and explaining the important’s of tips. Half of the group was from Chile and would not tip poor Peruvian porters the other half were poor European students with no money. Well it all fell on ELK, five porters, 5 twenty dollar bills. No, I not a hero I just did what was right.
I do not think that a $650 to $750 a month pay to little. More on this later.
Yes. I’m glad you did. 🙂
I was reading your article Ken how this occurs in our country is just disgusting.This is why this kind of thing happens in every era of history.This is how Che started with Castro,he seen big plantation men taking advantage of the poor worker,but most times it gets twisted this is a shame.
The question you (we) should be asking is just how prevalent is the conduct that is alleged? And, are there good sheep ranchers out there, as well as the bad ones. The focus needs to be on the bad ones to stop them, without penalizing the good ones.
So what would the Sequester do to welfare ranchers? Maybe it would be good, they wouldn’t run Sheep on public lands. I don’t know, was just wondering?
Craig, other than renewing their permits each year, they are pretty much on their own, with very little oversight, so I suspect it will not affect them one way or another, they will continue with business as usual.
Well if the Gov’t ATM is cut off, I’d guess these guys are screeewd. The subdidies are gone and then what do they have? I’m just guessing, I donn’t know how it all works. But I’m guessing the kick backs are gone for welfare ranchers, with a Sequester killing the funds, shits hitting the fan!
I hope the Sequester happens and Obama quits his welfare spending program! I’m doing fine making Money because I know how to circumvent his shit! The rest of you, enjoy!
I think you are misunderstanding the public lands ranching policies. The get subsidies only because they are paying far less than market value for the land. Land that should be leasing for a minimum of $20 per cow/calf pair, is being leased for about $1.35 per cow/calf pair. it is not really a kick back system, just an undervalue system. For the most part, the rancher pays the government based on his cow/calf pairs, not the other way around.
That’s not true with regard to woolgrowers. They get DIRECT sheep meat and wool subsidies, not just cheap grazing fees.
Thank’s I did not know either of those facts! In my mind they should not even get to run anything on public ground if the Gov’t did not have a deal set and certain things were cut.
But I’m guessing our Govner is a rancher welfare assshole too there must be loop holes in all this! It just pisses me off how corupt Everything is, and what can we really do? WE ARE SCREWED! It just seems like a lost cause, fight ,fight ,fight, but you always end up at the start! It makes a person tired, especially when you work 90hrs a week and care. Not much left in ya to fight the good fight. But really, you do care and can find that one extra ounce to say something, or do something that’s all that matters.
Even if it’s not on the same side,it does make a differnce for everyone to disscuss it! That’s what makes change and come to reasonable agreement in which we can all live with. Fighting and tearing each other down does no good, our gov’t is the problem and we need to take it back and make things better!
I didn’t know that, I am not familiar with sheep ranching, I didn’t know it was different that the cattle ranching. Thanks for clearing that up.
Will the Sequester effect that too ken?
So they paid in before all this is going down! But will it effect what they get at the end of the year?
Last time there was a government shutdown ranchers throughout southern Idaho, and presumably other states, let their livestock run free on public lands because there was nobody watching.
That’s interesting Ken! I would think but don’t know, they would have to keep them off public/Gov’t ground. Or not get paid there subsides, which wouldn’t matter for a year of free grazing.
What ever words are used to describe this subject,a contract, they signed it,they should know what they signed.It is now up to the boss to take responsibility for this person,if he is sick take him to the doctor. They can afford it,that’s for sure, it is the ranchers responsibility to show he cares for his workers,not even care just his responsibility for the health and safety of his workers. It’s still slavery,in a new era,no plantations but open fields to live in disgusting .
To WM; How good the rancher doesn’t matter IMHO,because it is the living conditions that these people have to endure,like I just wrote,they don’t even have shacks like black slaves had. That was bad, but this goes beyond bad it is terrible.I do not put the entire blame on the rancher,but the government and the lobbyist who promote this kind of behavior,everybody is dirty in this. Nobody walks with clean hands,at least California and Oregon pay more ,but that doesn’t make it right.
You read 1 (one) article on the topic by an advocate and you are ready to indict every sheep rancher out there. There is likely a range of behavior and probably some pretty good folks who take care of their herders. Wouldn’t even be surprised to see that a Department of Labor and Industries investigation might show that. Once again we need to get you focused on critical thinking skills, before drawing conclusions.
To WM; I hope I am wrong and some of these sheep ranchers are good to their workers,but in the past animal slaughter houses some, and I will say some treat their animals as garbage.The food and drug administartion or I might be wrong the food inspection agency has been lacking for many years. I hope wm you are not on the other side, and do hope you see both sides.These injustices have been in our history and all over the world.People came to this country to get away from persercution only to turn into the same people they fled to get away from. Their are facts on this throughout our history and the world ,small pocks blankets given to the indians in the east to win a war,that would have send the settlers back to England. I do nor remember the details but this was in a social studies class I needed to cover my college degree,not my core courses.
People came to this country to get away from persercution only to turn into the same people they fled to get away from.
I have always found this puzzling also, Richie.
++Their are facts on this throughout our history and the world ,small pocks blankets given to the indians in the east to win a war,…++
We talked about that claim not long ago on this forum, in the history of the US. It may have even been brought up by Immer (?), whose opinion I value. Think we went through some pretty thorough authoritative published sources who researched the allegations. The result I believe, if it was was done, was by the British during colonial days (notwithstanding claims of more recent incidents by, disgraced scholars with an agenda, including one Ward Churchill at the U of CO, who was ultimately fired for some of his bullshit “research”. The investigations into the claims also raise significant doubt that it was intentional, or whether it was effective given collateral sources of the disease, if it was.
Staying on topic, the motivation of sheep rancher to do the minimum for employees has to do with economics. A sick, underfed, unhappy, 24 hour employee is not going to be very good at their job, or effective employee for very long.
There is probably a recruitment chain here too in the home country(ies). Since the program has been going on for some time recruiting in parts of Peru. Even there, it would not be unreasonable for word to eventually get around, whether to take these jobs, specific ranchers to stay away from (unless they are recruited by an agency with an open ended blind contract). Some herders come back flush with cash. Elk points out that comparitively the wage is a fortune back in the home country. Sometimes people endure hardship to get ahead.
I don’t doubt some bad stuff goes on, but let’s at least question to what extent. AND if the bad conduct is prevalent, the risks for creating even more illegal immigration is high, and Americans are available and willing to take these jobs (maybe at a higher wage and under tolerable but primitive conditions because of the nature of the work) they should be chosen first, and H-2A for this purpose, anyway, ought to be discontinued.
Generally, it is also important to remember, employers LIKE to have a large pool of prospective employees from which to choose. And that is why employers bitch so much. The fruit ranchers in the Yakima and Wenatchee Valleys are always complaining about not having enough pickers for soft fruits, apples and hops.
So, a high level of unemployed is not necessarily a bad thing from their perspective. They can choose the best from the pool, and the employee has less leverage in demanding more in the way of wages/benefits, or complaining too much, because they can be easily replaced by someone else who is under or un-employed.
We talked about that claim not long ago on this forum, in the history of the US. It may have even been brought up by Immer (?), whose opinion I value. Think we went through some pretty thorough authoritative published sources who researched the allegations.
Yep, it was me, and I guess I never thanked you for the correction. So, thanks.
We did go over the small pock blankets before,but it was in a social studies class that I first heard about it and in a history on PBS or something.Aside from this I agree,the money is a fortune in countries like Peru,but the exploitation still takes place. Like elk giving five 20’s to the guides,while the other people looked down on them.Just another example,the way some people think, this kind of thinking is what creates uprising,then things get twisted.Like the first five minutes of Argo tells the entire story how the oil got taken over by England and our country.Now shoud we insists on higher wages for all crop workers,yes then we can have an equal playing field.Second I just was reading on another site,something I was not aware of,horse slaughter is back in full swing.The president signed it into law on Thanksgiving,I ask you WM where is all this going. Do you know and I said this before, A Kentucky Derby winner was sold to a Japanese person,then he put the horse up for slaughter.You know the way the slaughter house is set up they do not even get killed by the probe,then they are bled out to death. Well I went on enough,too many things must change to have an equal playing field.
Yes I agree WM Americans should be chosen first and as I agree totally at a higher wage.
WM I seen this behavior in many different walks of life. Not to say their are good honest people but the wolf battle proves it.How many countries still trap and for years when this began their was no hint that their would be trapping,but here it is.If I am wrong about the history of trapping,it is still cruel to put an animal through this torture, IMHO.
WM; These things have been occuring throught out history,blankets given to indians with small pocks to win a war. This happen in the east, I had this in asocial studies class to get my degree, not my core courses. But this has occured throughout world history,not to say their areb good people but injustices have occured all through history.Thanks for the reply.
opps social early in the morning must go to work
Has anyone seen the film Sweetgrass? It’s about the last of a group of woolgrowers moving their flocks the traditional way:
While shepherding isn’t going to have Taj Mahal accomodations, herders of all kinds have been roughing it because of the nature of the work – I do believe employers should provide for their medical care and decent wages. I’m sure there are good employers as well as bad, and the same for shepherds.
Here’s a link to the trailer if anyone is interested. It was an incredibly beautiful film, if harsh – and one of the older experienced herders is the most gentle and patient man.
I watched this a week or two ago on Netflix. Enjoyed it thoroughly and passed on the recommendation to friends as well. Loved watching the dogs work! Reminded me of growing up in SW Idaho and being surprised twice a year when the sheep moved through town on the way to greener (or sagebrush-ier) pastures.
🙂 There is a beauty to it. And the old herder was so patient. I loved it.
I remember backpacking in the Flat Tops (included in Route National Forest) in Colorado. A long time friend who lives in Aurora introduced me to the idea of exploring the Flat tops, but also cautioned me about sheep herders and their dogs. This was in the early 90’s, and my partner was my German shepherd.
Coyotes were the problem there, and the shepherd dogs were rather healthy adversaries. I made 4 trips into the area, and only encountered a shepherd once. Short friendly conversation as his English was very poor, as was my Spanish.
In the 60’s I worked Lincoln County Idaho as IFG game warden. No shortage of sheepherds there. Owners routinely gave bonuses for coyote ears and I suspected eagles as well though never obtained evidence. I always suspected the herders living in the covered wagons had fresh venison as well. After I gained some experience and wisdom I look back at the wild thoughts I had about the herders and see they were just that, wild thoughts. When young I thought there was a poacher behind every rock (and sometimes there were). But having brief conversations with the herders, sometimes we spoke by sign language, I now think they were more honorable than their employer. Don’t believe they eat venison and don’t believe very many shot eagles. Though some rumors got very close to evidence for some. I believe they are a hard working group that is rouinely taken advatage of. For the responsibility they have over so much asset of the owner they should be paid $2500-3000/mo plus room and board. That’s nothing for a rancher that spends more than that for political insurance.
This link shows you how Idaho sheepmen advertise for sheepherders so that they can say they couldn’t find any U.S. citizens to work as sheepherders.
There are 17 sheepherder jobs listed here. The one I looked at required 6 months of sheep herding experience and required you to be on call 24 hours a day 30 days a month, all for the empressive sum of $750/month.
The reason they recruit in Peru, is that the Mexicans won’t work for these wages either.
You have to type in sheepherder on this job search and list all of Idaho.
I checked again and all of the sheepherder jobs require 6 months of experience. That way no one in the U.S. is qualified because the Idaho sheepmen have only hired Peruvians for the past 50 years.
Sheepman/legislator Siddoway, who sponsored this bill is the same guy who by-passed Butch Otter’s Bighorn/Domestic Sheep working group and got a law enacted requiring the IDFG to shoot any Bighorns that get near domestic sheep.
Is this the same Siddoway that would tie is wife’s dog to an Artemisia for wolf bait? He must be quite an example to his grandkids. How do these people get elected, the electorate must be completely noncaring and noneducated on who they vote for.
That’s a lie! I’ve talked to many who are not from Peru who are hearding sheep in Stanley! Also had conflicts with them and my dogs! They shoot wolves on sight, Coyotes ect. Funny thing is these people don’t lie! They tell the trueth.
It would seem to follow if these herders near Stanley, whom you encountered, were shooting wolves Lynne Stone and her crew would know about it, and be complaining some. She seemed to have a pretty good handle on the count of wolves around there as well as where they hang out.
Am I wrong on that?
Seems maybe Larry’s the fibber or got his facts messed-up.
I have run into sheep herders in Idaho for the past fifty years. The ones I have met say they are from Peru. I certainly haven’t talked to all of them.
I did meet a Mexican north of McCall a few years ago. He was trying to get his shotgun unjamed so he could shoot the wolves that had attacked their sheep. I pretended to be ignorant of firearms when he asked me if I could make it work. I was hoping the wolves would kill them all. The area looked like it could support Bighorns if domestic sheep were not allowed..
I don’t think he was a herder, but had been sent from Weiser to help the Peruvian herders shoot wolves. One of the herders told me he was going to quit because he hadn’t got any sleep for several days. Under Siddoway’s proposed legislation he would be subject to one year in jail and a $1000 fine.
Craig. When you and some of the other posters, who hide behind cute names, get the balls to to use your real names, I may start paying attention to some of your bullshit.
Let us look at what was said, Craig said he talked with the herders, which to me means he spent some time with them. You said, “I pretended to be ignorant of firearms when he asked me if I could make it work.” Which means you were deceiving him or basically lying.
If you had been paying attention in the last 50 years shotguns are usually given to herders as non-lethal deterrents, rubber bullets or cracker shells. One more reason to believe Craig.
Thanks for thinking the name is cute but no thanks.