Immigration is such a touchy topic -- all those illegals entering our country -- maligned by so many. Do we benefit from low priced food because of the labors some provide?
Some of them may make up the farm workers who harvest our fresh produce, vegetables and fruit. Mostly they earn only starvation wages, have no health care, meager possessions, pathetic housing conditions. Decades pass and these issues seem never to go away, ebbing and flowing from bad to worse and back again.
Living in the Midwest when I was young my awareness of the laborers harvesting our food out west was not in my consciousness. I became accustomed to seeking ways to earn money that began in my early years as my mother incentivized me when I helped her with a sideline greeting card business. This was long before greeting cards other than for the really big sellers at Christmas were readily available in stores.
We took orders for the Christmas cards by the box, plain or name engraved. The other cards we sold throughout the year when someone would phone saying they needed only one or the other card for some occasion from a box of "everyday cards" we kept on hand -- get well, birthday, anniversary, sympathy. I delivered them on my bicycle and received a small amount of pay from my mother for my efforts.
We moved to the country the year I started Jr. High School. One summer I learned of a farm down the highway from where we lived that was hiring workers to harvest potatoes on an upcoming Saturday. I was enthusiastic about this opportunity to earn some extra spending money. I was to be paid by the weight of the potatoes I gathered though I don't recall now the rate.
We followed a tractor pulling a mechanical device unearthing the potatoes allowing us to pluck each one from the dirt to add to the huge bag we drug behind us. Our bag filled we took them to a wagon for weighing and emptying together with all the others.
I remember how dirty, hot and sweaty the work was, exhausting me at the end of the picking day. I hadn't set any records for the meager number of total potatoes I harvested so earned very little compared to the expectations I had when I took that job.
I had, however, just added one more type of employment to the list I was formulating in my memory that I knew absolutely I did not want as a career when I became an adult. By the same token, I had learned from my Mother's model I would be wise to be experienced in doing many jobs I might not find appealing in order to survive, to not be too proud to do so.
I think now of farm workers of varying ages harvesting crops day after day, all day long and appreciate the fruits of their labor with every bite I take. I think of the meager wages for such exhausting work these people earn, limited if any benefits they have including health care, with only their basic living conditions at best.
A recent article by Nina Lakhani in "The Guardian" shared photographs by Encarni Pindado from Texas' Rio Grande Valley: "Meet the workers who put food on America's tables -- but can't afford groceries. Undocumented immigrants are doing the backbreaking farm work that keeps the US food system running but struggle to feed their families."
Lakhani reports "About half of the 2.5m farm hands in the US are undocumented immigrants, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), though growers and labor contractors reckon the figure is closer to 75%."
One woman, Linda Villareal, (not her real name) written about: "For this backbreaking work, Villareal is paid $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage since 2009, with no benefits " She has also had to cope with the debilitation of Covid 19 symptoms.
Villarreal works six days a week, sometimes seven, putting food on Americans' tables but earns barely enough to cover the bills and depends on food stamps to feed her own family.
Writer Lakhani reports, "Even before the pandemic, farms were among the most dangerous workplaces in the country, where low paid workers have little protection from long hours, repetitive strain injuries, exposures to pesticides, dangerous machinery, extreme heat and animal waste. Food insecurity, poor housing, language barriers and discrimination also contribute to dire health outcome for farmworkers, according to research by John Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future." Farmworkers are reported to have experienced "a disproportionate impact of Covid 19" during this pandemic.
"Many undocumented farmworkers have been toiling in the fields for years, pay taxes and have American children, yet enjoy few labor rights, have extremely limited access to occupational health services and live under the constant threat of deportation.
In truth, farmworkers here are never harassed while working in the fields, which advocates say suggests a tacit agreement with growers to ensure America's food supply chain isn't disrupted by immigration crackdowns. It's everywhere else that these essential workers, who kept toiling throughout the pandemic, are not safe."
The NYTimes reports our US Supreme Court recently decided a California court case preventing unions from organizing at the farmworkers workplace since this infringed on employer's rights. "The case concerned a unique state regulation allowing labor representatives to meet with farm workers at their workplaces for up to three hours a day for as many as 120 days a year." The vote was 6 to 3, with the court's three liberal members dissenting.
"The decision did away with a major achievement of the farmworkers' movement led by Cesar Chavez in the 1970s, which had argued that allowing organizers to enter workplaces was the only practical way to give farmworkers, who can be nomadic and poorly educated, a realistic chance to consider joining a union." I experienced my English as a Second Language (ESL) students having to leave as they followed the various crop harvests across California some years ago after only a few classes. Is it any wonder they may have difficulty learning English?
Are those whose skills may be unappreciated and unrewarded going to be content to be taken advantage of forever?
Will there be a day of reckoning for American's farm worker slave labor -- our food availability and how much we pay for that food? I wonder what the situation is in Europe and the rest of the world?