Out of Work? Sign Up for a Migrant Farm Worker Job!

One of the most gorgeous farm regions in the US lies in California’s Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.  Drive along state highways 1, 129, or 156, and scenes of beaches, sand dunes, and the Coastal Ranges contrast with meticulously arranged rows of crops.  The chances are high that farmers raise your favorite foods here:  strawberries, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and salad greens are all abundant.  Drive early in the morning, and dense fog and mist reveal specks of sprouting lettuces and bright red berries; in the early evening you will be treated to a gorgeous sunset bathing Monterey Bay in yellow and orange hues.

Now contrast those scenes with the reality of farming.  Along those roads you will see pick-up trucks parked in the dirt, portable outhouses hitched behind them.  Racks with backpacks and duffle bags dangling from them may block your view.  Peer around them, and you will see migrant farm workers picking those crops, hunched over, delicately picking and snipping the fruits and vegetables that will go from warehouse to grocery store to your table.

Farms just outside of towns like Watsonville and Castroville can give you a taste of this backbreaking work, if you’d like.  Bring your own buckets, and you can pick all the strawberries and olallieberries that you’d like for a few bucks a pound.  After an hour of hard work, you can head back into your air-conditioned car and then home.  But working in these fields all day is hardly fun, and with the national debate over immigration taking an even more divisive tone, the United Farm Workers (UFW) has issued a challenge:  sign up on a web site and replace a farm worker.

The UFW has started a campaign, “Take Our Jobs,” aimed at those who complain that undocumented workers are taking Americans’ jobs.  Visit the site, and you have an opportunity to enter your name, email, and zip code.  Be aware of the disclaimer, however:

Job may include using hand tools such as knives, hoes, shovels, etc. Duties may include tilling the soil, transplanting, weeding, thinning, picking, cutting, sorting & packing of harvested produce. May set up & operate irrigation equip. Work is performed outside in all weather conditions (Summertime 90+ degree weather) & is physically demanding requiring workers to bend, stoop, lift & carry up to 50 lbs on a regular basis.

You are then asked if you are willing to work 6 days a week, 8-10 hours a day, with the caveat that if you live outside the Pacific Coast states and Hawaii, you may not receive overtime.

Arturo Rodriguez, President of the UFW, said the union created the web site as a response to those who direct their anger at livestock and farm laborers.  Americans often look at these workers as scapegoats—but most farm laborers’ wages max out at $12,000 a year, and this workforce, 50% of which is undocumented, supplies the food that ends up in our supermarkets, cafeterias, and restaurants.  The campaign’s aim is to reframe the immigration debate away from a deportation-only solution, and to raise awareness of the harsh truth of how our food is sourced.

I signed up on the site out of curiosity, and will follow up with the response I receive.

And after seeing all those farm workers along CA-129 working on a hot Monday holiday afternoon, I have a slightly different perspective about the hour a day I spend in my vegetable garden, kvetching about the occasional mess that a squirrel makes.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

13 responses

  1. What do you suppose would happen if no one was available to pick the crops for significantly less than minimum wage? My assumption would be that either the farmers would pay more money to do the work, a technological solution would be found or the product would be grown or raised in another country and imported. As long as their are people willing to do the work in substandard conditions for poverty level wages, then there will be people willing to underpay them for their efforts. Don't blame everyday American's for having enough sense to stay away from these dead end jobs. Don't expect me to feel that these folks are entitled to citizenship.

    I would suggest reading Victor Davis Hanson's “Mexifornia” for a more lucid argument than I can make

    1. Yes farmers would pay more money to do the work if “these folks” weren't doing it resulting in the increase of cost of produce. If there was a technological solution then great, food would cost less but again U.S. citizens still wont have the jobs that were “taken” away from them. And as for growing our food elsewhere and depending on other countries to feed us? that will never, in a million years, ever happen bc we will not be dependent on something as precious as food from another country, especially in times of war.
      Now, you say its “these people's” fault for being paid less than average, then ok, let's say we got rid of them, and now pay is higher and americans have the job that were “taken” from them, then food price will increase and during these times where ppl dont have jobs or in fear of losing their jobs, then this economic problem we have will worsen since we wouldnt even be able to afford food.

      1. This notion of food price increase, and what do you think that increase would be? In the mid 70’s I picked apples for $5.00 a bi, which is about 1,000 pounds of apple. depending on the orchard i’d make $30 t0 $80 a day. now that $5.00 bin works out to 1/2 cent per pound of apples. Today in Walmart apples go for about $1.40 a pound. If 5 cents a pound went to the pickers they’d be making $300 to $800 a day! crazy money huh? So let’s say we gave the pickers 2 1/2 cents per pound, the pickers would make $150 to $400 a day, still pretty good wage and that would raise your price of produce a few pennies a pound. And if it were Americans doing the picking, whites, blacks, Hispanic, or whatever, that money would stay in our economy, not sent over there. You know I think we could afford the food.

  2. I agree with Dd78, and i myself cant find a job at my age and would be glad to help to get the fresh food to our tables, but at the same time if I or anybody else dont sigh up we may have a raise in the salary…..

  3. I think this is a fantastic idea – gives a bit of a reality check on things. I'm very curious to know how many people signed up for the “job” in a serious manner.

    That said – sure, no one was “forced” into this labor, so I'm not sure “exploitation” is the right word to describe it – but certainly, given the availability of undocumented workers, folks do take advantage of the cheap wages at their doorstep. Whether that's right or wrong is a bit of a grey area and probably depends on a farm to farm basis, but the very fact that campaigns like this exist should be testament to the fact that working conditions on farms are very difficult and would likely not be legal if the workers were. I'm of the option that treating people well is a moral issue, not a political one.

  4. i find it interesting that many people are still so radical about the way they see illegals. I myself am Mexican who did everything the right way to get here. Now i am a U.S citizen. I have done the hard field labor and believe me. If we got any American out there working as hard as they do getting paid as much as they do. they would not be able to keep up. they would drop there glove and go home. lets be real. Americans do want the crap jobs. i will be interested to see how many white folks are willing to actually for close to min. wage with no benefits for those long hours in the hot sun.

  5. While a hard days work would kill me my heritage is the farmer, rancher, coal miner, auto and textile worker. Perhaps we have choices that don't exist for those who come from Mexico, but those choices were given to us through the sweat and strain of those before us. I appreciate the fact that I was born here and not somewhere else.

    Some in our country covet cheap labor, some the political influence that can be garnered by supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Some view these as potential members of their unions, some have legitimate compassion for the children of the day laborers. But why are the day laborer's here? These working conditions are not a recent phenomena. Why aren't the people in Mexico more committed to helping themselves by demanding better conditions in their own country? Why aren't they banding together to create unions, build factory's and demand quality education for their children.

    Part of the reason must be that it's just easier to come to America.

  6. This seems to be a fraud. It is hardly as simple as signing up at a website . They direct you to where there are job listings. Despite a large number of illegals working where I am ,there are no listings for the entire County. I am close to kentucky so I checked there jobs out. There are none listed for the entire state.One article on the subject says just sign up and they will hook you up with a job. Another says you will be trained. Yet many of those jobs they are asking for experience and some are not even jobs as a crop picker. One of the 2 jobs listed in my state is for a truck driver.

  7. I was away for a few days and then saw all the comments? I don't want to get into a debate over immigration–that's not the focus of 3p.

    I do think the UFW site is a publicity stunt and not much else–I realized they just take you to the Cal Jobs site, which is pretty useless.

    Many of these comments are true–no one forced these people to come here, few Americans would want to do this work, and cheap labor means cheap food. Americans don't want to do this work, but it's not everyday Americans who are hiring them.

    I have a feeling those $75 melons I've seen in Korean and Japanese markets were not picked by migrant farm labor.

    I'll leave it to the talking heads on cable TV (or screaming heads?) and our leaders to figure it out. Which means the issue will never get resolved . . .

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