Trump’s public speech, California farmers and migrant labor

A Journal of People report

Public pronouncements by US president-elect Trump are impacting US public life in enormous ways. The following news by Associated Press is an example. The news is about California farmers and migrant farm workers there.
The AP news said:
“Days after Donald Trump won the White House vowing to deport millions of people in the country illegally and fortify the Mexican border, California farmer Kevin Herman ordered nearly $600,000 in new equipment, cutting the number of workers he’ll need starting with the next harvest.
“Herman, who grows figs, persimmons and almonds in the nation’s most productive farming state, said Trump’s comments pushed him to make the purchase, larger than he would have otherwise.“‘No doubt about it,’ Herman said. ‘I probably wouldn’t have spent as much or bought as much machinery as I did.’”
The news datelined Fresno, California, January 5, 2017 said:
“Others in California’s farming industry say Trump’s tough campaign talk targeting immigrants in the country illegally — including a vast number of farm workers — spurred them into action, too.
“They’re calling on congressional representatives to educate the incoming president on the workforce it takes to feed the country, and they’re assuring workers they’ll protect them.
“San Joaquin Valley farmer Joe Del Bosque recently gathered about 20 year-round employees at a Los Banos steakhouse for their annual holiday lunch.
“The festivities began in a serious tone. The topic of immigration took a bigger part of the conversation this year because of Trump, he said.
“Del Bosque told his crew he’ll make sure the new administration knows their vital role in the farming industry. It’s a message Del Bosque wants his managers to spread to another 300 seasonal workers needed at the harvest’s peak.
“Leticia Alfaro, a food-safety supervisor at the farm, said in an interview that many of her friends who work in the fields don’t have proper documentation like her, and they take Trump’s threats seriously.
“‘They’re terrified by his comments,’ Alfaro, 53, said in Spanish.
“They fear being deported and torn from their children who were born here, she said. After Trump takes office, they wonder if it will be safe to make a simple trip to the grocery store, fearing checkpoints where they’ll be pulled over and have to show their documentation.”
It said:
“Trump’s remarks were felt sharply in California, which produces nearly half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts valued of $47 billion annually. Experts say his words resonate nationwide.
“Texas, Florida and Georgia are examples of states with large migrant communities dominating home construction, health care, food service industries, said David Zonderman, a labor historian at North Carolina State University.
“‘California might be ground zero,’ he said of immigrant families living in the shadows. ‘But it’s not a unique California issue.’”
The “Trump’s deportation vow spurs California farmers into action” headlined report by Scott Smith said:
“The fear stems from Trump’s campaign rallies, where he received a rousing response each time he vowed to deport people who are in the country illegally — up to 11 million. That position softened after Trump won the election, when he said he’d start with 3 million with criminal records.
“Some farmers point to Trump’s postelection shift as a sign his campaign bluster won’t become reality. He is, after all, a businessman like them, they say. But others believe this shift underscores the president-elect’s unpredictable nature.”
It said:
“‘Our workers are scared,’ said Joe Garcia, a farm labor contractor who hires up to 4,000 people each year to pick grapes from Napa to Bakersfield and along the Central Coast. ‘If they’re concerned, we’re concerned.’
“Since Election Day, Garcia’s crews throughout the state have been asking what will happen to them when Trump takes office. Farmers also are calling to see if they’ll need to pay more to attract people to prune the vines, he said.
“Garcia tells farmers not to panic. They’ll learn how many return from Mexico after the holidays. ‘We’ll plan around what we have,’ he tells them. ‘That’s all we can do.’”
The AP news said:
“Roughly 325,000 workers in California do the back-breaking jobs that farmers say nobody else will do, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League farming association, estimates 85 percent of California farm workers live in the United States illegally.
“Farmers for years have scrambled under a shrinking labor pool.
“Mexico\s improving economy has slowed the flow of migrant workers. The dangerous border, controlled by drug cartels and human traffickers, keeps away others.”
It said:
“Herman, the farmer who bought three new almond sweepers, said Trump influenced him on top of California’s rising minimum wage and a new law giving farm laborers overtime rights that are equal to workers in other industries.
“Plus, Herman said, he’s heard too many workers question whether they’ll return from their holiday trips to Mexico. ‘It’s stories like that that have motivated me to become efficient and upgrade my equipment,’ Herman said.
“Tom Nassif, a Trump adviser and president of the powerful trade association Western Growers, said farmers shouldn’t fear the president-elect. Trump isn’t interested in deporting their workers, he said.
“Nassif said he isn’t privy to the details of Trump’s immigration policy. He’s recommended that Trump allow farm workers to stay by putting immigrants in the country illegally who are otherwise law-abiding residents on a period of probation under conditions that they pay taxes, learn English and obey all laws.
“‘I think he’s looking at people who have committed more serious crimes and start with them first — and rightly so,’ said Nassif, picked by Trump’s campaign team to serve on an agriculture advisory committee. ‘I think there’s less reason to worry than most people believe there is.’”
About a year ago, another NPR report said:
“Farm workers in two of the nation’s most important agricultural counties joined other low-wage food sector workers on Wednesday, demanding better wages with a new Bill of Rights.
“The thrust of the bill, which is aimed at workers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California, is to establish a ‘rule of law’ in the fields, observers say.”
The report by Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating, a New York Times bestseller, and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, said:
“‘There are rampant violations of farm workers rights in agriculture,’ says Bruce Goldstein, executive director of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group supporting the effort. ‘A lot of this is that a lot of employers feel like it’s not likely they’re going to get caught [breaking laws], and that if they get caught the cost is not that much —so they might as well take the risk.’
“That’s particularly true because so many farm workers – an estimated 40 to 50 percent — are undocumented. Many are afraid that if they report labor abuse they’ll be deported, says Goldstein.
“More than 80 groups back the list of demands in the bill, says Lucas Zucker, policy director for Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, one of the groups leading the charge. The movement has garnered support from the United Farm Workers, Planned Parenthood and Maria Echaveste, who formerly headed up the federal Department of Labor’s wage and hour division.”
The report datelined January 29, 2016 said:
“The bill’s organizers say they’ve been inspired by watching other low-wage workers, particularly those in the food industry, make gains. Major cities like San Francisco and New York have passed ordinances raising wages to $15 an hour. Meanwhile, restaurateur Danny Meyer in New York has banned tipping in part to stabilize restaurant wages.
“‘There have been lots of kind of explosions of the last couple years of cities trying to move minimum wages, maternity leave, wage theft ordinances,’ says Zucker. ‘But that’s really been concentrated in urban areas. There’s been essentially nothing like this in a rural areas. We think this can set precedent for other counties to set stronger labor conditions for farm workers.’
“The two counties the bill of rights would affect, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, are immediately north of Los Angeles. Combined, they are home to roughly 40,000 farm workers or roughly 1 in every 10 farm workers in the state. And because the U.S. holds roughly 1 million farm workers total, a bill of rights in those counties would cover about 4 percent of all farm workers in the country, organizers say.
“Many of the bill’s items — which are grouped into wage theft, safety and health, and overwork — simply demand that existing laws be enforced, like respecting required rest breaks and penalizing employers who steal wages. It also calls for educating farm workers on their rights and establishing a complaint hotline.
“But a few items are arguably more ambitious, such as a request to hold jobs for pregnant women who choose to avoid pesticide exposure by not working in fields and technical assistance for growers to reduce dependency on dangerous pesticides. The bill also calls for the creation of a position in local government to address extensive sexual harassment and violence against women in the fields.
“Though framed as a bill of rights, the organizers will need to shore up county-level political support for the enforcement efforts, government funding and new public offices. Zucker says his group hopes to gain traction on the bill quickly, and get some of the demands written into county ordinances before the end of the year.”
The report headlined “Activists Demand A Bill Of Rights For California Farm Workers” said:
“If farm workers can catch the momentum created by other efforts to improve working conditions, says Goldstein, they can set the stage for bigger changes down the road.
“‘There’s a lot of gridlock in Congress on many labor and immigration and occupational safety and health issues,’ says Goldstein. But local initiatives are often more progressive than federal ones. And when those initiatives succeed locally, he says, ‘changes at the local and state levels can bubble up to the national level.’”
A US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service on-line document (https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/background.aspx) said:
“Hired farmworkers include field crop workers, nursery workers, livestock workers, farmworker supervisors, and hired farm managers. Some employment estimates also include support personnel on farms, as well as agricultural service workers, who are brought to farms by specialized contractors rather than hired by farm operators. Hired farmworkers make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but they play an essential role in U.S. agriculture. Wages, salaries, and contract labor expenses represent roughly 17 percent of total variable farm costs, and as much as 40 percent of costs in labor intensive crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products. Hired farmworkers continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States.”
It said:
“According to the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), hired farmworkers (including agricultural service workers) make up a third of all those working on farms; the other two-thirds are self-employed farm operators and their family members. The majority of hired farmworkers are found on the nation’s largest farms, with sales over $500,000 per year.
“The average number of hired farmworkers has steadily declined over the last century, from roughly 3.4 million to just over 1 million. Because the U.S. labor force grew, agricultural employment as a proportion of total employment has declined even more sharply. According to the FLS, the annual average number of people employed as hired farmworkers, including agricultural service workers, decreased from 1,142,000 in 1990 to 1,032,000 in 2007. Since then it has held steady at just above one million. In 2012, the total was 1,063,000 of which 576,000 were full-year positions, 199,000 were part-year positions, and an estimated 288,000 were agricultural service workers brought to farms by contractors. Employment is highly seasonal: in January of 2011, there were 808,000 workers, while in July the figure stood at 1,184,000.
“Farm employment was less affected by the 2007-09 recession than was nonfarm employment. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, farm wage and salary employment fell by 1.5 percent between 2007 and 2009, compared to 4.7 percent for the nonfarm economy. The Farm Labor Survey found that average farm employment in 2012 was above 2007 levels.”
The in-line document said:
“Of these farmworkers, 56 percent work in crop agriculture, and the remaining 44 percent work in livestock. Roughly 37 percent of all hired farmworkers live in the Southwest (defined to include California), and 25 percent live in the Midwest region. Two State—California and Texas—account for more than one-third of all farmworkers.
“More farmworkers are located in metropolitan areas (56 percent) than in nonmetro counties. In California, 99 percent of farmworkers are located in metro areas, and in Washington State the figure is 95 percent.”
On issue of wage, the document said:
“According to the FLS [Farm Labor Survey], the real average hourly earnings of non-supervisory farm laborers has been between $10.50 and $10.80 since 2007 (in constant inflation-adjusted dollars, at 2012 prices), and stood at $10.80 in 2012. Real farmworker wages have risen at 0.8 percent per year since 1990.”
On the issue of legal status of hired crop farmworkers, the document said:
“The U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) is the only survey that ascertains the legal status of noncitizen farmworkers, and the only survey that identifies hired farmworkers as migrant or settled. However, NAWS is limited to hired crop farmworkers and excludes hired livestock farmworkers.
“The share of hired crop farmworkers who were not legally authorized to work in the U.S. grew from roughly 15 percent in 1989-91 to almost 55 percent in 1999-2001. Since then it has fluctuated around 50 percent. Since 2001, the share who are citizens has increased from about 21 percent to about 33 percent, while the share who hold green cards or other forms of work authorization has fallen from about 25 percent to about 19 percent.”

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