United Farm Workers Encourage Americans To ‘Take Our Jobs’

farm workerOne of the most widely repeated claims against enacting immigration reform is the argument that immigrants take jobs from American workers. Thursday, in response, the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched a new “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The UFW is inviting American citizens and legal residents to fill the farm jobs that are mostly occupied by undocumented labor:

In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, UFW offers farm workers who are “ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields,” and encourages Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions. UFW has locations across the country where Members of Congress can direct their constituents willing to do work on large-scale farms. Employers will be on hand at each site to answer questions, meet prospective employees and assist in the application process. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply.

In reality, the UFW knows that response to the program will likely be low. Agriculture is ranked amongst the three most hazardous occupations in the nation. For every 100,000 agricultural workers in the U.S. in 2007, there were 25.7 occupational deaths. That’s because farm workers are exposed to toxic pesticides, work under the hot sun for 10-12 hours a day, handle hazardous tools and machinery, and live in crowded condition with poor sanitation. In return, most farm workers earn approximately $28,040 a year.

Contrary to what the anti-immigrant right might suggest, despite a major recession, most farmers and ranchers are still struggling to find the workers they need. “Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, so that America’s farmers and ranchers can continue to produce an abundant supply of safe, healthy food, as well as renewable fuels and fiber for our nation,” writes Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

andreaThe truth is if the U.S. doesn’t find a way to legalize immigrant agricultural workers, businesses will move their operations to other countries where they can find laborers. U.S. direct investment in Mexican agriculture has already increased sevenfold between 2000 and 2008.

Ultimately, the solution is two fold: fixing the immigration system and improving wages and working conditions in the agricultural sector. However, until farm workers feel that they can report abuses and fight for their rights without fear of deportation or retaliation, agricultural work will continue to be a dangerous, thankless job that most Americans don’t want to do.

Andrea Christina Nill

Reposted with permission from The Wonk Room.


  1. Steve Lamb says

    I can’t comment about farm work because I, except for weeding and picking my families 1/8 acre strawberry patch as a child, have never been a farm worker. I can comment on Construction, however.

    I’ve worked in the construction industry for some 30 years now. Once a guy who worked construction could make quite a bit of money and live very well doing it. As more of the workers were NON UNIONIZED wages began to drop. Then Illegals stop picking food and started working construction because hard as construction is, its easier than picking grapes. All of the sudden there were more and more illegals in framing, so framers turned to drywall, to painting, to electrical, plumbing, moulding hanging and tile setting. One by one illegals took all of those jobs.

    The illegals didnt take the jobs from someone who wasn’t willing or able to do the work. They took the work from honest hard working proud American Citizens.

    When I came on board there were at least three generations of American Citizens working construction. Those guys had seen the rise of Unions, of the 40 hour work week, of overtime and company covered medical benefits. They expected to be treated like professionals and not like pack mules. They were proud of the QUALITY of their work and that it would stand long after they were dead. They were proud to take care of themselves, their wives and their kids. They were proud of their vacations and their trucks and almost most of all, their tools. I never will forget the first day I wore my new ultra high quality Occidental tool bags. My posture gets erect just thinking about those bags stuffed with the best tools I could buy over several years.

    I had other skills and when it was clear that construction work in the field was going to be a race to the bottom, I used those skills, but many of my Brothers and sisters were either driven into poverty or addiction by the loss of their ability to earn a real living.

    My brothers and sisters didn’t mind working hard, but they would not work hard, be treated as animals and paid less than what it would cost to maintain even a slave. At hte same time construction wages were plummeting downward, materials costs, costs due to regulation, and prices per square foot were skyrocketing. The extra money is going into the construction company owners pockets.

    The open border has destroyed the ability to earn a lively hood for everyone, the illegals included in what was my industry.An open border, if the labor is legal or illegal can only depress wages and conditions. If we want to be Progressives and have better wages, working conditions and social programs, the only way to do that is through a economy with a limited labor supply.

  2. GaryH says

    It would be interesting to note, I’ve heard that Caesar Chavez was opposed to undocumented immigation, because he, also, wanted to protect the gains of the farm workers. Is that correct?

    A mass of undocumented workers, with little formal education, crossing the border serves the interests of the ruling class.

    I’m completely sympathic to the undocumented. I can understand their needs and I oppose the economic inequality, but it’s clear to see the negative impact on public schools, social services and most of all workers in general.


  3. Kevin Lynn says

    I was tabling at booth on Earth Day a couple years back and a man came up to me and said he doesn’t understand how things had gotten so bad in the fields. He grew up in Texas working in the fields. In his twenties he felt he was making pretty good money. He had his own apartment and had his own car and he is also a native born American.

    Fast forward 40 years to California. What we have here is the classic case of an overabundance of labor that is eager to be exploited and a finite number of jobs. Do you think it is any wonder why growers are still not paying overtime to workers in the fields??

    I find the kind of rhetoric displayed Miss Nill most disturbing and ultimately demeaning to labor. They make it sound like these are jobs only fit for non-native Mexican workers. The truth is, if a decent wage were paid, native born Americans would do the work. And it is because of people like Miss Nill and her ilk who encourage Mexicans to come to America to be exploited the situation exists we have today – lousy, dangerous work done for lousy pay!

    Speaking anecdotally, I had a friend in the 1990’s who traveled once a year to Alaska to work on the fishing trawlers. It is lousy, physically intensive and dangerous work. But he gladly went because in 4 months he took home $60,000.

    In closing it is sad to see the sorry state of affairs the UFW is in. But it has only itself to blame. Cesar Chavez understood the link behind wages and the supply of labor. He was against illegal immigration because it is how agribusiness kept the wages down and he was greatly conflicted over the ’86 amnesty. The UFW would be wise to promote securing the borders and workplace enforcement. Other than that, they will just have to reap what they sow.

  4. Mad Jayhawk says

    This is racist. If proposed idea by someone on the right there would be a national uproar.

    The way to solve this problem is to come up with a method that people can legally pass from one country to another, work, then return home. If the people want to permanently remain in the country then they have methods that allow them to become citizens like millions of others have done. The system worked well for them. Our country needs good hardworking people and is better for it but let them come legally.

    What is happening on our borders is like a person paying their way into a concert then watching 1000s of people coming in over the wall to watch the concert for free then listen incredulously to people not in the concert say that the people not paying have the right to stay and even get free drinks and t-shirts.

    Under the current system too many poor individuals are being taken advantaged of and being essentially enslaved. Is not the work they are doing that people object to. What is objected to is how they get here and how they use the system to drain off resources legal citizens should have access to to.

    If illegal immigration ended, the jobs these folks filled would go unfilled until those employ illegals raise wages. Our local McDonald’s does not pay minimum wage because no one will work for minimum wage. There are plenty of people who would pick lettuce in Yuma if the price is right. If there aren’t then the lettuce growers will have to come up with another way to pick it. Like those who raised cotton did.

    • Raul says

      By stating:

      “like millions of others have done”.

      Are you referring to the 20 million European immigrants that were allowed into the United Sates in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries?

  5. Reverend Draco says

    “Contrary to what the anti-immigrant right might suggest, despite a major recession, most farmers and ranchers are still struggling to find the workers they need. “Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, so that America’s farmers and ranchers can continue to produce an abundant supply of safe, healthy food, as well as renewable fuels and fiber for our nation,” writes Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.”

    This makes one wonder. . . First, are they expecting these Citizens to work for Illegal Mexican Wages? If that is the case, OF COURSE they’re “still struggling!” That’s the main problem to begin with – it’s not a matter of “jobs Americans won’t do;” it IS a matter of, “jobs Americans won’t do for Illegal Mexican Wages.” Hello?

    Second, are they going to deny Citizens jobs because “the Foreman doesn’t speak English?” I know more than one person who has been denied farm work for just that reason. The Foreman in charge of the crew thinks he’s too special to learn to speak English; therefore, he can’t communicate with the workers unless they, too, do not/will not speak English.

    It’s so simple, a caveman can do it.

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