Skip to navigation
Skip to main content
September 1998 Volume 4 Number 4
Agriculture, Immigration, and Integration in the San Joaquin Valley -- Philip Martin
August 21, 1998
CA AGRICULTURE 2
FARM EMPLOYERS 2
FARM WORKERS: SEASONALITY AND MIGRATION 4
FARM WORKERS: CHARACTERISTICS AND EARNINGS 6
FARM WORKER UNIONS 8
IMMIGRATION POLICY AND AGRICULTURE10
APPENDIX 1. RECENT FEDERAL AND STATE POLICY CHANGES 15
APPENDIX 2. GUEST WORKERS 18
1996-THREE YEAR 25,000 PILOT 19
1997-98-TWO YEAR 20,000 PILOT 20
1998-AGJOBS TO REPLACE H-2A? 21
The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the linkages between agriculture, immigration, and integration in the San Joaquin Valley. The emphasis is on trends in agriculture that promote immigration, the characteristics of the immigrants who arrive, and the outlook for the economic mobility of immigrants and their children. The paper concludes with a discussion of policy options.
Immigration is a major influence on the US economy and society at the end of the 20th century, as it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Immigration directly accounts for about 35 percent of US population growth, and immigrants and their US-born children are expected to account for 60 percent of US population growth over the next 50 years.
About 75 percent of US residents, and 90 percent of all immigrants, live in urban areas. This understates the impact of immigrants in agricultural areas, because the rural/urban distinction rests on county borders, and most immigrants employed in agriculture in the west, which has geographically large counties, are thus urban residents. For example, all of the major agricultural counties of California are defined as urban counties. Thus, the changing face project might more properly be titled immigration and the reshaping of the agricultural urban areas of California.
For the past 50 years, California farm sales have topped those of every other state. In 1997, farm sales were a record $27 billion, versus $16 billion in number two Texas. Almost $7 billion worth of California farm products were exported.
Ten CA counties had farm sales of $1 billion or more, including Fresno with $3.4 billion, Tulare, $2.9 billion, Monterey and Kern, $2.2 billion each, and Merced, $1.5 billion. According to Governor Wilson, the multiplier effect of farm jobs means that "California farmers are ... creating at least 10 percent of the jobs in the state." California produced 39 million tons of fruits and nuts (worth $7.6 billion), vegetables and melons ($5.9 billion), and horticultural specialties such as nursery and greenhouse products ($2.5 billion) in 1997; FVH sales were 60 percent of California farm sales in 1997.
The Central Valley is the heart of California agriculture. The amount of farm land in the Central Valley has been decreasing due to urbanization, but the value of farm output continues to increase as farmers switch from field crops such as cotton to higher value crops such as fruits and vegetables. Half of California's net increase in vegetable acreage, for example, was in the Central Valley: harvested vegetable acreage in the 24-county Central Valley increased from about 420,000 acres in 1982 to 480,000 acres in 1992. This increase reflects higher US and foreign demand for especially fresh vegetables, and the fact that rising costs for inputs such as water and labor encourage farmers to switch from lower-cost and lower-revenue field crops such as cotton to higher-cost and higher-revenue peaches or melons.
California has about 25,000 farm employers who pay wages to between 800,000 and 900,000 individuals or SSNs in a typical year. Agriculture accounts for about 3 percent of the state's employers, and 5 percent of the state's employees. Most of the employers are native-born non-Hispanic whites; most of the farm workers are Hispanic immigrants.
Farm workers are often compared to factory workers because most of them are employed in open-air enterprises that turn raw materials into finished products. A nonfarm factory brings together people and machines to transform inputs such as steel, rubber and glass into cars; a farm factory brings together people, land, water, and machines to transform seeds into crops. The agricultural production process is biological, so that farm factories face unique risk and uncertainty issues that do not arise in manufacturing production processes governed by engineering relationships.
Many farmers and policy makers believe that there is a special virtue in producing food and fiber on family-sized farms, so family farmers are celebrated as the independent yeomen who are today's links to the nation's founding fathers. However, California agriculture has never evoked images of farm families working together to produce crops and livestock. California agriculture has always been dominated by specialized enterprises that hire hundreds of workers seasonally. Unlike the stereotypical midwestern farmer, who does most of the farm's work with his hands every day, California farm owners and managers rarely do any hand-harvesting themselves and often, due to language barriers, they are unable to communicate with the workers who do. A familiar adage captures many of the differences between California agriculture and midwestern family farms: California agriculture is a business, not a way of life (Fisher, 1953, 1).
Most farm workers are associated with farm operations that produce fruits and nuts, vegetables and melons, and horticultural specialities such as flowers and mushrooms, the so-called FVH sector. The production of FVH commodities is considered "labor-intensive," an adjective that suggests that the cost of hired workers is the single largest production expense. Labor costs in FVH production range from 20 percent to 50 percent of total production costs--higher than the 20 percent average in manufacturing, but less than labor's 70 to 80 percent share of costs in many service industries.
Most farm employment and wages are paid by the largest FVH operations. According to state Unemployment Insurance tax records, 24,500 California farm reporting units (employers) paid $4.6 billion in wages to 900,000 employees in 1990 (Martin and Miller, 1993, 22). The "average" farm employer is very small-- half of the reporting units paid less than $10,000 in farm wages in 1990. The largest 1250 farm employers-- 5 percent--paid about 2/3 of California's farm wages. The large farm employers who hire most of the state's farm workers may each employ a peak 5000 workers and have a weekly payroll of $1 million, which makes them large employers by any definition.
An example of a large CA farming operation is the Zaninovich table grape farm in California's San Joaquin Valley, an operation that sells about 5 million 25-pound boxes of grapes annually at an average price of $10 per box. Zaninovich typically hires 1000 farm workers to help generate $50 million in annual grape sales. Nearby Gerawan Ranches is partnership, controlled by a husband and wife, that grows peaches, plums, and nectarines on 2600 acres of land near Reedley, CA, and has another 2800 acres of peaches and grapes near Kerman-- Gerawan Ranches employs over 2000 farm workers. The related Gerawan Company is a CA corporation whose majority shareholders are the same husband and wife; it processes, sells, and ships the fruit grown and harvested by Gerawan Ranches.
The Dole Food Company is probably the largest California farm employer, issuing over 25,000 W-2 statements annually. Dole's farming operations are divided into a series of legally separate businesses. Dole's Bud Antle subsidiary, based in Salinas, CA, hires 7,000 farm workers each year to harvest lettuce and other vegetables; the workers are represented by the Teamsters Union. Dole also has a vegetable and strawberry operation in southern California, a citrus operation in southern California, a grape and tree fruit operation in central California, and a nut operation in central California--each is legally independent for employment purposes.
Farm Workers: Seasonality and Migration
Average hourly earnings in California agriculture are about half of average manufacturing levels, $6 to $7 per hour versus $12 to $14 per hour. Farm workers average about 1000 hours of work per year, so that farm workers in CA have annual earnings that are one-fourth of the $24,000 to $28,000 average for factory workers.
California fruits and vegetables do not ripen uniformly, so the peak demand for labor shifts around the state. Harvest activity occurs year-round, beginning with the winter vegetable harvest in Southern California and the winter citrus harvest in the San Joaquin Valley. But the major activity in January and February is pruning--cutting some branches and vines to promote the growth of larger fruit on those that remain. In fruits such as peaches, pruning accounts for 10 to 20 percent of the seasonal labor required to produce the fruit but, because pruning occurs over several months, there are fewer workers involved in pruning than in harvesting. During the winter months, employment on farms is only half its peak September levels.
Harvesting activity moves northward into the coastal plains in March. Workers harvest lemons and oranges in southern California, and they are hired to work in flower and nursery crops as well as to thin and weed vegetable crops in the Salinas area of northern California. By May, workers are picking strawberries and vegetables, and these harvesting activities continue throughout the summer.
In June, harvest activities move inland to the San Joaquin Valley. So-called tree fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums, and nectarines must be thinned, meaning that workers must remove some of the fruit buds so that the fruit that develops is larger. For example, there are almost as many hours devoted to thinning peaches as to harvesting them. Some tree fruits are ready to be harvested in late spring, such as cherries and, with the harvesting of table grapes and vegetables in the Coachella Valley of southern California, there is a statewide mini-peak in the demand for labor in June.
Harvest activities continue to require large numbers of workers throughout July and August. During the summer months, vegetables continue to be harvested in the coastal valleys. In California's Central Valley, up to 150,000 farm workers harvest tree fruits as well as cantaloupes, melons, tomatoes, and Valencia oranges. Thousands of farm workers are also hired to irrigate and to weed field crops such as cotton.
September is the month in which farm worker employment reaches its peak. A series of short but labor-intensive harvests, best symbolized by the employment of 50,000 workers to harvest raisin grapes, keeps employers whose harvests are ending in August worrying about whether their workers will remain to finish the harvest of peaches or melons, and raisin employers worried that too few workers will show up before rain ruins drying grapes. In the mad scramble for workers, vans ferry workers between farm worker towns or the farm worker sections of cities and fields.
By October, only a few late harvests remain, including olives and kiwi fruit. Most of the food processing and packing workers are laid off, and these nonfarm operations shut down for the year. Some workers migrate to southern California and Arizona for the winter vegetable harvest, and others return to Mexico.
Workers willing to follow the ripening crops can find 8 to 10 months of harvest work each year. However, relatively few workers follow the ripening crops within California. A 1965 survey found that 30 percent of the workers migrated from one of California's farming regions to another, and a 1981 survey of Tulare county farm workers found that 20 percent had to establish a temporary residence away from their usual home because a farm job took them beyond commuting distance (California Assembly, 1969; Mines and Kearney, 1982). A national survey of farm workers in the early 1990s found that fewer than 10 percent of the farm workers followed the crops (Gabbard, Mines, and Boccalandro, 1994).
Workers tend to stay in one area of California for three reasons: the harvesting of some crops has been stretched out for marketing and processing reasons, temporary housing for migrants is scarce, and the availability of unemployment insurance and service programs makes migration less necessary. Most California fruits and vegetables are grown for the U.S. or foreign fresh markets in order to obtain the highest prices; "surplus" production is directed to the lower-priced processing market or not harvested. In order to maximize the period during which fruits and vegetables can be sent to the fresh market, growers plant early-, mid-, and late-season varieties of fruits, or they plant more acres of a vegetable such as lettuce each week. Stretching out production also streches out employment.
The reduction in follow-the-crop migration does not mean that there is no migration; it means that the nature of migration has changed. In theory, migrant camps open for 6 months annually should experience considerable turnover as families move on to the next harvest. The fact that they do not highlights the importance of housing-the lack of it-in explaining migration behavior; once a "migrant family" finds suitable housing, it is reluctant to move out and have to search for housing again. Many workers shuttle into the United States from homes Mexico and then remain in one location rather than to follow the crops after their arrival in California.
Until the 1940s, it was common for the wives of field workers to be employed in the packing houses at wages that were about the same as field worker wages. After unions pushed packing house wages to twice field worker levels, packing house jobs became preferred jobs, often a first rung up the American job ladder for field workers. About 50,000 workers are employed in the preserved fruits and vegetables subsection of the state's manufacturing industry, and additional workers are employed in packing fresh fruits and vegetables and in trucking and distributing them. Some (nonfarm) California packing jobs have been turned into farm worker jobs by field packing, , and some processing jobs have migrated abroad, such as the jobs involved in freezing cauliflower and broccoli that moved to Mexico.
Farm Workers: Characteristics and Earnings
Hired farm workers--those who work for wages on CA farms-- can be thought of as a room of unknown size and shape. Each source of farm labor data can be considered a window that permits a look inside the room. These "windows" vary considerably, and they paint very differnt pictures of typical farm workers.
The monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) of 60,000 households, the source of most data on worker characteristics, reports that most farm workers are non-Hispanic US citizens. According to the CPS, hired farm workers in the the Pacific states of California, Oregon, and Washington were 54 percent non-Hispanic white, and 44 percent Hispanic, in1993 (Ilg, 1995).
The U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS), by contrast, finds that hired workers on California crop farms are recent immigrants from Mexico. In comparison to farm workers in other states, the NAWS finds that CA farm workers are more likely to be employed by farm labor contractors than directly by growers, and to live in non-employer-provided housing. The percentage of male and unauthorized farm workers is about the same in California as in the rest of the United States. As with most hired farm workers interviewed in the NAWS, most California farm workers do not speak English(only 11 percent in 1990-91), and few finished high school (only 13 percent).
Generally, farm employers establish the wage system, and they tend to pay hourly wages:
when they want slow and careful work, such as to prune trees and vines, when the employer can easily control the pace of the work, such as field-packing broccoli, in which the workers walk behind a machine whose pace is controlled by the driver/employer,
or by tradition for certain tasks, such as early season picking and thinning and hoeing.
Combination hourly and piece rate wages are paid when the employer wants careful but fast work, such as harvesting and packing table grapes in the field.
Piece rates are paid to in jobs in which it is difficult to regulate the pace of work, when quality is not of great importance, and when an employer wants to keep labor costs constant with a diverse work force. The average hourly earnings of workers who are paid piece rates are typically higher than hourly wages, but weekly wages are similar for hourly and piece rate workers. For example, according to the USDA, California farm workers who were paid hourly wages in July 1993 were paid about $6 hourly, while piece rate workers had average hourly earnings of almost $7. But hourly workers averaged 40 hours per week, for $240, while piece rate workers averaged 35 hours, for $245.
The average hourly earnings of farm workers have traditionally been about half of nonfarm private sector earnings, both in California and throughout the US. Beginning with the end of the Bracero program in the mid-1960s, the ratio of farm to nonfarm earnings crept steadily upward, reaching 58 percent of nonfarm levels in 1977. The California farm to nonfarm earnings ratio fell to 51 percent in 1983, rose in 1989, after the minimum wage was increased, and then fell sharply in the early 1990s. In the rest of the US, by contrast, the farm to nonfarm earnings ratio behaved differently. The ratio remained below 50 percent throughout much of the 1970s, and hit 50 percent only in 1989, again in response to the 1988 increase in the minimum wage, which affected most farm workers.
Average hourly earnings in California agriculture are about half of average manufacturing levels, $6 to $7 per hour versus $11 to $14 per hour, and farm workers average about 1000 hours of work per year, so that farm workers in CA have annual earnings that are one-fourth of the $22,000 to $28,000 average for factory workers.
Farm Worker Unions
Unions are a private sector means of improving wages and working conditions. Most US workers in the private sector were granted the rigth to form or join unions without employer interference under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. If workers selected a union representative, employers were obliged to bargain with the workers' representative "in good faith" to reach a typically two to three year agreement regulating wages and other work place conditions.
Farm workers were excluded from NLRA protections, largely because of opposition from CA farm employers. Forty years later, in 1975, CA enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, modeled on the NLRA, but with three major differences: (1) speedy election procedures spelled out in the law, (2) a make whole remedy for employer bad faith bargaining, and (3) more rights of unions vis-a-vis their members. There was an initial spate of elections on CA farms in 1975--about 25 percent elections held on CA farms since 1975 were held in the first four months that the ALRA was in effect--and it was widely projected that most of the workers employed on larger corporate would work under union contracts.
This has not happened. The ALRB has certified 9 unions to represent farm workers in California agriculture. Even though unions won almost half of the 1600 elections held since 1975, there are in 1998 fewer than 300 contracts between California farms and farm worker unions; about two-thirds of these contracts are between dairy farms and two dairy workers unions.
The table below provides contract and membership data on California farm worker unions in 1998. The data are approximate, since the ALRA does not require unions or employers to file membership and contract data with the ALRB. The UFW, the best known union, has been certified to represent workers on almost 500 farms since 1975, but in 1998 had fewer than 50 contracts, demonstarting how hard it has been for the UFW to forge long-term bargaining relationships with growers. The only commodity in which the UFW has represented a majority of workers over the past two decades is mushrooms, a $100 million per year commodity in which California production is dominated by a handful of companies in the Salinas area. California Farm Worker Unions in 1997
Certifications Current Contracts/ Jobs Major
Union 1975-1997 Contracts Cerrtifications Under Contract Members(2) Commodities
UFW 468 53 11% 20,000 26,000 All
UFCW (1) 26 21 81% 1,700 2,700 Vegetables
CEU 173 173 100% 585 585 Dairy
Teamsters 63 28 28 100% 250 250 Dairy
Teamsters 890 29 4 14% 3,400 7,400 Vegetables
Totals 724 279 39% 25,935 36,935
(1) The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Workers Local 78-b and the Independent Union
of Agricultural Workers merged to become UFCW Local 1096
(2) Includes associate members of the UFW
UFW = United Farm Workers; UFCW = United Food and Commercial Workers;
CEU = Christian Employees Union
Other unions that have been certified to represent CA farm workers include:
Comite de Campesinos Unidos, Teamsters 87, 166, 389, 624
United Stanford Workers, Dairy Employees Local 17, Wine and Allied Workers Union
The longest and largest farm worker contract in California agriculture is that between Teamsters Local 890 and Bud of California, a subsidiary of the Dole Food Company. This three-decade long agreement covers 7000 lettuce and other vegetable workers in California and Arizona. The union with the most farm worker contracts is the Christian Labor Association (CLA), with 182, but each covers an average of 3 only workers employed in dairies. The other unions with contracts include several begun by ex-UFW leaders.
There has been a significant increase in the activities of self-help farm worker groups. As more indigenous migrants from southern Mexico and Guatemala arrive in the United States, there has been a proliferation of ethnic organizations. Some have been recognized as unions by the ALRB. For example, the Mixtec and Zapotec Indians in California from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca have formed "civic committees" in a number of California towns, and one of these committees won an election in 1991 at a San Diego packinghouse.
In 1976, when the federal minimum wage was $2.30 hourly, the average hourly earnings of California farm workers were $3.20, and the entry-level general laborer wage in UFW contracts was $3.11 hourly. During the late 1970s, statewide farm worker earnings rose in step with UFW wages, suggesting that the UFW had statewide impacts on average farm wages.
This relationship was broken in the early 1980s, after the UFW achieved 40 percent wage increases with a few employers, and then many went out of business (Martin and Abele, 1990). During the late 1980s, the UFW and other farm worker unions have been forced to accept wage and benefit reductions, so that in many cases, entry level wages are at or below early 1980s levels.
Immigration Policy and Agriculture
In the 19th century, US agriculture in general, and California agriculture in particular, were considered land-abundant and labor short. Labor shortages were compounded in California by the dominance of large farms growing fruit and vegetable crops that required large numbers of harvest workers.
California agriculture began in the 1850s and 1860s with a legacy of large Spanish and Mexican land grants which were necessary for grazing cattle and farming grain without irrigation. These these large farms were expected to be broken up into family-sized parcels during the 1870s and the 1880s, when irrigation, advances in agricultural science, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad brought settlers to California, and made labor-intensive fruit farming profitable. In the 1870s and 1880s and since, there has been a debate among farm labor reformers in California over whether (1) to break large farms into family-sized parcels, thus eliminating the need for so many seasonal farm workers, or (2) whether factories in the fields should be acknowledged, and factory labor and immigration laws applied to agriculture. It now seems clear that large farms will not be broken up, but agriculture retains exemptions under US labor and immigration laws.
California farm labor history is the story of how seasonal farm work emerged as port of entry for succeeding waves of immigrant workers. The wages and working conditions that immigrant farm workers were willing to accept largely determined wages and working conditions for all farm workers. The availability of immigrant workers permitted agriculture to continue to offer seasonal jobs that paid about half average manufacturing wages, so farm workers and their children were attracted to non-farm jobs that offered higher wages, better working conditions, and year-round work. These exits from the farm work force caused farm labor shortages, which were solved by importing more immigrant workers, repeating the cycle.
The first seasonal farm workers were the the 12,000 Chinese workers who had been imported to build the railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains. When they were released by the railroad companies in 1870, they were kept out of urban jobs by anti-Chinese movements (Fuller, 1940, 19809). Chinese imigration was halted in 1883, and the next wave of immigrant farm workers were from Japan. Japanese immigration was stopped in 1907, and workers were imported from present-day India and Pakistan. The US began to restrict immigration after World War I--the 1917 Immigration Act, for example, imposed a head tax on immigrants and excluded immigrants over 16 who could not read in any language. However, CA farmers asked the US governmetn to suspend the head tax and literacy test for Mexican workers coming to the US for up to one year to work on US farms, and the government agreed. Thus began US-government approved recruitment of Mexican farm workers.
Mexican migration for US farm work was stopped by repatriations during the Depression, and the arrival in CA of dustbowl farmers from the midwest. In 1942, US government-approved Mexican migration for farm work resumed, and continued until 1964. So-called Bracero workers were imported under a number of agreements but, between 1942 and 1964, more Mexicans were apprehended in the US than were admitted as legal farm workers, i.e., illegal immigration occurred alongside legal migration. Both apprehensions and Bracero admissions measure events and not unique individuals--the same person could be apprehended several times, and the same person could be legally admitted as a Bracero several times.
The availability of Braceros permitted fruit and vegetable production to expand at relatively constant wages. California, fruit and nut production rose 15 percent during the 1950s, and vegetable production rose 50 percent. The US Department of Agriculture's estimate of average hourly farm earnings rose 41 percent-slightly more than the 35 percent increase in consumer prices-from $0.85 in 1950 to $1.20 in 1960. In contrast, average factory wages in California rose 63 percent, from $1.60 per hour in 1950 to $2.60 in 1960.
After the Bracero program ended in 1964, some Mexican workers became US immgrants who commuted seasonally from homes in Mexico to farm jobs in the US. During the 1960s, Mexicans could become so called green-card commuters by obtaining a letter from a US employer offering a job, and certifying that the employer sought and failed to find a US worker to fill it-- most of the 50,000 to 60,000 Mexican immigrants admitted each year in the mid-1960s were believed to be ex-Braceros who got immigrant status as a result of a US employer offering them jobs.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, US citizens and greencard commuters were joined in the fields by unauthorized or illegal alien workers. As IRCA moved toward approval in 1986, CA farmers argued strongly that they needed easy access to Mexican and other foreign workers. The "farm labor" compromise in IRCA permitted illegal alien farm workers who had done at least 90 days of US farm workers to become immigrants. These Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) provisions permitted 1 million Mexicans--about one-sxith of the adult men in rural Mexico--to become legal US immigrants.
If SAWs did not remain in US agriculture, US farmers could obtain legal foreign workers through two programs. The H-2A program is a non-immigrant program that admits foreign workers to fill vacant jobs after the US governmetn certifies that the farmer tried and failed to recruit US workers. The Replenishment Agricultural Worker (RAW) program, by contrast, was a four-year safety valve--if SAWs left agriculture, and labor shortages developed, then RAW probationary immigrants could be admitted.
The US government did not find farm labor shortages in the 1990s, largely because illegal immigration continued, and workers and employers fount it easy to use counterfeit docuemtns to satisfy employee verificiation requirements.
It is often observed that the California farm labor market has changed very little over the past century. A farmer from 1898 would in 1998 be baffled by laser land leveling, drip irrigation, vacuum cooling, and the widespread use of computers in farming and marketing, but he would be very familiar with the use of bilingual contractors and crew bosses to assemble immigrant farm workers to perform seasonal harvesting tasks.
There is little reason to expect the current pattern to change significantly in California agriculture, viz., immigrant farm workers are likely to continue to be hired in crews to fill seasonal jobs on large farms. As in the past, there seems to be little indication that individual farmers and farm workers will develop persisting employment relationships, or that average hourly farm earnings will close the gap with manufacturing wages.
California Assembly Committee on Agriculture. 1969. The California Farm Workforce: A Profile. Sacramento. April.
Carter, Harold and Carole Nuckton. Eds. 1990. California's Central Valley--Confluence of Change. Davis. Agricultural Issues Center.
Fisher, Lloyd. 1953. The Harvest Labor Market in California. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.
Fuller, Varden. 1940. The Supply of Agricultural Labor as a Factor in the Evolution of Farm Organization in California. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, U.C. Berkeley, 1939. Reprinted in Violations of Free Speech and the Rights of Labor Education and Labor Committee, [The LaFollette Committee] Washington: Senate Education and Labor Committee. 19778-19894.
Gabbard, Susan, Richard Mines, and Beatiz Boccalandro. 1994. Migrant Farmworkers: Pursuing Security in an Unstable Labor Market. Washington DC: US Department of Labor , ASP Research Report 5, May.
Mamer, John and Alex Wilke. 1990. Seasonal Labor in California Agriculture: Labor Inputs for California Crops. Sacramento: Employment Development Department California Agricultural Studies Report 90-6.
Martin, Philip L. and J.R. Abele. 1990. Unions: Their effect on California farm wages. California Agriculture, Vol. 44, No. 6, November. 28-30.
Martin, Philip and Alan Olmsted. 1985. "The Agricultural Mechanization Controversy," Science, Vol. 227, No. 4687, February 8, pp. 601-606
Martin, Philip and David Martin. 1994. The Endless Quest: Helping America's Farmworkers. Boulder, CO: Westview Press
Martin, Philip, Wallace Huffman, Robert Emerson, J. Edward Taylor, and Refugio Rochin. Eds. 1995. Immigration Reform and US Agriculture. Berkeley, CA: Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3358
Martin, Philip. 1996. Promises to Keep: Collective Bargaining in California Agriculture. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press
Mines, Richard and Michael Kearney. 1982. The Health of Tulare County Farmworkers. Mimeo. April.
Rosenberg, Howard et. al. 1995. Hiring and Managing Labor for Farms in California. mimeo.
Rural Migration News. quarterly. http://migration.ucdavis.edu or email@example.com
U. S. Department of Labor. 1993a. US Farm workers in the Post-IRCA Period Washington: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Office of Program Economics. March
U. S. Department of Labor. 1993b. California Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey. Washington: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Office of Program Economics.
Appendix 1. Recent Federal and State Policy Changes
There have been four major federal policy changes that are likely to affect immigration and prospects for integrating immigrants in rural California They include:
efforts to reduce illegal immigration;
restrictions on immigrant access to means-tested welfare benefits;
shifting some programs targeted on farm workers to block grants made to state and local governments;
altering the level of labor law and immigration enforcement in rural areas.
Border Enforcement. The Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 sought to reduce illegal immigration in three ways: by adding Border Patrol agents; by introducing a pilot telephone verification program to enable employers to verify the status of newly-hired workers and to permit social service agencies to determine the legal status of applicants for benefits; and by reinforcing restrictions on the access of immigrants to welfare benefits, under the theory that they serve as a magnet for some immigrants.
The INS budget almost tripled between FY93 and FY98, from $1.5 billion to $4.2 billion. In 1997, the INS had 12,400 armed agents, more than any other federal agency. The INS strategy on the Mexican border is deterrence, based on the premise that anyone who attempts unauthorized entry will be caught and fingerprinted and photographed for possible prosecution for illegally entering the US. So far, this strategy does not seem to have been successful at deterring unauthorized entries. Instead, it has shifted migrants to different points along the border to attempt entry, from San Diego to Imperial county and Arizona (Migration News).
Instead of being deterred, migrants attempting entry are resigned to (1) paying professional smugglers higher fees to get into the US and (2) being apprehended one or more times before successfully entering the US. Once in the US, this has the unanticipated consequence of encouraging more unauthorized migrants to remain.
Welfare. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 made most legal immigrants ineligible for federal means-tested welfare benefits, including Supplemental Security Income and Food Stamps. States were given permission to make legal immigrants ineligible for cash assistance and Medicaid, and rules denying welfare benefits to unauthorized aliens were strengthened. In 1997, some legal immigrants were made eligible for federal welfare benefits, and a proposal is pending to restore Food Stamp benefits to some legal immigrants.
It is sometimes argued that welfare reform that restricts immigrant access to means-tested assistance programs and pushes current recipients into the work force will add enough workers to the seasonal farm labor force to reduce (unauthorized) immigration for demand reasons. However, this is not likely to occur, because current welfare recipients are often ill suited to fill easy-entry farm jobs.
First, virtually all new entrants to the farm labor force are young men who recently arrived from Mexico, are in the US to do seasonal farm work, and thus are flexible, willing to travel to different fields each day to work and to work long hours if needed. Most welfare recipients, on the other hand, are mothers with children who lack the flexibility farm employers have come to expect. These women may not be willing or able to work long hours one day, and then not work the next, in part because child care providers are often not so flexible.
Second, seasonal farm workers are most often hired in crews of 20 to 40, not individually. The networks that link US farm jobs to new workers often are better established between e.g., California's Central Valley and west central Mexico than between farm employers and local welfare recipients. The farm labor contractors who hire and supervise at least half of all farm workers have little incentive to form crews of welfare recipients, who may complain about many of the violations of labor laws that FLCs commit.
Third, there is little evidence of farm labor shortages that would suggest that farmers would invest in recruitment and training of welfare recipients, or tolerate less-than-stellar work habits. FLCs complain of too much competition. The major assets of FLCs are their ability to form crews and arrange jobs for them, and as more workers become FLCs, the overhead or margins they receive for recruiting and organizing crews of workers have been eroded.
Targeted Assistance. The federal government currently provides targeted services to migrant and seasonal farm workers and their dependents that cost about $600 million per year, equivalent to 10 percent of these workers annual earnings (Martin and Martin, 1994). Most of this federal MSFW funding--$582 million in FY96--goes to the Big Four programs--Migrant Education ($305 million in FY96, $305 million in FY95, $302 in FY94); JTPA-402 programs ($69 million in FY96, $86 million in FY95, $86 in FY94); Migrant Health ($69 million in FY96, $65 million in FY95, $59 million in FY94); and Migrant Head Start ($139 million in FY96, $139 million in FY95, and $130 million in FY94--MHS gets four percent of the Head Start budget).
In addition, there are a number of smaller federal programs that assist farm workers and their children, including USDA's Section 516 Farm Labor Housing Grants ($10 million in FY96), the Migrant Even Start program ($3 million in FY96), the High School Equivalency Program or HEP ($7.4 million in FY96), the College Assistance Migrant Program or CAMP ($2 million in FY96), and Migrant Vocational Rehabilitation ($1.4 million in FY96). Eligible farm workers also receive benefits under general welfare programs, including Food Stamps and the Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
The justification for these programs when they began in the 1960s was that state residency requirements prevented interstate migrants who followed the ripening crops from obtaining access to Great Society programs: applicants often had to wait for six to 12 months before obtaining welfare benefits. When the US Supreme Court declared most residency requirements unconstitutional, the programs were justified as a means of coordinating services to workers who moved from state to state. Most of the assistance programs are federally coordinated, and most spend considerable resources on data systems that can move records from assistance providers in one state to providers in another.
The federal government is folding many national targeted programs into state block grants. Farm worker advocates are resisting the inclusion of farm workers into state block grants, arguing that block grants will lead once again to the neglect of farm workers, and eliminate any basis for providing integration assistance targeted on farm workers and their children in agricultural areas of the US.
Labor Enforcement. The INS has been encouraging employers to enroll in its Employment Verification Pilot system, which involves employers sending I-9 information on aliens to the INS via modem that is checked against the Alien Status Verification Index, a data base with 50 million immigration records. After enforcement activities that remove unauthorized workers, the INS often tells employers that they can avoid future disruptions by voluntarily joining the EVP.
Many rural employers, led by meat and poultry processing firms, have signed up for the EVP system. Most of the agricultural firms participating in EVP are in the midwest, not in California. These firms tend to have high turnover rates: it is not unusual for a meat processing plant to hire 200 workers in one year to keep 100 job slots filled. For example, IBP, which participates in EVP, has a 40 to 50 percent annual worker turnover rate despite a reported average starting wage of $8.50 per hour. IBP employs 34,000 workers in the US. An INS spokesperson said that: "A lot of our recruiting effort [for EVP] was directed to agriculture... because that's where you have a lot of low-skill labor." (Rural Migration News, April 1997, GAO, 1998).
In California, several federal, state, and local agencies enforce labor laws in agriculture. The most notable effort to enforce wage, hour, and child labor laws has been the Targeted Industries Partnership Program, which was begun in 1992 to improve compliance in agriculture and garments. Between 1993 and 1996, TIPP inspected 4,400 agricultural and garment work places, and assessed $20 million in penalties against employers.
TIPP staff typically make surprise inspections in agricultural fields. In some cases, it appeared that there were fewer violations in 1996 than in previous years for not having field sanitation facilities or evidence of workers compensation coverage. However, there continued to be a significant number of citations for employing children and for transportation and housing violations.
The California farm labor market is one of the most regulated in the US--it is sometimes said that hiring a migrant farm worker is second only to hiring a child actor in complexity. However, the gap between the theoretical protection available to farm workers and the reality of the labor markets in which they work is widening, and the major factor that assures self compliance--labor shortages--has not occurred for the past two decades.
This leaves federal and state labor law enforcement agencies, legal services and unions as compliance officers fighting against an array of contractors, crew bosses and raiteros who are often one step ahead of the law. If caught, most have few asset, and many go out of business. Enforcement, in other words, leads to the replacement of one risk buffer--an FLC or other middlemen--with another, and does not change the structure of the labor market in which the inherent risks involved in the biological production process are shifted back to the weakest links, immigrant farm workers.
Appendix 2. Guest Workers
The major policy options to deal with poverty amid prosperity can be framed by two extremes: eliminate the need to integrate poor immigrants in rural areas by making them nonimmigrant guest workers who are obliged to leave the US when their temporary work permits expire, versus don't worry about immigration, focus on improving labor law enforcement so that workers are not exploited, and redouble efforts to integrate farm workers and their children.
The guest worker option is being debated in Congress in 1998. Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, about 1.1 million unauthorized foreigners became legal immigrants because they had done 90 or more days of farm work in 1985-86. The theory supporting this Special Agricultural Worker legalization was that most unauthorized farm workers were sojourners, not settlers, and legal status would enable them to migrate back and forth across the border more easily. If so many legalized farm workers left agriculture, or remained in Mexico, farmers could obtain legal guest workers under the so-called H-2A program.
The H-2A program, which requires farm employers to prove to the US Department of Labor that they tried and failed to recruit US workers despite offering DOL-mandated wages and free housing, was expected to expand from about 20,000 foreign workers per year to 200,000 or more. Instead, the H-2A program shrank to 19,000 in FY96, as legalized and unauthorized farm workers with false documents spread through out the US (GAO, 1997).
Farm employers have been pressing for an alternative to the H-2A program to obtain legal foreign workers. Their major goal is to get a program that does not involve labor certification, or DOL agreeing that guest workers are needed before they are admitted. Farmers want an alternative method of entry, attestation, which means that a letter to the local Employment Service asserting that the farm employer tried and failed to recruit US workers would be sufficient to permit the foreign workers to obtain visas and enter the US. There would be enforcement under attestation only if there were complaints.
The major changes between 1996 and 1998 include (1) the shift from a pilot program intended to supplement the H-2A program to a permanent program that would eliminate the H-2A program in five years and (2) the removal of any cap or upper limit on guest workers admitted.
1996-Three Year 25,000 Pilot
Congress rejected one version of an attestation farm guest worker program in March 1996, by a vote of 242-180. In February 1995, the National Council of Agricultural Employers proposed a supplementary foreign worker program to fill temporary or seasonal US jobs. The rejected program was offered by Reps Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and Richard Pombo (R-CA) as the "Alternative Agricultural Temporary Worker Program" or "Temporary Agricultural Worker Amendments of 1995...to provide a less bureaucratic alternative for the admission of temporary agricultural workers."
Under the rejected proposal, growers, labor contractors, or associations wanting to employ foreign farm workers would have had to file at least 25 days before the farm job was to begin a labor condition attestation (LCA) with their state Employment Service office listing the number of foreign workers requested and when work was to begin. Local ES offices would review these LCAs "only for completeness and obvious inaccuracies" within seven days after they were filed. Employers violating their attestations or program rules could be assessed civil money penalties, and be debarred from the program.
If the foreign workers the employer wanted to hire were outside the US, growers would submit their names to INS and consulates abroad, and these named workers would have been given H-2B visas to enter the US at the consulates or at a port of entry. Growers could recruit foreign workers anywhere and in whatever manner they wished. Foreign workers would have to leave the US when their jobs end or be subject to deportation, unless another employer promises to hire them within 14 days.
Under the rejected plan, 25 percent of the foreign workers' wages would have been placed into a federal trust fund managed by the INS, which foreign workers would have reclaimed with interest in their country of origin. Foreign workers would have been limited to a maximum two years in the US. Program costs would have been financed by employer contributions equivalent to Social Security and unemployment insurance taxes that would not be paid by growers. Most predictions were that farmers would request the maximum 250,000 guest workers because there was no incentive not to make requests for foreign workers. The guest worker program would sunset after three years if Congress failed to re-authorize the pilot five-state telephone verification system.
The House in March 1996 rejected the Pombo-Gallegly proposal as well as an alternative offered by Rep Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) to modify the H-2A program by transferring it from the Labor Department to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, reducing the period of grower recruitment to 20 days, and capping H-2A admissions at 100,000 per year. The Pombo-Gallegly proposal suggested that farm employers had the support of over 40 percent of House members for a far more flexible foreign worker program.
1997-98-Two Year 20,000 Pilot
On August 1, 1997, Rep. Bob Smith (R-OR) introduced HR 2377, a bill that would create a 24-month pilot program for 25,000 temporary foreign agricultural workers a year, with employers gaining access to these workers by attestation. Under Smith's bill, a new H-2C visa would be issued to up to 25,000 foreign workers each year in at least five "geographically and agriculturally diverse areas" selected by USDA. Farm employers, including contractors and packinghouses, could file labor condition attestations at any time before H-2C workers were needed with the local ES office, asserting that they tried and failed to find US workers, that they would give US preference to fill jobs for the 25 days after the LCA was filed or until five days before work begins, and that the farmer is offering and will pay the higher of the prevailing or minimum wage. USDA would administer the program, and could fine US employers up to $1,000 for violations.
The House immigration subcommittee on March 12, 1998 voted 7-2 in support of the Smith pilot program, after reducing the number of visas to 20,000 and limiting the pilot to two years. The H-2C workers could stay in the US for up to ten months each year, and their families could not join them in the US. To encourage the H-2C workers to return to Mexico or other countries of origin, 25 percent of their wages would be deducted and repaid only in the country of origin if the worker appears in person.
Farmers would initiate admissions and employment by filing a one-page attestation form with their local Employment Service office that promises to pay all workers the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is higher. The farmer would simultaneously file a request for H-2C workers with the INS and, before the H-2C workers arrive in the US, the employer would file a job order with the ES. Employers would not have to provide housing, and would be obliged to pay housing allowances to workers if that is prevailing practice in the area.
1998-AgJobs to Replace H-2A?
On July 21, 1998, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and eight other senators introduced a guest-worker bill, S2337, the Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 1998 or AgJOBS (Congressional Record, July 21, 1998, p. S8661). Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was credited with leading the effort to make S2337 a bipartisan bill, which was endorsed by 103 agricultural organizations. Despite strong opposition from the Clintnon Administration, on July 23, 1998 the Senate approved on a 68-31 vote one version of S2337 as Amendment 3258 to the $33 billion Commerce-Justice-State Department appropriations bill (S 2260). The House-Senate conference committee meeting in September 1998 will have to decide whether to accept the Senate or House version of the CSJ appropriations bill.
The new AgJOBS program would amend the H-2A program and provide for an "alternative program for the admission of H-2A workers" in a new Section 218A; AgJOBS would exist alongside the current H-2A program for five years and then replace the H-2A program. Workers admitted under AgJobs would apparently receive H-2A visas, but would enter and be employed under conditions very different from workers admitted under the current H-2A program.
The major features of the proposed AgJOBS H-2A program include:
1) the creation of DOL-operated registries that would include only US workers legally authorized to work in the U.S.;
2) employers could apply to DOL for registry workers at least 21 days before they are needed, and DOL would have to (1) refer registry workers or (2) certify the need for foreign workers at least seven days before the employer-specified need date;
3) DOS/INS would issue up to 10-month renewable H-2A visas and admit foreign workers to fill vacant farm jobs that could not be filled with registry workers; foreigners could remain in the U.S. continuously for up to three years;
4) employers would pay federal FUTA and FICA taxes to a Trust Fund rather than to UI and SSA on the wages of the foreign workers, about 8.3 percent of their earnings, and this Trust Fund would be used to reimburse DOL and INS for their costs of administering the program (this provision was dropped from the Senate-approved bill in July 1998). Most migrant and seasonal farm workers do farm work for about 1,000 hours a year; at $6-$7 an hour, employers would pay $500 to $580 a year per worker into the Trust Fund. Each 10,000 AgJOBS foreign workers would generate $5 million for the Trust Fund;
5) if the Attorney General found that a significant number of AgJOBS foreign workers were remaining in the U.S., 20 percent of their earnings could be paid into the Trust Fund, and returned to the worker after he surrendered the visa-ID, which would include a photo and biometric information;
6) AgJOBS H-2A foreign workers who do at least six months of farm work in each of four consecutive calendar years could become immigrants; this provision is similar to the probationary immigrant plan of the never used RAW provisions of IRCA; and
7) There is no limit on the number of AgJOBS foreign workers who could be admitted.
The heart of the AgJobs proposal are the registries to be created and maintained by DOL. The registries would act as a matching system only for agriculture. Workers would have to apply for inclusion in the registry, and DOL/INS would have to certify the legal status of all workers asking to be registered, so that only legally authorized workers were referred to growers. Foreign workers could not be admitted so long as there were US workers in the registry for the area who could be referred to farmers. However, U.S. workers could be dropped from the registry if they failed to show up for three jobs and would have to re-register each year to be considered available for farm work.
Employers would initiate the process of securing H-2A workers by filing applications for workers with the DOL registry at least 21 days before the need date. DOL would have seven days to review the employer's application. After its approval, DOL would be obliged to, within seven days, search its registry for U.S. workers and determine if they wanted to fill the jobs registered by the employer. DOL would be required to notify the employer at least seven days before the farmer-specified need date: (1) how many registry workers were expected to show up; and, (2) how many jobs could not be filled by registry workers. A copy must be sent to the Attorney General and the Secretary of State.
Farmers would then be permitted to have admitted to the U.S. nonimmigrant workers to fill the vacant jobs. Employers participating in the registry would have to provide workers compensation coverage for all workers and unemployment insurance for U.S. workers.
September 1998 Volume 4 Number 4
September 1998 Volume 4 Number 4