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1965: A Year of Transition away from Braceros

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August 27, 2020

PL 78, the 1951 law that allowed Mexican Braceros to be employed in seasonal US farm jobs, expired in 1964, ushering in a year of transition in 1965 as US farmers hired US workers to replace Braceros. DOL prepared a report on farm labor that emphasized 1965 was a first step on a long road to encourage farm employers to improve wages and working conditions in order to attract and retain US farm workers.

DOL reported 664,000 year-round farm workers and 2.7 million seasonal farm workers in 1964, including 178,000 Braceros (PL 78), 14,000 H-2 (PL 414) guest workers, and 8,000 Canadians. There were 20,300 “emergency Braceros” in 1965, when the peak employment of US seasonal farm workers in August was 1.1 million.

Ending the Bracero program increased the employment of US farm workers by 100,000 in 1965, including a quarter who were students working during the summer (p10). DOL acknowledged 1965 labor shortages in three areas: Stockton asparagus, Salinas strawberries, and Michigan cucumbers (p17). Many US workers sought farm work because they understood that they would not be competing with Braceros in the fields (pI-14).

In 1951, average hourly wages for seasonal farm workers of $0.77 were 49 percent of manufacturing wages of $1.56. By 1964, wages for seasonal farm workers of $1.08 an hour were 42 percent of manufacturing wages of $2.54, a widening gap attributed to the wage-depressing effects of Braceros (p11).

Hourly farm wages rose to $1.14 in 1965, up 5.5 percent, and some growers converted barracks housing for solo Braceros to family housing to attract US families. California in 1965 became the first state to require growers to provide toilets and handwashing facilities in the fields.

Retail prices of most fresh fruits and vegetables were lower in 1965 than in 1964. Grower and retail prices were more determined by the size of the crop and consumer demand than labor costs.

A California panel convened to review the farm labor market in 1965 recommended (in an appendix) that the federal and state governments encourage farm employers to raise wages that were depressed by the presence of Braceros, ensure more and better housing for seasonal workers, reform the Employment Service farm labor recruitment system, and extend Farm Labor Standards Act protections to farm workers.

On December 19, 1964, DOL Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz issued a statement asserting that US workers would fill jobs that had been filled by Braceros

The explanation given for this program has been that the work the braceros do won't be done by U.S. woerkers. It includes "stoop labor" in vegetables, sugar beet, and cotton fields, the picking of citrus fruits, and other agricultural labor.

A good deal of this work is unquestionably hard and unpleasant. But this is only part of the story. The rest of it is that the wage rates which have been paid for these jobs have been less thatn the rates paid for other kinds of work which are just as hard and just as objectionable. And the working conditions maintained by some of the growers have been so bad that church and civic groups and labor organizations have protested bitterly.

There has been increasing complaint against the importation of these hundreds of thousands of foreign workers being paid wage rates as low as 60 cents an hour while about 4 million U.S. men and women are unemployed.

There has also been accumulating evidence that U.S. workers will be available to do this work if decent working conditions are provided and if it is paid for on terms in line with those for other work that is equally hard and unpleasant.

The employment of seasonal US farm workers peaked in August 1965 at 1.1 million, including 183,000 interstate migrant farm workers, down slightly from 186,000 in July 1964

APPENDIX B
United States
Number of Seasonal Hired Workers, by Origin, 1964 and 1965
  Total Domestic Foreign
Date   Total Local Intrastate Interstate  
1964
January 278,700 249,300 212,200 20,700 16,400 29,400
February 275,300 248,800 215,300 18,000 15,500 26,500
March 294,000 267,300 235,300 15,800 16,300 26,700
April 380,500 342,500 298,000 21,900 22,700 38,000
May 748,000 696,100 592,700 36,800 66,700 51,900
June 1,068,600 998,700 798,800 48,900 151,000 69,900
July 1,290,900 1,236,500 972,400 77,800 186,300 54,400
August 1,118,900 1,050,200 820,900 70,800 158,400 68,700
September 1,061,100 968,300 766,400 61,300 140,600 92,800
October 1,025,200 944,500 783,600 60,300 100,600 80,800
November 571,400 517,900 458,800 33,800 25,300 53,600
December 352,400 312,100 266,400 26,200 19,500 40,300
1965
January 295,700 279,800 237,600 22,700 19,500 15,900
February 293,200 278,800 238,200 21,100 19,500 14,400
March 300,800 290,400 250,800 19,100 20,500 10,400
April 381,600 372,900 317,000 25,900 30,000 8,600
May 733,100 726,500 603,900 48,100 74,500 6,700
June 1,084,700 1,080,300 857,600 64,424 158,300 4,400
July 1,149,300 1,148,000 905,900 82,800 159,300 1,300
August 1,137,600 1,136,400 865,700 87,500 183,200 1,200
September 977,100 961,400 748,00 64,000 149,500 15,700
October 931,900 913,300 749,00 62,800 101,500 18,600
November 477,200 470,300 397,600 46,400 26,300 6,900
December 341,300 331,800 270,200 39,300 22,300 9,500
Note: On this table, as well as on the other tables in this appendix, figures may not add to totals due to rounding.

The employment of seasonal workers in California peaked in September 1965 at 178,000, including 19,000 interstate migrant farm workers. There were 225,000 seasonal farm workers employed in California in September 1964

D6
California
Number of seasonal Hired Workers, by Origin, 1964 and 1965
Date Total Domestic Foreign
  Total Local Intrastate Interstate  
1964
Ganuary 98,000 87,600 69,100 13,600 4,900 10,300
February 85,200 74,500 59,300 11,000 4,200 10,600
March 76,500 65,200 53,000 8,100 4,200 11,200
April 97,100 78,000 61,400 10,600 6,000 19,000
May 150,200 120,400 93,500 17,900 9,000 29,800
June 165,600 127,800 94,100 21,000 12,700 37,800
July 156,600 122,600 87,800 23,900 10,900 33,900
August 161,300 124,600 86,700 25,400 12,500 36,700
September 225,200 161,200 110,000 33,600 17,700 36,900
October 175,900 124,400 93,00 20,900 10,400 51,600
November 89,000 70,000 55,700 8,500 5,800 19,000
December 93,400 80,700 64,800 11,000 4,800 12,700
1965
January 90,200 89,300 70,100 13,900 5,300 900
February 83,000 83,000 63,800 13,700 5,500 0
March 73,800 73,200 55,800 12,000 5,400 600
April 84,800 84,600 63,000 14,700 7,000 100
May 140,200 139,400 100,200 25,500 13,600 800
June 166,200 162,800 114,700 30,400 17,800 3,400
July 142,000 141,300 96,400 26,900 18,000 700
August 146,100 145,500 100,000 29,200 16,300 600
September 178,000 166,600 113,100 34,600 18,900 11,400
October 161,600 148,200 108,600 27,600 11,900 13,400
November 102,100 100,180 78,200 15,100 6,900 1,900
December 90,100 89,700 69,500 14,200 6,000 400

Foreign workers (Braceros) contributed an average 26 percent of California’s seasonal farm worker months between 1959 and 1964

Table I
Seasonal Employment in California Agriculture
Man Years of Foreign and Domestic Labor 1959-65
Average Total Seasonal Man Years Seasonal Domestic Man Years Domestic as % of Total Contract Foreign Man Years Foreign As % of Total
1959-64 136,280 100,500 73.7 35,780 26.3
1965 118,200 115,000 97.3 3,200 2.7

The acreage of some California commodities fell between 1964 and 1965, especially tomatoes

D - 9
California
Acreage, Production and Value of Crop, 1964 - 1965
Crop and Year Acreage Production Value of Crop
Tomatoes
1964 178,300 3,321,600 tons $152,322,000
1965 147,600 2,743,200 tons $163,983,000 1
Asparagus
1964 65,400 91,550 tons $22,867,000
1965 54,900 76,350tons $24,056,000
Strawberries
1964 9,000 114,300 tons $46,853,000
1965 8,300 87,830 tons $39,211,000
Cantaloupes
1964 47,300 338,500 tons $28,682,000
1965 42,800 303,500 tons $30,330,000
Grapes
1964 3,155,000 tons $175,903,000
1965 3,960,000 tons $162,000,000
Lemons
1964 17,300,000 boxes $46,364,000
1965 13,500,000 boxes $41,580,000
Oranges
1964 32,000,000 boxes $130,444,000
1965 31,600,000 boxes $100,468,000
Sugarbeets
1964 364,300 2 7,439,000 tons $84,061,000
1965 292,000 2 6,497,000 tons INA
Lettuce
1964 115,100 1,150,250 tons $92,876,000
1965 115,600 1,192,550 tons $96,443,000
1 The value of the processing crop was $101,086,000 in 1965, compared with $93,994,000 in 1964.
2 Planted acreage.

Foreign workers dominated the processing tomato harvest between 1961 and 1964

A. Acreage, Production, Yield, and Crop Value, 1959-64 and 1965
  Change (Average 1959-64 to 1965)
  Average 1959-64 1965 Value of Crop Percent
Harvested Acreage 142,617 116,000 -26,617 -18.7%
Production (Tons) 2,541,000 2,450,000 -91,000 -3.6%
Average Yield (Tons/ Acre) 17.8 21.0 +3.2 +18.0%
Total Value $65,558,000 $86,000,000 +20,442,000 +31.2%

 

B. Man Years of Employment 1961-64* and 1965
  Change (Average 1961-64 to 1965)
  Average 1961-64 1965 Absolute Percent
Domestic 1,749.3* 4,041.7 +2,292.4 +131.0%
Foreign 6,557.1* 1,956.0 -4,601.1 -70.2%
Total 8,306.4* 5,997.7 -2,308.7 -27.8%
* A breakdown between domestic and foreign labor usage by crop activity was not maintained prior to 1961 by the California Department of Employment.

AEWRs in 1965 ranged from $1.15 to $1.40 an hour. The federal minimum wage rose from $1.15 to $1.25 September 3, 1965; the federal farm minimum wage was $1 after February 1, 1967

Schedule B
State Wage Rate State Wage Rate
Arizona $1.25 New Hampshire 1.30
Arkansas 1.15 New Jersey 1.30
California 1.40 New Mexico 1.15
Colorado 1.30 New York 1.30
Connecticut 1.40 Oregon 1.30
Florida 1.15 Rhode Island 1.30
Indiana 1.25 South Dakota 1.40
Kansas 1.40 Texas 1.15
Maine 1.25 Utah 1.40
Massachusetts 1.30 Vermont 1.30
Michigan 1.25 Virginia 1.15
Minnesota 1.40 West Virginia 1.15
Montana 1.40 Wisconsin 1.30
Nebraska 1.40 Wyoming 1.25

US Department of Labor. 1965. Year of transition, seasonal farm labor, 1965 ; a report from the Secretary of Labor.


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