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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

Farm Workers: 2007, EEOC, Indigenous

Crop Farms. The USDA surveys farm employers four times a year. In 2007, USDA reported that the average employment of crop workers in California was 172,000. An additional average of 117,900 workers were brought to farms by labor contractors, for a total 290,000 FTE, that is, 41 percent of workers were brought to crop farms by labor contractors.

Average annual direct-hire employment on crop farms, according to employer reports to UI authorities, was 172,200 in 2007 and 174,800 in 2008. Average annual contractor employment in 2007 was 117,900.

In 2007, California crop farms reported to the Census of Agriculture that they paid $4.1 billion to 404,000 directly hired workers, an average $10,200 per job. In addition, they paid $2.2 billion for contract labor expenses. At an average $10,200 per job, this suggests 214,500 contract-labor jobs on crop farms, or a total 618,600.

California farm workers interviewed by the NAWS in 2003-04 reported an average 1.4 employers during the previous year, suggesting that 618,600 farm jobs were filled by 448,260 unique workers. Workers averaged 32.3 weeks of farm work in 2003-04, or 32/52 or 0.62 of a FTE worker. Multiplying 448,260 unique workers by 0.62 yields 275,700 FTE workers.

A separate state survey of farm employers conducted each month generates data on production workers; the USDA survey covers both production workers and supervisors. It reported slightly more workers employed on crop farms in 2007, an average 175,200, plus 117,300 workers brought to farms by farm labor contractors, for a total of 292,500, with 40 percent brought to farms by FLCS. In the San Joaquin Valley, more workers are brought to farms by FLCs than are hired directly by crop employers.

EEOC. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 93,277 private sector discrimination charges in FY09 and recovered $294 for discrimination victims through administrative enforcement. The EEOC filed 281 merit suits in FY09, including 111 seeking for classes of individuals, and filed 19 new court cases targeting alleged systemic discrimination in FY09.

The EEOC publishes data on employment by race, ethnicity and sex by industry ( Between 1986 and 2006, the share of minority workers in the private sector doubled from 15 to 32 percent. By 2007, over 53 percent of laborers across the US, 50 percent of service workers, and 40 percent of operatives were minorities. Agriculture (67 percent), waste management (51 percent), and food services (47 percent) were the industries with the highest shares of minority workers.

EEOC data are collected from private employers with 100 or more workers and federal contractors with at least 50 workers. The 554 US crop producers (North American Industrial Classification System or NAICS 111) reported 139,000 employees in 2007, including 95,000 Hispanics, of whom 65,000 were men. These crop employees included 89,000 laborers, of whom 77,000 were Hispanic and 53,000 were men. The 327 animal producers (NAICS 112) reported 72,000 employees, including 28,000 Hispanics, of whom 19,000 were men. Of the 36,000 laborers in animal agriculture, 20,000 were Hispanic, including 13,000 men. Finally, there were 245 support firms for agriculture (NAICS 115) with 73,000 employees, including 46,000 Hispanics, of whom 30,000 were men. Among the 39,000 laborers, 34,000 were Hispanic and 21,000 were men.

More detailed data are available. For example, the 119 fruit and tree nut farms (NAICS 1113) reported 45,000 employees, including 35,000 Hispanics, 78 percent. About 36,000 of the employees were laborers, and 86 percent of them were Hispanic. The 75 vegetable and melon farms (NAICS 1112) reported 23,000 employees, including 20,000 Hispanics. Of the 18,000 laborers, 17,000 were Hispanic, 95 percent. The 199 greenhouse operations (NAICS 1114) reported 43,000 employees, including 29,000 Hispanics. Of the 26,000 laborers, 22,000 were Hispanic.

Some 758 employers reported 451,000 employees in meatpacking (NAICS 3116), 62 percent men and 45 percent Hispanic. The largest type of meatpacking worker is laborer. Of the 234,000 in 2007, 123,000 or 52 percent were Hispanic, and 70,000 of these Hispanic meatpacking laborers were men.

Indigenous. Most newcomers to the US hired farm work force were born in Mexico, and an increasing share of Mexican newcomers are indigenous, meaning with Amer-Indian roots. The Mexican constitution recognizes 62 indigenous groups, and aims to protect their "customs and traditions." One feature of indigenous communities in Mexico is community service, providing time and money to support the community.

According to the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, the indigenous are 15 to 30 percent of the 110 million Mexican residents. About seven percent or eight million speak an indigenous language and one percent or over a million do not speak Spanish. Indigenous peoples are poorer and more likely to live in rural areas than other Mexicans.

The share of indigenous among Mexican-born farm workers in California has been rising. Most estimates suggest that less than 10 percent of Mexican-born farm workers in California in the early 1990s were indigenous, and that today 20 to 30 percent are indigenous. All Mexican farm workers use networks of friends and relatives already in the US to learn about jobs and often to finance the trip north, but indigenous Mexicans are even more dependent on networks.

Indigenous Mexican-born farm workers are concentrated in two of the lowest wage but labor-intensive crops? harvesting raisin grapes around Fresno and harvesting strawberries from Watsonville south to Oxnard.

What does the presence of over 100,000 mostly poor indigenous Mexican-born farm workers mean for California agriculture? First, farm employers have to deal with very poorly educated workers who may not speak Spanish. Education levels are rising in Mexico, but slower in rural areas of the southern Mexican states such as Oaxaca. Given federal and state requirements to educate farm workers about heat and pesticide safety, farm employers may have to add appropriate language instruction for indigenous newcomers.

Second, the indigenous arrive with more disadvantages than other Mexican-born migrants, and a combination of their youth and lack of Spanish or English, tendency to have US-born children, and very low incomes mean that their children face severe obstacles to US success. It is not clear whether assistance agencies serving farm workers are adding indigenous speakers or promoting the learning of English and Spanish.

Third, as newcomers, the indigenous earn the lowest wages in California and are most vulnerable to foreman and others who provide jobs and services. Indigenous tied to communities in Mexico may have less interest in learning about their US rights, since they expect to return, which can make enforcement of labor laws very difficult.

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