The US Farm Labor Market in Selected States:
The Commission on Agricultural Workers (CAW)
held nine hearings around the United States in 1990-91 to examine
the effects of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
on farm workers, farm employers, and farm labor markets.
Philip Martin was one of 11 Commissioners,
and these notes are his summaries of testimony presented to the
CAW. The CAW published its Final Report in 1992, and two volumes
of supplementary materials, one that includes research commissioned
by the CAW, and one that includes the transcripts of the hearings
The summaries below are those of Martin, not the CAW.
1. Hillsboro, Oregon, July 20-21, 1990. 1
2. Visalia, California, August 23-24, 1990 and August 1991 Update. 4
3. Raleigh, North Carolina, September 28-29, 1990. 11
4. Coachella, Ca December 5-7, 1990. 15
5. Westlaco, Texas January 15-17, 1991. 18
6. West Palm Beach, Florida February 14-16, 1991. 21
7. Grand Rapids, Michigan June 24-25, 1991. 30
8. Rochester, New York August 20-21,1991. 32
9. Las Cruces, New Mexico October 22-24, 1991. 34
2. Visalia, California, August 23-24, 1990 and August 1991 Update. 4
3. Raleigh, North Carolina, September 28-29, 1990. 11
4. Coachella, Ca December 5-7, 1990. 15
5. Westlaco, Texas January 15-17, 1991. 18
6. West Palm Beach, Florida February 14-16, 1991. 21
7. Grand Rapids, Michigan June 24-25, 1991. 30
8. Rochester, New York August 20-21,1991. 32
9. Las Cruces, New Mexico October 22-24, 1991. 34
Especially in Oregon, the work force has changed during the 1980s.
In the early 1980s, the harvest work force included a significant
share of local teens and Texas- and California-based US citizens
migrants. Today, most harvest workers are immigrants. This means
that, during the 1980s, housing became of more concern because:
(l) the demand for labor was stable or increased and (2) the work
force became more migrant. Oregon strawberry growers responded
to these labor supply shifts by providing more housing; Yakima
apple growers did not.
The northwestern states of Oregon, Washington,
and Idaho hire a peak 150,000 to 170,000 farmworkers. No
one knows what the domestic supply might be or how effective the
Employment Service(ES) might be as labor intermediary under normal
labor market conditionsóit was noted frequently that conditions
are not normal with so many illegals in the area. Housing is
required to get workers through the interstate clearance system;
but trying to recruit US workers in, e.g., Texas for Idaho employers
who have requested H-2A workers is difficult because the workers
(and Texas ES) do not believe that these job orders are "real."
Today the work force is primarily foreign-born,
and the local Hispanic communities with which these migrants interact
are relatively small in Oregon, larger in Yakima. This migrant
work force is diverse: some are Texas and California-based migrants
who come north for the housing in Oregon and the end-of-season
work in Yakima. However, the major grower fear - at least in Oregon
- is that growers no longer know who the workers are, and they
fear that FLC control of workers could bring about a situation
in which there are suddenly no workers.
Oregon growers have convinced themselves
that, at current piecerates, workers who average a little more
than minimum wage are satisfied with the wages and the intermittent
work, but they acknowledge the lack of housing. Thus, instead
of raising wages, forming labor exchanges or some other centralized
system to allocate seasonal workers, or providing benefits to
attract and retain workers, they urged the federal government
to: (l) help them to provide housing for seasonal workers and
(2) provide a flexible and easy access guestworker program in
case the current system does not deliver workers as needed.
Problems. Growers fear there won't
be sufficient workers at some future time because they simply
don't know very much about their current workers. Experience tells
them that housing attracts workers to the area, but they appear
to believe that raising wages within the season simply moves workers
from farm to farm, hence they offer $20 to $30 cash bonuses to
workers in other farmers' camps instead of raising piecerates.
Could American workers be brought to the
Northwest through the ES interstate clearance system? DOL describes
the requirements as: (l) employer-provided free housing and (2)
employer offers of at least prevailing wages and conditions. Both
Oregon and Washington employers report that ES recruitment: (l)
has had only limited success in getting workers and (2) subjects
them to legal challenges, as when a worker shows up, finds the
work or housing not as described, and sues the employer. Given
the large supply of "documented illegals,'' neither workers
nor employers has much incentive to use the ES system to try to
recruit workers in other states. Furthermore, with rumors that
employers have been able to sometimes manipulate the system to
discourage domestic migrants from taking or keeping jobs(Idaho),
there is widespread distrust and little enthusiasm within ES to
recruit in e.g. Texas for Idaho.
Since H-2A requires employers seeking legal
foreign workers to first attempt to recruit US workers through
the ES interstate clearance system, H-2A is allegedly unworkable
for northwestern employers. Employer frustration arises from the
fact that : (l) growers know there are "documented illegals"
available, who carry only a minimal risk of harvest-time apprehension,
(2) these "documented illegals" could be legal H-2A's,
but (3) to make them H-2A's means ES interstate clearance, which
might result in domestic workers showing up for the jobs that
the employer really wants to give to foreigners as well as possible
litigation. Farmworker advocates say: (l) there are local workers
- look at the Washington application for 1,000 H-2A's in 1989
that produced responses from 1,200 local workers and (2) employers
prefer the illegals or H-2A's, so they see the domestic workers
who respond to ES recruitment as an "obstacle" to getting
the foreign workers they really want.
The most common worker documentation provided
by workers to satisfy INS I-9 requirements was reported to be
I-551's and social security cards. Furthermore, it was reported
that if an alien is going to buy documentation, he prefers to
buy permanent work authorization. The INS sometimes apprehends
aliens, completes the voluntary departure paperwork on them, and
then returns them to their temporary farm housing with instructions
to leave the United States within 10 to 30 days. Farmers allege
that this places them in a catch-22 situation; the alien may have
no money to buy a bus ticket to depart, and yet is not authorized
to work to earn money (unless he buys new documents). lNS defended
this policy by saying it has limited resources to pay for the
transportation of aliens it apprehends to the border from the
Since "documented illegals" are
20 to 50 percent of the farm work force today, there is little
prospect that farmers will move toward a centralized worker and
job matching system such as interstate clearance or H-2A which
would guarantee employers a work force at the expense of wage
and housing guarantees for workers and possible litigation. Indeed,
instead of investing in housing or other worker benefits to assure
themselves a supply of labor, growers seem more inclined to invest
in the political system for an insurance supply of easy-access
The parties closest to the agricultural
labor market in the Northwest do not seem likely to resolve their
differences. Growers want an easy access foreign worker program;
worker advocates say there are or would be enough local workers,
especially at slightly higher wages. In Oregon, a reduced acreage
- brought about by higher wages, low prices, and labor supply
uncertainty - might reduce the demand for labor enough to bring
the area's farm labor housing supply and demand into better balance.
In Washington, it appears that apple growers have undertaken an
expansion of acreage and simply assumed that seasonal workers
would be available when needed. Washington is developing local
farmworker communities, which can swell with friends and relatives
at harvest time, but Washington growers appear to be similar to
California growers in making decisions to expand production and
simply assuming that the harvest work force will be available
when it is needed.
California includes at least 25 percent
of the nation's Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers(MSFWs), and 52 percent
or 668,000 of the 1,273,000 Special Agricultural workers(SAW)
applicants applied in the state. In FY 1985, California's Employment
Development Department(EDD) registered over 900,000 workers, including
32,320 or 3.6 percent MSFWs who came to the ES seeking help
to find a job or other services; 15,000 or almost half of these
MSFWs registered with the ES were placed in jobs. In FY 1989,
California EDD registered 857,000 workers, including 46,485 MSFWs,
and placed 27,150 MSFWs in jobs. MSFWs represent about 5 percent
of California's annual ES placements, and half or more of the
MSFWs who register typically get placed in jobs. However, it
was noted that some ES local offices are reluctant to register
MSFWs if they cannot find jobs for them.
EDD-related complaints quadrupled from 93
in FY 85 to 376 in FY 1989. Only one-third of the FY 1989 complaints
related to EDD or to an employer to whom EDD referred workers;
two-thirds of the complaints received by EDD were not ES related.
California EDD has 39 ABR Personnel Equivalents (PE's) and 20
full-year PE outreach workers; some ABRs are also outreach workers.
California EDD began on June 1, 1987 to offer California employers
the only no-fee I-9 employee verification service in the state,
and in one month EDD certified and referred about 40,000 applicants.
The California Legislature then prohibited EDD from expending
monies to complete I-9 forms for the workers it referred to employers.
IRCA appropriated $10 million annually
to DOL to administer the increased activities expected as employers
sought foreign workers under the H-2A program. This upsurge in
employer applications for H-2A workers has not materialized in
California as expected, so these labor certification funds have
been used by California and other states for collecting and reporting
a variety of farm labor data. However, the quality of these data
varies, and there is not always appropriate coordination between
ES staff involved in these activities.
One problem is that ES farm staff often
have multiple duties. In California, one person in farmworker-oriented
ES offices may make placements with regular ES funds, do agricultural
reporting and have part of his/her salary paid with labor certification
monies, and then do outreach among farmworkers with outreach funds.
Placement activities "count" in the ES system only
if an employer places a job order. The ES then verifies that
the job satisfies federal and state laws, and the ES can refer
a worker to the job. If an ES person simply tells workers that
a certain employer is hiring, and they go to the employer and
are hired, ES gets no placement credit because there is no registration
of the MSFW in the ES office and the employer job order is not
registered with the ES.
There were three themes running through
the California testimony. First, SAWs plus documented illegals
have produced an oversupply of workers. Second, SAW and IRCA
generally have not changed employer behavior-- except that most
employers complete I-9's--or pushed up worker wages, increased
union activities, or affected US competitiveness. Third, SAW
plus IRCA may have contributed to more grower reliance on labor
contractors and other intermediaries.
Specifically, the minimum wage and not SAW
is the primary reason for most of the increased wages that were
reported. Unions continued their decline after IRCA--there are
now more unions and self-help worker organizations--perhaps 12--but
fewer workers under union contract--perhaps 10,000-- than at any
time since the early 1970s. SAW fraud and the spread of work-authorizing
documents and the spread of information in Mexico about how to
obtain a US job may have contributed to post-IRCA illegal immigration,
which has helped to generate an oversupply of workers. Most
genuine rural SAWs are not leaving agriculture, and the SAW program
plus sanctions have not decreased the farm labor supply, but continued
illegal immigration (non-enforcement) may have contributed to
the current oversupply of workers.
A considerable fraction of all persons employed
in agriculture work less than 10 to 12 months per year, and many
work in field harvesting for only 8 to 10 years. There is a current
oversupply of farmworkers, although 20 to 50 percent of the
current work force may be "documented illegals." Most
seasonal workers find employment during 20 to 30 weeks each year
and earn $3,000 to $5,000óthey are usually available for
and seeking work 40 or more weeks. Employer labor-management
techniques vary widely, but most employment arrangements are handled
informally through an intermediary FLC or foreman. There are
considerable geographic variations in farm labor markets that
are not well documented. Finally, since SAW has not so far affected
labor costs, it has probably not affected the competitive position
of US crops.
The testimony indicated that (1) there was
a post-IRCA expansion of labor intensive agriculture despite growers'
labor-shortage concerns; (2) growers want a post-RAW or after
September 1993 and non-H2A foreign worker insurance program, but
they have not considered how to design such a program so that
the expansion of acreage which did not consider workers or housing
would stop; and (3) that there are very different employment practices
in the same commodity.
One recurring topic was FLCs. Since IRCA,
labor contractors and Raitero van drivers have "taken over"
seasonal harvests with crews of illegal young men, and they compete
with each other for harvesting jobs by offering to supply a crew
for the going wage plus an unrealistically low commission of perhaps
30 percent, and then they make a profit by cheating the government
(not reporting all of the payroll to avoid payroll taxes) or cheating
the workers by not paying full wages or charging them for housing
or rides. It seems that more workers are settling in the United
States, that they want to bring their families with them, so that
(1) family housing, schools, and other integration-into-the United
States issues will loom large in rural America in the 1990s, and
(2) there is little evidence that a temporary worker program
can be recommended on the basis that most immigrant farmworkers
"want" to be sojourners and not settlers in the United
Many employers helped their illegal alien
workers to become SAWs, but some decided that completing I-9's
and the potential exposure to INS paperwork enforcement justified
switching to farm labor contractors (FLCs). FLCs are apparently
readily available at about the same cost as hiring workers directly;
in addition to the gross hourly or piecerate wage paid to the
worker, the farmer or FLC should pay about 7.6 percent of
gross wages for social security taxes; usually 5 to 5.4 percent
for unemployment insurance; and 8 to 18 percent for workers
compensation, or 21 to 31 percent in mandatory payroll taxes.
Employers may also incur clerical costs to complete I-9's, maintain
records, and issue checks (commercial firms do this for 2 to 3 percent
of the gross payroll) as well as costs for any additional employee
benefits, housing, transportation, or supervision, so if FLC's
are available for the going wage plus a 26 to 33 percent
commission, it is economically rational for growers to turn to
FLCs, as many apparently have.
The switch to FLCs puts the farm labor market
further out of government influence or control. FLCs and Raiteros
(R) (driver-foremen) may be responsible for 70 to 80 percent
of the seasonal employment in some commodities, meaning that direct
hiring by employers has become the exception, not the rule. The
FLC/R system thrives by hiring often documented illegal workers
at piecerate wages that haven't changed much during the 1980s,
charging such a low overhead to employers that employers have
no incentive to hire workers directly, and then making money by
cheating the government or charging the workers for transportation,
housing, food, etc.
FLCs reported privately that they make,
at most, 3 to 5 percent on "straight" contracting.
Their profits are in two areas: underreporting wages to underpay
payroll taxes and charging for services to workers. One FLC estimated
to me that most FLCs report only about two-thirds of their wages
and employment for, e.g., UI taxes, so that on a $300,000 payroll,
the FLC may net 5 percent on the $200,000 reported ($10,000)
plus 20 percent on the $100,000 not reported, for an overall
profit margin of about 10 percent of the total payroll.
In addition, the FLC can charge going rates for transportation
($3 to $4 per day), housing ($3 daily without food; $8 to $10
with food); and perhaps also for check cashing, etc.
Growers and workers testified about bad
FLCs and FLC abuses, but there seemed to be few ideas for effectively
regulating them. Growers opposed strict joint liability with
FLCs. FLCs historically thrived by employing recent immigrants
whom they understood well enough to prevent most worker complaints
from being registered, and FLCs today seem to be no exception.
Growers expressed concerns about "spot"
labor shortages, and asserted that IRCA is the most significant
labor legislation affecting California agriculture in the 1980s,
but this grower concern has not led to widespread efforts
to retain newly legalized SAWs with higher wages, new benefits,
or housing. Most of the employers who were wage and benefit leaders
before IRCA are still paying more than average, but middle and
lower wage employers have not joined them to level the playing
field. Instead, there was more testimony about "good"
employers dropping worker benefits such as health insurance or
no longer providing housing because the costs of such benefits
increased and, with workers in oversupply, it made no sense to
continue offering them.
Growers requested some type of guestworker
insurance program in addition to H-2A beyond the RAW program,
but offered no suggestions for linking such a future alien worker
program to mechanisms which would actually encourage growers to
modify their employment practices. Most fruits and vegetables
must be transported, packed, or processed, and there was a remarkable
lacuna in explaining why these associated nonfarm labor marketsówhich
are subject to almost the same unpredictable weather as the field
labor marketsódid not need a SAW program and do not need
an alien worker insurance program.
The farm work force is a full-time work
force in the sense that workers are available six or seven days
each week and for long hours on each day. This availability and
piecerate wages mean that there is little incentive to organize
work so workers can maximize their earningsówaits at the
field before, during, and after work are common. This makes calculating
hourly earnings difficult, e.g., a crew of five can pick two gondolas
or 2 tons of winegrapes at $15 in one hour, implying $6 hourly
[$150/30 hours], but the workers may be available at 8:00
a.m., start at 9:00 a.m., are told to stop at 2:00 p.m., and then
don't leave the field until 3:00 p.m.óif the two hour
wait is added to the five working hours, each crew member earns
only $3.75 [$150/40 hours]. In addition, most farmworkers
hired through FLCs and Raiteros have commuting time to the field.
Workers spoke of low wages, poor working
conditions, pesticides, FLC abuse, and problems of finding housing
and dealing with the INS. Workers were quite eloquent in describing
their problemsóthe family fairness issue is especially
daunting, given that over 80 percent of the SAWs are men,
over 40 percent are married, but most worked in the United
States without their families in 1985-86. Now that they are legal,
and given conditions in Mexico, many want to settle here despite
the housing, etc., problems, but they can't unify their families
in the United States legally.
Workers seemed remarkably imprecise about
wages, days worked, etc.ósome of this may have been due
to the formal setting, but it does raise questions about the
reliability of retrospective work histories. Many workersóduring
the seasonóare essentially available "full-time,"
even though they may get work only two or three days each week
and sometimes for only three to five hours. Theoretically, a
centralized computer system that included all seasonal jobs and
workers could eliminate some of this lost time by allocating workers
on a daily basis, but the decentralized FLC-Raitero direct hire
system in place seems to promote private "hoarding"
of crews. The few examples of sharing workers acknowledged that
if sharing resulted in the primary employer's work being delayed
a day or two, it would not be welcomed.
The August 1990 hearing in Visalia heard
that a continued influx of "documented illegals" had
depressed wages and earnings and encouraged farmers to turn more
hiring over to the proliferating number of FLCs, many of whom
offered to recruit, I-9, transport, train, supervise, and pay
workers for commissions or overheads of 25 to 33 percent
of the worker's base wage (e.g., $4.25), or about what a farmer
would have to pay himself just for payroll taxes and worker compensation.
Even "good employers" acknowledged that they were offering
fewer seasonal workers optional benefits such as family health
insurance, and that they were turning more employment over to
An August 1991 return visit indicates that
these 1990 trends persist. There are plenty of workers, even
more FLCs, Raiteros (rural taxis) and other FLC-type job matchers,
and continued deteriorating conditions for workers. The labor
force is larger than usual in the summer of 1991; some say because
of a December 1990 freeze which allegedly made 15,000 mostly citrus
workers unemployed and a drought which reduced the acreage planted
in cotton, rice, wheat, and other field crops by an estimated
[It should be noted that employment data
do not support these estimates of lower employment, e.g., in December
1990 EDD's CES-agriculture survey estimated that there were 2,800 citrus
production workers on citrus farm payrolls for the pay period
which included the 12th of December, and an additional 34,800
production employees of FLCs. In January 1991, San Joaquin Valley
citrus production employment fell by 900 to 1,900, and FLC employment
fell by 3000 to 31,900. In February 1991, there were still 1,900
directly-hired citrus worker, but only 25,700 FLC workers. Even
if all of these December to February declines were attributed
to the freeze/drought, then employment fell from 37,600 to 27,600
Hourly wages in the San Joaquin Valley remain
at the $4.25 to $4.50 levels established on July 1, 1988, when
California's minimum wage went from $3.35 to $4.25. Piecerates
are also stable; in at least one instance, a FLC attempted to
substitute a bigger bucket for the 5-gallon bucket into which
mature green tomatoes are picked for the same 45¢ per bucket
piecerate, but a short strike restored the old bucket. Local
observers reported a variety of abuses, including lining up workers,
separating them by legal status, and then hiring only documented
illegals who, e.g., don't ask about the piecerate or payday ("workers
who asked questions don't get hired").
Several issues stand out, including the
severe shortage of affordable housing, uncompensated waiting time,
and the integration of settled SAW workers with their mostly illegal
families. Several more employer-owned camps have disappeared,
and workers talk of having to pay $80 to $100 monthly to share
a private house with 5 to 15 other workers, and then also pay
$80 monthly for rides to the fields. This means that workers
who do find, say, 200 hours of work at $5 hourly have their $1000
peak season monthly earnings reduced by 16 percent just because
there is less on-farm housing available for them. The disappearance
of low-cost rural housing would likely threaten the availability
of workers willing to work seasonally at current wages if there
was not a continued influx of "documented illegals."
A perennial issue in farm labor markets
is waiting time. Farmers want to have a crew of workers on standby
so that, when conditions are optimal, the work can begin. Workers
are not paid for their standby time; as free or low-cost on-farm
housing disappears, the cost of this standby time to workers increases
because they must wait far from their housing. Employers have
been able to get workers to wait until work is ready to begin
(1) without compensation and (2) even though the workers
live in off-the-farm housing because of the oversupply of workers.
In 2 cases, 4 or 5 tomato pickers who were not hired had to wait
at the field until their friends who were hired finished picking
because the friend or foreman who drove them there was working.
Integration refers to the settlement of
previously solo male migrant workers and the demands they and
their families make on schools, health care, and social services.
There appear to be fewer-and-fewer follow-the-crop migrant families;
families with seniority rights to public camps still come to the
San Joaquin Valley, but they stay put once they arrive. Instead
of following the crops, they tend to commute long distances to
jobs because of the usual absence of any other affordable family
housing if they moved closer to a 2nd or 3rd job. Many local
families are also avoiding agricultural jobs; working conditions
have declined with FLCs; seasonality has increased, so there are
fewer hours of work available for the typical worker; and changing
attitudes as well as, e.g., youth programs encouraged settled
families and teens avoid seasonal farm work, especially when they
can make money "servicing" newly arrived solo men from
Mexico by e.g. providing them with housing, rides, or check cashing
Legalization, the freeze, and regulatory
changes have introduced an increasingly large group of farmworker
families to social services just as federal and state government
programs are cutting back assistance (but often mandating that
the service continue to be provided by the city or county). California's
realignment program, which turns back to local areas both the
mandate to provide the service and the taxing power to raise monies
for services, does not help rural areas much because their revenue
sources do not rise much with the settlement of farmworker families
that earn $4000 to $8000. Property and sales tax increases have
not kept pace with welfare-related costs.
California provides an AFDC grant of $694
monthly ($663 after September 1, 1991) throughout the state.
About one-sixth of the Fresno county population receives welfare,
and one-quarter receive some form of public assistance. Between
March 1988 and March 1990, the AFDC caseload increased in the
San Joaquin Valley by two or three times the population increase,
a trend attributed by AFDC administrators to economic problems
in the San Joaquin Valley and the migration of AFDC recipients
from higher-cost coastal countries to the San Joaquin Valley.
Once in the San Joaquin Valley, persons on AFDC tend to stay on welfare, since the usual package of AFDC, Food Stamps, and Medi-Cal provides more money and more security than an often seasonal farm job without benefits that pays $5 hourly. According to one person, 80 percent of the new AFDC cases in Los Angeles county are the US-born children of illegal immigrants; since the US-citizen born child is eligible, then the single mothers are eligible for AFDC.
North Carolina has 77 ES offices, with 32
in rural areas, of which 14 have significant farm labor activity.
There are 33 ABRs (Rural Manpower representatives) and 13 seasonal
outreach workers (p. 102 of the hearing transcript).
North Carolina between June 1989 and June
1990 placed 154,000 persons in jobs, including 15,200 individuals,
or 10 percent in agricultural jobs (p. 103). There were
33,000 agricultural transactions or placements(one person could
be placed in two or more farm jobs), and 27,000 involved MSFWs.
North Carolina attracts interstate migrants
from Florida and Texas and tries to track them with its Automated
Migrant Working Itinerary System (AMWITS). In 1990, North Carolina
had 64 employers applying for 1,216 H-2A workers (p. 106).
However, it was also reported that, in 1990, 110 growers
were using H-2A workers, usually 6 to 10 each (p. 111).
North Carolina had an estimated 209,000
peak agricultural workers in 1980 and 142,000 in 1990, but the
number and percentage of migrants increasedó28,300 migrants
were 14 percent of all farmworkers in 1980, while 29,400
were 21 percent of all farmworkers in 1990 (p. 108).
All housing for North Carolina migrants
must be registered under a 1989 North Carolina law. In 1990,
there were 1,500 growers registered, and 880 had approved certificates
to house 16,400 migrants(p. 111). However, funding for inspections
was eliminated in the 1990-91 budget. (Emmrich, Manford, "Testimony
before CAW," Raleigh, North Carolina, September 29, 1990.)
North Carolina has over 50,000 farms, and
at least half hire some labor. A recurring theme was that since
tobacco quotas are small and hard to transfer, most tobacco farms
are small employers with 4 to 12 workers. Farms with 10 to 25
acres of tobacco traditionally planted a vegetableóoften
cucumbersóto provide summer employment for hired workers
between the April-May tobacco planting and August-September tobacco
harvesting. In addition, tobacco farms often plant field crops
such as soybeans and wheat to rotate with tobacco.
The seasonal nature of the demand (need)
for labor was emphasized repeatedly; apparently North Carolina
gets 25,000 to 35,000 migrants, and houses themóusually
without chargeóin 1,000 or more on-farm labor camps. Since
North Carolina growers switched from a local to a migrant work
force only in the 1970s, they usually provide this housing free
of charge to attract the migrants.
There was conflicting testimony on whether
seasonality has increased or decreased in the 1980s, but increased
seasonality seems probable because of larger and more specialized
farms. Local workers seem to have been pushed out of farm work
by what they perceived to be worsening jobs--they had to shift
between employers-- as well as the pull of nonfarm jobs. All
observers agree that the transition to Hispanic migrant workers
was strongest near urban areas where the pull of nonfarm jobs
is presumably strongest.
There are year-round, seasonal, and migratory
workers employed in North Carolina agriculture. About 80 to 90 percent
of the migrant work force is Hispanic, and the migrant work force
began this transition from local and Florida-based Blacks and
Whites during the mid- to late-1970s. This ethnic shift accelerated
in the 1980s. According to most evidence, the Hispanic percentage
of the work force has continued to increase since IRCA, and is
today 60 to 70 percent of the peak seasonal work force.
The legal status of these Hispanic migrant
workers is unclear. Most evidence suggests that 30 to 50 percent
are "documented illegals"ósimilar to the California
percentages. There has been little INS enforcement in North Carolina.
The evidence on SAW mobility was mixed.
Worker advocates reported that a lack of English kept most SAWs
in agriculture, although some SAWs have reportedly shifted from
seasonal tobacco to year-round poultry jobs. Employers reported
a considerable number of SAW exits, but their evidence was mostly
the non-return of SAWs to their own farm, not their exit from
agriculture. There were fewer than 10,000 SAW applications in
North Carolina, although some of the 120,000 Florida SAWs probably
had done some North Carolina SAS work.
There are 1,000 H-2A workers in North Carolina,
and these 4 percent of the migrants were the focus of perhaps
half the testimony. The worker advocates were uniformly anti-H2A,
citing grower preferences for guaranteed and vulnerable H-2A workers
as a factor pushing local and US workers out of farm jobs. Worker
advocates complained that the ES "conspired" with employers
to certify the use of H-2A workers and then to discourage US workers
from applying for H-2A jobs.
Employers complained that applying for H-2As
invited close government scrutiny of their wage records. According
to employers, trumped up housing complaints from local workers
led to lawsuits and complaints that the H-2A workersí contracts
were being violated. Several employers argued that the 50 percent
rule should be eliminatedóthe rule that US workers must
continue to be hired if they show up for work before 50 percent
of the H-2A contract period is completedóbecause the growers
"know" that the domestic workers hired after H-2As arrive
will not stay. If the domestic workers leave after the H-2A workers
have returned home, then the employer must once again pay transportation
costs to get them back.
There seemed to be bi-modal employer knowledge
of who farmworkers were: employers either knew the migrant workers
on a first name basis, or they had no idea who the workers were.
Small tobacco growers often worked with the four to 10 harvest
workers they hired without help from a bilingual intermediary
and housed them on the farm in a mobile home or an old farmhouse.
These employers seemed to know the workers best. Larger operatorsóthose
with 500 to 1,000 workers housed in a variety of labor campsówere
most likely to rely on crew leaders to recruit and supervise workers.
Recruitment practices vary. Many smaller
growers apparently rely on crew leaders or "coyotes"
to bring workers to the area; some growers maintain contact with
particular crew leaders or workers; and some use H-2A workers.
The role of the ES is unclear; some ES offices help employers
to complete I-9 forms for migrant workers, but most ES offices
do not have Spanish-speaking staff and thus cannot communicate
with migrant workers. The work force seems to have changed faster
than ES. ES wants to help employers find workers, but it has
few local workers to provide and has a limited ability to deal
with non-English speaking workers. It is not clear how ES handles
its outreach-to-workers responsibilities.
Hourly wages prevail in tobacco, and piecerates
in vegetables. Hourly wages tend to be $3.80 (minimum) to $4.00;
the AEWR for North Carolina is $4.33. Hourly wages have been
rising, and the federal minimum will rise to $4.25 in April 1991.
Most wage increases are due to the minimum wage increasing, not
to IRCA. Piecerate wages appear to have been stable ($.35 for
a 5/8 bushel of sweet potatoes $.30 to $.40 per bucket for cucumbers)
during the past few years, although hourly earnings might have
been expected to rise even if piecerates remained constant because
single men replaced a more diverse work force.
Hours and earnings for the April through
September North Carolina stay of migrants were not reported; nor
was the role of North Carolina earnings in a typical migrantís
annual income. North Carolinaís attraction for migrant
workers appears to be its provision of free housing for fairly
continuous May through September employment.
North Carolina agriculture has a growing
dependence on single Mexican men who earn about the minimum wage.
Most receive free housing, so many growers could switch to H-2A
if the supply of documented illegals dries up.
Prospective needs for labor vary by commodity.
In tobacco, quota rules fix production in the central area of
North Carolina, which has smaller acreages that use more family
labor (and 4 to 10 migrants each). If quota rules were relaxed
to permit transfers across county lines, tobacco production would
probably shift to larger acreages in E. North Carolina, where
the dependence on hired workers is greater but mechanization is
also more feasible (mechanization has been slowed by strict government
limits on quota sales and transfers which encourage high quality
hand-picked leaves). If tobacco production shifted to E. North
Carolina, many of the Piedmont area's 4 to 10 worker employers
would probably rent their quota for $.30 to $.35 per pound, getting,
e.g., $15,000 for a 50,000 pound quota, and then plant field crops
and work in local factories.
The vegetable labor outlook is unclear.
Acreage was stable at about 55,000 acres during the 1980s. There
seem to be a few very large and many small producers. In a few
cases, large vegetable grower-packer-brokers have taken the lead
in standardizing and upgrading the labor market in order to assure
themselves a steady flow of the commodity to be packed and sold.
Southern Virginia also grows tobacco and
vegetables. Tobacco requires 80 to 90 man-hours per acre to harvestóleaves
are pulled or primed from the bottom to the top of the plant four
or five times during the August-September harvest, stuffed into
a metal rack about 2 feet by 6 feet, and then the racks are
put into bulk barns to be dried or cured for about one week using
gas-fired heaters. Farmers get 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of dried
tobacco per acre, or enough tobacco to fill one barn. Most farms
are small and use small labor crews: with 40 to 100 acres, crews
are four to ten workers each.
Tobacco growers must buy quota rights at
25¢/pound and can transfer them only within a county and
only if they have new multi-year lease arrangements. The government
support price is about $1.50 to $1.60 per pound (current market
price is $1.75), so tobacco yields a gross revenue of $3,500 to
$5,000 per acre. Dried tobacco leaves are taken from the barns,
tied into burlap bags that weigh 200 to 300 pounds, and sold (for
a 2¢ to 3¢ per pound fee) at auction houses through
which four or five buyers bid for and buy bags about as fast as
they can walk.
Until the late 1970s or early 1980s, the
harvest labor force included mostly the farmerís family
and relatives, teenagers, and local Blacks and Whites who lived,
often rent-free, as semi-year round farmworkers in tenant and
other housing on farms. Labor was recruited by the farmer contacting
workers and asking them to help him; wages were apparently the
minimum. As manufacturing and services employment expanded, ìgoodî
local workers became unavailable, and the harvest labor vacuum
was filled by the ìaccidentalî luring of a Mexican
FLC and his crew and the subsequent expansion of worker networks.
Unlike California, most tobacco farmers do not hire foremen;
they communicate as best they can with their four to ten Mexican
S. Va. has about 2,000 H-2A workers from
Mexico, earning in 1990 the $4.33 AEWR (tobacco harvesting is
mostly done on hourly wages). The total cost of hiring H-2A workers
is about $6.00 hourlyó(1) round trip transportation
is about $500, and the H-2Aís average about 500 hours of
work, adding $1.00 per hour; (2) free housing for ten weeks
may cost another 50¢ to $1.00 per hour; and (3) growers
must pay a fee to the employer association which handles their
North Carolina tobacco growers used Mexican
workers, but not H-2As in 1989. These growers apparently have
housing that could be approved for H-2A, but in the Henderson,
N.C. area, the 300 or so employers with a peak 1,500 workers
have instead relied on FLCs and ìcoyotesî to bring
Mexican workers to the area. The ES plays a significant role
in verifying I-9 documents and placing these workersó3
or 6 at a timeówith local employers. Some Mexican workers
are beginning to settle in the area, and some have gone to work
year-round in local manufacturing plants. Henderson-area tobacco
growers provide free housing and most paid $4.00 per hour in 1990.
Tobacco production raises several issues: (1) government programs provide price stability and a high gross income per acre; growers are really quite attached to tobacco; and (2) tobacco is not as perishable as, e.g., vegetables, making it preferred to them as a commodity to be grown. The tobacco labor market seems to be stableóthere is enough housing so that growers could go H2A if they had to. Mechanization is apparently difficult for tobacco grown on rolling hills, but no one had considered what might happen if quotas could be shifted across county and state linesó tobacco acreage would then probably shift to N.C.ís flat coastal plains where machines do work well.
Southern California desert agriculture is
unique. The Imperial Valley is a 100 mile below sea-level trench
of 600,000 acres irrigated by cheap ($8 to $10 per acre foot)
Colorado River water. The smaller Coachella Valley in eastern
Riverside county begins about 1 to 1-1/2 hours north of the Mexican
border in Calexico and has perhaps 150,000 acres.
The irrigated agriculture of both valleys
devotes most of its acreage to mechanized field crops such as
alfalfa hay, wheat, sugar beets, and cotton, but the acreage and
value of labor-intensive fruit, vegetable, and nursery (FVN) products
rose during the 1980s, so that e.g. one-half of Imperial Countyís
$1 billion in agriculture sales is from FVN products, even though
they account for only one-fourth of the acreage.
In the 6-counties of Southern California,
the value of agricultural production rose by about $1 billion
in the 1980s to $4 billion, even though acreage fell by 100,000
to about 1 million, but these shifts reflect a 150,000 acre drop
in field crops offset by a 50,000 increase in FVN acreage. Clearly,
the (un)availability of labor did not reverse the expansion of
FVN agriculture in Southern California in the 1980s.
FVN production in both Imperial and Coachella
is concentrated on a handful of large farms; commercial operators
such as Cardinal Distributing, which farms 4,000 acres (they own
60 percent of the acres) and issues 3,500 W-2 statements annually
to a peak 1,200 employees, including 400 year-round employees,
pays relatively high hourly wages to seasonal workers hired directly
by the company, although wages have not risen much during the
During the 1979 Imperial Valley vegetable
strike, the UFW demanded an increase from $3.75 hourly to $5.25,
and most farms raised their minimum vegetable wages to $5 or $5.25
by 1980-81 whether they had a union contract or not. However,
wages did not rise much more during the 1980s at these large companies,
and in some cases fell. Cardinal raised its wages from $5.25
to $5.45 in 1989, after paying $5.25 during most of the 1980s.
Most seasonal harvest workers actually work
for piecerate wages, and these piecerates, although stable during
the 1980s, permit many workers to have relatively high earnings,
e.g. $8 to $12 hourly harvesting citrus. Historically, Coachella
has been a farmworker union stronghold, with most of the workers
employed by large table grape operations, citrus growers such
as Sunworld and Tenneco (now Dole), and vegetable growers represented
by the UFW.
There are apparently only a few union contracts
left in Coachella and Imperial in 1990; the data were conflicting,
but there was discussion of three UFW citrus contracts in Coachella,
no grape or vegetable contracts, and 5 or 6 vegetable contracts
in Imperial. At UFW-organized CVC in Coachella, lemon harvesters
were paid $22 per bin for harvesting lemons, enabling a high-seniority
worker to average $8 to $10 hourly for 1,000 hours of work annually,
and then to stay in the area and collect UI of $2,000 to $3,000
or migrate to other areas of California for farm jobs during the
summer citrus harvesting lull. The complaint of these citrus
workers was not so much that piecerates were stable; they were
far more fearful of fewer hours of work and their eventual displacement
by FLCs using recent immigrants.
As elsewhere, FLCs were accused of abusing
vulnerable workers. These FLCs pick up workers in Calexico between
2 and 5 am and from parks and parking lots in Coachella. In citrus,
the FLCs allegedly pay $18 instead of $22, and then do not pay
workers for all of the bins that they pick, provide no benefits
to workers, and sometimes charge workers for housing or rides.
Stories of FLCs not paying or underpaying workers, and then the
difficulties faced by these workers in trying to get the California
Labor Commissioner to recoup the wages farmworkers say they are
owed, were commonplace. However, enforcement is difficult.
Contracts between FLCs and workers are often verbal and subject
to mis-interpretation (although MSPA says wages and terms of employment
must be provided in writing if requested by the worker).
FLCs are often hard to identify (especially
if the FLCís foreman actually hires workers) and then find.
There is a weak FLC-farm operator joint employer rule under California
labor law, so that if the FLC controls both the hiring and the
work, i.e., if the farm operator does not deal with the crew (most
donít because they donít speak Spanish), the FLC
is solely responsible for labor law violations. As elsewhere,
FLCs are identified as (1) increasingly important job matchers
and (2) frequent abusers of workers that (3) defy effective regulation.
There were few suggestions other than increased enforcement to
change the number and behavior of FLCs.
Housing is a major issue in fast-growing
Coachella. Private on-farm housing is disappearing, there is
little new private or public farmworker housing being constructed,
and so farmworkers live in or around trailer parks in towns and
in self-constructed shacks. Seasonal farmworkers primarily employed
in Coachella seem to average $4,000 to $8,000 per worker per year,
so that even with 2 workers per family, there is an incentive
to double or triple-up and thus be unacceptable tenants to many
landlords. Public opposition and inadequate funding apparently
prevent the construction of more housing for farmworkers.
Coachella(Palm Springs)has a fast-growing hospitality industry which pays starting wages of $5.25 to $5.50 hourly for long-season work (hotels lay off some workers from July through September). An estimated 40 to 60 percent of the hotel workers in Coachella are ex-farmworkers, and the major barrier between farmworkers and hotel work appears to be their lack of English. Several big hotels offer English-language classes, and several hotels appear to be aggressively using the $2,000 or so subsidy available to them for hiring low-income farmworkers who were laid-off and enrolled in JTPA training. However, the continued influx of newer and more recent immigrant workers means that there is still a surplus of farmworkers.
South Texas illustrates a farm labor market
which has become accustomed to a surplus of workers. Most labor-intensive
vegetable production is from a handful of very large 2,000 to
8,000 acre operations, and these often international farms pay
seasonal workers the federal minimum wage of $3.85 per hour and
offer few benefits beyond the Social Security, UI, and workers
compensation required by law. There seem to be few above-minimum-wage
jobs available to seasonal farmworkers within South Texas agriculture
or in the South Texas nonfarm economy, explaining why South Texas
has traditionally been home to US citizen and immigrant workers
who migrate north from May to September when there is little work
available in South Texas but farm work is available in the Midwest.
Growers expect labor-intensive agriculture
to shrink in South Texas, but not because of IRCA. The total
cost (including payroll taxes) of Mexican farmworkers was asserted
to be about $1.00 hourly, and of South Texas workers to be $5.00
to $6.00 hourly. At this 1 to 5 or 6 wage ratio, Mexican vegetables
are as cheap in the US as S. Texas vegetables even with Mexicoís
deficient infrastructure and transportation systems and duties.
Over time, Mexico is expected to gain cost advantages while South
Texas agriculture must grapple with water and pest problems as
well as major freezes, as occurred in 1983 and 1989.
South Texas agricultural employers were
accustomed to a surplus of farmworkers before IRCA, and there
is no evidence that IRCA encouraged South Texas employers to gradually
adjust their employment practices to retain SAWs or other experienced
US farmworkers. Some of the largest employers have operations
throughout Texas, so that South Texas workers taken to West and
North Central Texas by FLCs can have a longer period of employment,
but these large and multi-area growers are also expanding in Mexico,
and they indicate that expansion in Mexico is more rational than
diversifying within the United States. This means that, in South
Texas, the notion that legalizing illegal alien farmworkers to
promote gradual employer labor adjustments did not workóinstead,
these employers expanded in Mexico. The South Texas experience
suggests that international competition may make it impossible
for Congress to get labor market adjustments which improve farmworker
conditions and preserve all labor-intensive farm
production in the US.
In addition to this expand-abroad rather
than improve-at-home theme, there was extensive discussion of
moving US workers from surplus (South Texas) to shortage (East
and Midwest) areas. The ES used to play a significant role, but
(1) Richey ìconstraints;î (2) pro forma
job orders from non-Texas H-2A employers who prefer the H-2As;
and (3) the spread of FLCs and solo Mexican men throughout
more of the US has reduced ES farm job matching activity. The
biggest obstacle to a more active ES role is an obvious one:
employers do not have to turn to ES if FLCs just show up with
The four South Texas counties of the Rio
Grande Valley (RGV)óCameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacyóhad
a 1986 population of about 700,000. Average employment was about
190,000 in 1990, including 10,000 to 15,000 in agriculture, making
agriculture secondary to trade and tourism as an employer. The
Rio Grande Valley is actually a delta plain about 80 miles north-south
and 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the western edge
of Hidalgo county.
About 750,000 acres of cropland are
irrigated, and agriculture marketings are about $400 million
annually. About one-half of these farm sales are vegetables,
and one-fourth is cotton. A December 1989 freeze, the second
in six years, dramatically reduced 1989-1990 sales and continues
to affect citrus production in 1990-91.
The four-county area had in 1988-89 about
60,000 acres of vegetables and melons, 50,000 acres
of fruit, 800,000 acres of cotton, and 350,000 acres
of other field crops (sorghum). According to University of Texas
estimates, this agriculture created about 40,000 farm jobs, including
12,000 in vegetables, and 5,000 in fruits. Average annual farm
employment is about 15,000, indicating seasonality which requires
workers to either switch between crops for more continuous employment,
migrate from the area, or remain on standby status until needed.
The Packer (December 1, 1990) described
a ìtroubledî South Texas agriculture, citing overproduction
of new varieties of crops (such as Texas 1015 sweet onions), pests,
a shift from vegetables to cotton at cotton prices above 75¢
per pound, Texas labor (especially workers compensation) laws,
and the shifting of production to Mexico.
One large grower (Rio Freshó5,000
acres) talked of reducing broccoli acreage because of cheaper
Mexican imported broccoli, but another (Starr Produceó6,000 acres)
noted that improved technologies (3,000 acres with drip irrigation
and plastic) can keep South Texas production competitive with
Mexican production. Most vegetable growers were pessimistic about
the NAFTA, although a few thought it would provide an opportunity
to sell vegetables, e.g., to 4 million people in Monterey,
Mexico 125 miles south. Many growers operate in both South
Texas and Mexico, e.g., Elmore and Stah (3,800 acres).
Many seasonal workers live in colonias,
the 842 unincorporated developments that often lack water and
sewer facilities and house about 200,000 people in South Texas.
As vegetable farming flourished, the rural Mexican patron system
spread in which workers developed an attachment to a foreman or
crew leader who then found the workers jobs. Farmworkers complained
of the abuses they sometimes experienced under this favor system.
The seasonal work force is mostly Hispanic, although many of
these Hispanics are US citizens (born in South Texas) or long-time
The Texas ES does I-9 verification of job
applicants, but is little used by Texas employers to get farmworkers.
The Texas ES has traditionally sent workers to other states via
the interstate ES system. In 1967, Texas ES sent 55,000 farmworkers
out of state; in 1990 only 1,300. According to a Texas ES survey,
16 percent of South Texas workers use the interstate ES to
leave Texas for farm jobs, implying (1300÷0.16) 8,100 total
migrants from Texas. However, estimates of migrants leaving Texas
range from 50,000 to 500,000.
The ES interstate clearance system requires
employers to offer contracts to workers which spell out wages,
housing arrangements, etc. Texas ES reportedly fills 95 percent
of the non-H2A interstate job orders that it gets. It believes
it could find more workers for job orders from other states if
employers there offered (1) family housing and (2) transportation
advances (rather than reimbursement after 50 percent of the
contract has been completed).
A major question raised by this ES discussion
is whether the US. should promote and facilitate the migration
of US farmworkers or not. Moving labor between surplus and shortage
areas requires some mechanism to match jobs with workers. If
this mechanism is the ES, then both jobs and workers must satisfy
standards regarding wages, transportation, housing, etc. If the
non-ES system of workers moving on their own or moving with FLCs
is cheaper and more flexible, then it will be preferred to the
ES system, as is now occurring.
There are alternatives to modifying the
ES system to promote the migrancy of US workers, such as providing
incentives for employers to use fewer workers longer, to mechanize,
or to encourage production to shift to the workers area of origin,
Mexico. Seasonal peak labor needs may still exist after such
a restructuring of FVN agriculture, and they might be satisfied
with US or foreign workers.
The difficulty of exploring alternatives
to the current system is that alternatives raise questions about
who is responsible for obtaining farmworkers. How much responsibility
does a grower who plants labor-intensive crops have to secure
a work force? If, as in Washington, growers plant 25 percent
more apple trees and they and their bankers assume that US or
foreign harvest labor will be available at the minimum wage, should
the USG continue to validate this assumption by making foreign
workers available? If the answer continues to be yes, then USG
involvement raises the issue of terms and conditions under which
US employers get access to foreign workers.
There are several ways to look at the employer-responsibility
issue. Since agricultural production is dispersed while people
are concentrated in cities, farmers who need seasonal workers
plant and assume that workers will somehow be available.
But how much must an employer do to get
these seasonal workers? One way is to ask what a farm employer
can pay given the prices he receives for his crops, but this implicitly
ties worker wages to employer prices and profits, an approach
explicitly rejected by minimum wage and bankruptcy laws, e.g.,
wages cannot be at below minimums just because the employer is
losing money. Another approach is to put all responsibility for
finding workers on the employer, under the argument that a farmer
who, e.g., plants seed in the desert and then asks the USG for
water to save the crop could be told that water availability should
have been included in his crop planning.
The problem is that the USG has historically taken the middle position of opening the border gates to admit alien farmworkers after farmers made reasonable efforts to find US farmworkers, and there is no easy answer to what reasonable hurdles should be placed before employers. One thing is clearóIRCA has not in general raised the hurdles confronting farm employers who want to use alien workers. If anything, IRCA made aliens more widely available, as FLCs spread solo Mexican men throughout the United States.
Floridaís farm labor market is unusual
in several respects: it has a November through April peak season;
the work force has changed since the 1970s from US-born Blacks
and Whites to foreign-born Hispanics; and crop agriculture and
thus the demand for farmworkers is expanding.
To some extent, the Florida farm labor market
is becoming more like that in California; e.g. when IRCA was debated
in the early 1980s, many Florida farm employers were concerned
primarily with ìstreamliningî the H-2 program through
which about 9,500 H-2 workers are brought into the state. However,
as (citrus) agriculture expands in the southwestern part of the
state, and only some of the large operations there offer housing
and worker benefits, Florida farm employers may also switch from
looking to H-2A workers as a labor insurance program to a California-style
concern for the availability of non-H2A alien farmworkers.
There are three major factors affecting
the Florida farm labor market. First, IRCA has accelerated the
shift toward dependence on Mexican and Central American workers.
These workers are now a majority of the farm work force, and
they are arriving in such large numbers that the work force since
the mid-1980s has been ìgluttedî in the sense that
the best employers have long lists of eager applicants for jobs
and even marginal FLCs can fill their buses at day-haul sites.
Second, both established and new immigrant
farmworkers are pushed by the post-IRCA influx of workers which
lowers their farm earnings and pulled by tourism and other nonfarm
job opportunities out of agriculture. It is probable that US
farmworkers got out of agriculture faster in the late 1980s than
in the late 1970s because of these push and pull factors.
Third, Florida agriculture is expanding
and shifting southward. Florida agricultural sales have increased
six-fold (from $1 to $6 billion since 1960) and weather and land
price considerations have shifted Florida (citrus) agriculture
from mostly small operations in the middle of the state to larger
operations in the south.
Citrus, which accounts for about 30 percent
of Floridaís $6 billion agriculture and employs 30 percent
of the stateís 100,000 January peak farmworker employment,
has relied on FLCs (crew leaders) since the late 1960s to recruit
and supervise crews of 20 to 30 pickers. An estimated 300,000
individuals are employed sometime during the year in Florida agriculture.
(In California, by comparison, peak employment is about 500,000
in September and about 1 million individuals do farm work sometime
during the year.)
Citrus offers a relatively long December
through April harvest season, and the harvest work force was,
until the mid-1970s, mostly US-born Blacks and Whites. Citrus
and other agricultural employers traditionally became joint employers
with these crew leaders; most crew leaders apparently provided
only recruitment and supervision services and not picking and
hauling services. Almost one-third of Floridaís COA labor
expenditures are paid to FLCs, the highest percentage of any state.
Like California, which made a transition
from small and joint employer-FLC relationships to custom harvesters
in the late 1970s after the California ALRA prohibited mere FLCís
from being employers for union purposes, Florida also developed
ìcustom harvestersî who are employers in their own
right. IRCA has accelerated this shift to more-than-mere-crew
leaders. Thus, Florida agriculture includes (1) large employers
who hire workers directly (e.g. Duda hires 3,500 seasonal employees
in Florida); (2) independent custom harvester-type FLCs with 5
to 25 crews and equipment; (3) more traditional labor-only FLCs;
and (4) small employers and nurseries who use a bilingual foreman
and referrals from current workers to recruit.
The large employers include South Bay Growers
and Duda. South Bay, a subsidiary of US Sugar, which has 100,000
acres of farm land, grows 20,000 acres of vegetables with 500
full-time and 1,500 seasonal employees and has experienced no
impacts from IRCA. Most South Bay workers work for piecerate
wages and most earn $4 to $6 hourly for 28 to 32 weeks of farm
work annually. Some 35 to 40 percent of South Bay seasonal workers
are employed 1,000 hours or more annually, suggesting that they
earn more than the $4,000 to $6,000 in annual earnings of most
seasonal workers. Duda has 115,000 acres in Florida, 3,500 seasonal
employees, and presumably similar worker earnings patterns. Both
South Bay and Duda helped less than one percent of their workers
get SAW status, suggesting few pre-IRCA illegals.
Both South Bay and Duda provide single and
family worker housing, and both have at least one day care center.
However, both experience considerable worker turnover, especially
after freezes force seasonal workers to seek alternative employment.
Turnover is such that, each four to ten years, there is an entirely
new seasonal work force even at these large employers. Both employers
report that they think of their seasonal work forces as two-thirds
to three-quarters stable, or returning year-after-year for 5 to
10 years, but that the remaining one-quarter to one-third has
very high turnover.
Some large employers try to facilitate the
northward migration of their workers during the summer lull season
in Florida, e.g., 6Lís tomatoes and other southern Florida
employers coordinate N.C. employment and housing for their workers.
Some northern employers come to Florida to recruit workers for
the summer months.
Although data are scanty, major agricultural
transitions include the southward shift of labor-intensive agriculture
and the concentration of agricultural production on fewer and
larger farms (the total number of farms may increase with hobby
activities). The southward shift is due to freeze dangers and
land costs; the fewer and larger reflects a long-term national
trend accentuated in especially fresh vegetables by marketing
This transition from e.g. 40 acre citrus
groves in central Florida to 2,000 to 3,000 acre groves in southwest
Florida is being accompanied by uneven labor-management practices.
The new and large groves have shorter trees planted closer together,
but their owners ñ who project 14 to 18 percent returns
ñ plan to pick the oranges by hand. There are minor worker
efficiencies associated with this small to large transition ñ
in central Florida, crews were often smaller (10 workers) because
of the small groves. However, none of these expanding large groves
in southwest Florida is constructing housing for 100% of the seasonal
workers needed, and some are not constructing any housing for
The expansion of Florida agriculture in
the southern part of the state ñ where the urban population
is concentratedómay accentuate urban-rural clashes over
farmworker housing (as well as water quality and pesticide use).
The expansion of e.g. citrus acreage without infrastructure for
farmworkers may provide a test of an underlying farm labor policy
issueóto what extent should government require farmers
to think about infrastructure (housing) for workers when they
make planting decisions?
If GM builds a factory in a remote area,
and then asks for permission to import alien workers if not enough
Americans are available, GM will probably be told that it should
have taken labor availability into account when it considered
factory sites. Agriculture has never been forced to explicitly
consider labor availability in its planning. But, when the entry-level
work force is 90 percent or more immigrant, then planting crops
which will require hand labor to tend and pick reflects an assumption
that the government will (continue to) make immigrant workers
available. CAW may have to consider whether immigration policies
which now tend to validate planting decisions already made should
also play a role in planting decisions before they are made; in
other words, should the US government continue to be only reactive
to farmer decisions which create a demand in the US for unskilled
The 450,000 acres of sugar cane which generate
farm sales of about $400 million annually were the focus of the
H-2 testimony. There are perhaps 100 growers of cane, but only
4 mills to process it, and these mills do the harvesting. The
percentage of the sugarcane crop that is mechanically harvested
has been increasing and now stands at about 40 percent.
Sugarcane production in southern Florida
began in 1931 when GM executives founded US Sugar, and since 1941
H-2 workers have been imported to hand-cut sugar cane. The AEWR
for sugarcane is $5.30 hourly; average earnings for the 3,500
US Sugar H-2 workers are $7.29, although there is some dispute
about whether sugar employers understate the hours workers work
in order to raise hourly earnings. Employers report that sugarcane
workers typically work 6 hours per day (6 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and
earn $30 to $35 daily.
There may be to some extent a generational
change at work among Florida farm employers: the Florida farm
employers who used H-2 workers during the 1950s and 1960s came
to accept a responsibility to provide housing in the 1970s and
1980s. As the work force changed after the mid-1970s to Hispanics,
with whom employers could not communicate directly, and as younger
and more financially sophisticated managers entered the industry,
this sense of some employer responsibility for seasonal workers
may be eroding.
There seemed to be general agreement (1)
on the 100,000 January peak employment and 300,000 individual
farmworkers, or a 3 to 1 ratio; (2) that Florida (especially citrus)
has been unusually reliant on FLCs; and (3) that the expansion
of Florida crop agriculture since the 1960s has maintained or
increased the demand for labor, especially in the southern part
of the state.
Much of the testimony on the demand for
labor involved citrus, whose $1.7 billion annual sales are about
30 percent of Florida agricultural sales. Frozen orange juice
concentrate was developed in the 1960s, and there were almost
1 million acres of citrus in Florida in 1970. By 1986, citrus
acreage was down one-third to 625,000 acres, the result of Brazilian
competition, freezes, and urbanization. Since 1986, acreage has
risen to 700,000 and may climb back up toward 1 million acres
again. The new citrus plantings in southwest Florida rely on
new drip irrigation and other technologies, but they anticipate
hand-picking (unlike new California winegrape plantings which
anticipate machine harvesting).
Citrus is picked into over-the-shoulder
bags that can weigh 70 to 90 pounds when full and then dumped
into field tubs or bins which hold about 10 90-pound boxes or
900 pounds of oranges. A ìgoat truckî picks up these
900 pound field bins and dumps them in a trailer, which then hauls
the fruit to a concentrate plant. Fresh fruit is dumped into
700 to 800 pound wooden boxes that are forklifted onto a trailer
and hauled to packing sheds.
Pickers get paid 60¢ to 70¢ for
each 90 pound box, up from 35¢ per box in the late 1960s.
It appears that the 1990-91 piecerate prevailing wage for orange
picking is 70¢, but this may reflect the January 1990 survey
of employers ñ piecerates in January 1990 may have been
inflated by the December 1989 freeze. In the immediate aftermath
of freezes, the piecerate can jump to $1 or more, but only CocaCola
pays its UFW members $1 per box or more regularly (some non-Coke-UFW
employers pay more than 70¢).
A 1990 IFAS survey put the value of bearing
orange land at $13,000 per acre (yielding 400 90-pound boxes per
acre) and irrigated cropland at $2,700 per acre, and noted that
citrus land prices are higher in the southern part of the state
because of lower freeze risks. The 1990-91 orange crop is estimated
to be about 165 million boxes, with an on-tree average price of
about $5.70 per box.
If workers get 70¢ per box to pick
oranges, worker piecerates are 12 percent of the value of oranges;
with an FLC overhead of 30 percent, the 91¢ total picking
cost is 16 percent of the $5.70 value. Put another way, 91¢
to pick 90 pounds of oranges makes picking costs about 1¢
per pound. New plantings are raising Florida orange production
ñ to perhaps 215 million boxes by 1995 and toward the current
Brazilian level of 300 million boxes by 2000, despite forecasts
of a worldwide surplus of oranges.
Many Florida vegetables were frozen in December
23-25, 1989, but 1990-91 plantings were at normal levels (55,000
acres of tomatoes) despite increased Mexican plantings. The Florida
ornamental industry is described as having over capacity, especially
for the woody and foliage plants associated with landscaping new
homes. An IFAS review of 1990-91 input concerns mentioned rising
energy prices, environmental regulations, and interest costs,
but not labor and wages (IFAS, No. 97).
Florida citrus is grown mostly by corporations
and absentee landowners and processed by concentrate companies,
but the employers of perhaps two-thirds of the harvest workers
are third party FLCs, custom harvesters, or ìbirddogî
intermediate buyers of the fruit. These third party employers
of harvest workers vary widely in the services they provide and
in their employment practices, e.g. birddogs who buy the citrus
on the tree two or three months before harvest assume market and
weather risks as well as harvest the fruit, while other third
party employers only pick fruit. Some third party employers pick
and load, and some pick, load and haul.
There was conflicting data on average FLC
overheads, in part because of differences in the associated services
they provide. One rule-of-thumb is that the FLC gets twice the
per box piecerate, so e.g. a 70¢ per box piecerate means
$1.40 to the FLC for picking, loading, and perhaps local hauling.
However, in Ft. Pierce, fresh grapefruit picking was reported
to cost 72¢ per box ñ 55¢ to the picker and 17¢
or a 24% overhead to the FLC. When reminded that payroll taxes
ñ 7% SS, 5% UI, and 10 to 15% WC ñ would leave little
margin for FLC supervision and accounting costs, we were told
that FLCs have a long season and a large volume. However, Morenoís
testimony asserted that many FLCs cheat by not paying payroll
taxes, and that joint employers with FLCs check the FLCís
registration and insurance but not their payroll tax contributions.
There was general agreement that the field
work force is comprised increasingly of foreign-born Mexicans,
Central Americans, and Haitians. Although estimates varied slightly,
the seasonal work force was reported to be 50 to 60% Mexican and
Guatemalan, 20 percent Haitian, and 20 to 30 percent US-born Mexican-Americans,
Blacks, and Whites. Single or solo men have always played an
important role in the Florida agricultural work force because
of the H-2 program; there is a consequently a relatively large
supply of barracks-style housing.
Florida conducted a major study of farmworkers
in 1988 to assess their demographic characteristics, the current
and future demand for farm labor, and housing availability. This
study concluded that hired workers do two-thirds of Floridaís
agricultural work; that 70 to 85% of the domestic farm work force
were locals ñ not migrants; and that H-2Aís were
10 to 15 percent of the peak seasonal farm work force.
Florida had perhaps 80,000 illegal alien
farmworkers, but 120,000 SAW applicants (three-quarters were Mexican
and Haitian), suggesting significant fraud. H-2A workers were
allowed to submit skeletal H-2A applications and thus got a work
authorization which has since been withdrawn, but sugarcane was
eventually excluded from SAS at the behest of US Sugar, which
feared that its H-2A sugarcane workers would leave if they were
granted SAW status. If the H-2 sugarcane workers had been granted
SAW status, then it would have been hard for sugar companies to
get certification to admit new H-2A sugarcane workers.
According to Polopolus, Florida employers
in 1988 reported an ample labor supply, but a majority reported
that their demand for labor would increase by 2000 and that, given
this expansion and the tendency for workers to exit agriculture
after 4 or 5 years, Florida agriculture would face labor shortages.
Most responding employers believed that providing housing would
increase the availability of farm labor to their operation, but
only some of the largest employers planned to construct housing.
Employers generally saw H-2Aís as providing an increasing
portion of the peak work force; thus, most planned to build barracks-style
housing for solo men.
As agriculture expands in southern and urban
Florida, US farmworkers face a housing crunch, and many reported
spend one-third of their annual incomes for often substandard
housing. Farmworker housing is often segregated from ìregularî
housing, often owned by FLCs and ex-farmworkers, and not inspected
adequately. The housing picture indicates that redundant farmworker
housing in central Florida is being replaced by urbanization,
and the housing shortage in southern Florida is expected to worsen
as agriculture moves south.
Florida has had more experience with H-2
workers than any other state. Rob Williams testified that the
H-2 program is a means through which employers control workers.
He noted that worker productivity rose from 4 to 8-1/2 tons of
sugarcane daily between 1941 and 1988, and he attributed this
rise in productivity with an unchanged technology to employer
selection and control over the H-2A work force (the 1941 work
force was US workers paid a group piecerate; H-2 workers began
arriving in 1943).
Williams argued that H-2A workers cannot
complain ñ if they do, they will not be invited to return
next year, so Williams believes that an H-2A cannot really enforce
his contract unless H-2Aís who complain are guaranteed
the right to return to work in the US next season. H-2Aís
in Jamaica are drawn from a pool of eager applicants, with perhaps
60 percent named by US employers and 40 percent given as political
patronage by the Jamaican government.
A Jamaican worker can be blacklisted by
US employers, the US Government, or the Jamaican government.
Williams also questioned whether employers who do not provide
family housing should be certified to get H-2Aís ñ
since most Americans live in families, can an employer who does
not offer family housing be said to have truly tested the US labor
market for workers?
Williams argued that INS sanctions enforcement
is ineffective because it consists mainly of checking FLC and
other employer payrolls to determine that there is an I-9 on file
for each name on the payroll. However, the farmworkers in the
fields may not be the names on the payroll; since there are few
field checks, INS enforcement is not effective.
W. Kates recommended that the H-2A program
be further streamlined ñ ESA and ETA should agree on the
interpretation of regulations, and INS should respond quicker
to DOL-approved labor certifications from employers. Kates urged
the ES to devote more of its monies in rural offices to farm labor,
and he thought ES needed more money, people, and a change in philosophy
to become active again in the farm labor market.
One ES reform may be two-tiered ES job information. If an out-of-state employer requests e.g. Florida farmworkers, his request is ignored until he can prove that he has housing, etc. available. Should ES consider giving information on e.g. out-of-state jobs that do not offer housing with the explicit warning that housing is not being provided by the employer, or should ES continue to deal only in job matches that satisfy its regulations?
Florida ES makes about 1-1/2 percent (15,000)
of the annual placements in the Florida farm labor market.
Florida ES hopes to make more placements
with its AMWITS system begun in May 1990. As of February 1991,
Florida ES had logged 900 FLCs and 15,000 workers into its itinerary
tracking system, recording data such as where and in which crops
the FLC will work. Florida ES often gets interstate orders for
individual farmworkers, but Florida workers have traditionally
gone north in crews to simplify transportation, and this is one
reason for the AMWITS emphasis on FLCs.
The ES reward system still focuses on placements,
not sign-ups, so e.g. ES does not get credit for determining that
it cannot refer workers to an employer who does not satisfy ES
regulations. ES gets credit for a placement only if (1) there
is a worker application on file; (2) there is a job order from
an employer; and (3) the ES refers the worker before the
employer agrees to hire the worker.
All witnesses testified that FLCs are the
indispensable glue that binds the Florida farm labor market together
ñ in COA data, Florida has the highest percentage of total
farm labor expenditures going to FLCs. These FLCs are increasingly
Hispanic, reflecting the changing composition of the farm work
As farmers reduce their provision of on-farm
housing, and because there are enough FLCs competing to hold down
the cost of switching to a FLC (5000 to 7000 FLCs and FLC employees
in Florida), it becomes rational for a farmer to push any IRCA-related
risks onto FLCs, and in Florida as elsewhere throughout the United
States the FLC share of the farm labor market has increased since
IRCA. Although not stated explicitly, the FLC market share has
increased (1) because FLCs are better able to recruit and supervise
the non-English speaking workers who have come to dominate the
work force and (2) FLCs are better or more willing to ìcheatî
the government out of payroll taxes, workers out of wages or benefits,
and otherwise evade labor law enforcement.
In other words, as the gap between labor
standards and labor market reality has widened in many areas,
FLCs have expanded because of their ability and willingness to
risk enforcement. A few Florida organizations complete I-9ís
on workers for employers and then issue badges or IDís
to workers ñ in the Fort Pierce area, the charge to employers
for such I-9 services was one percent of the employerís
There has been little union activity in
Florida since the UFW organized Coca-Cola (Minute Maid) orange
pickers in 1972. According to Moreno (FLOC), IRCA helped SAWs
by permitting them to cross the US border freely, but hurt them
(if they stay in agriculture) by helping to glut the labor market
with workers, so that wages are stable or down ($1.25 per flat
for picking strawberries), working conditions are worse (less
free employer-provided housing), and with more workers the work
gets done quicker, so earnings decrease.
Moreno noted that his PEP co-op could not
get contracts to pick citrus at piecerates which let the average
worker earn $5 per hour, cover payroll taxes, and cover co-op
costs. He criticized the citrus industry for (1) estimating to
two decimal points orange production, but arguing that the demand
for workers canít be forecast; and (2) expecting workers
to share the pain of freezes and low prices, but not the industryís
high prices and profits on rising land values. Moreno argued
for more vigorous enforcement of labor laws rather than immigration
M. Barry essentially agreed with FLOC that
IRCA hurt farmworkers (while helping individual SAWs with legal
status) because of the post-IRCA labor glut which reduced wages
and worsened working conditions. He repeated the 3 to 1 worker
to job ratio, and asserted that it prevailed even at the peak
of the season. Barry asserted that the 1967 35¢ per box
orange piecerate should be $1.36 in 1990 to maintain purchasing
power, but that it is only 65¢ to 70¢ even though worker
productivity hasnít changed. Using different data, Barry
argued that farmersí profits rose while worker wages fell.
D. Land argued that agriculture pays a wage
commensurate with the (low) skills of the work force. In his
citrus operation, one-half of the work force earns more than $175
weekly, and the benefits provided to workers employed 1,000 hours
per year or more cost $2,400 for an individual, or $2.40 per hour
worked. Despite these benefits, Land expects future farm labor
shortages, since he believes seasonal agricultural work is attractive
only until a newcomer has other US job options by learning English
or a skill.
Land asserted that he did not believe a
marginal increase in wages would increase the supply of US farmworkers,
and that a non-marginal wage increase was not feasible given fluctuating
farm profits. Land asserted that heavily-leveraged new citrus
groves (with 70 percent debt), could have projected profits turn
into losses if worker wages jump, raising questions about how
responsibility for a future work force should be shared between
the US government and private investors. Barry argued that the
arguments of Land amounted to a call for US agriculture to develop
a South African-style economy in which owners and operators of
one race look to the Caribbean and Mexico for a work force.
The formal hearing ended with a discussion of food security arguments ñ does it really matter whether one-half of US processing oranges come from Brazil, or whether the US imports cane sugar? Are US consumers better off with food produced in the United States under US pesticide laws with immigrant workers, or should the workers produce fruits and vegetables in their own countries to export and rely on FDA and other monitoring to assure food safety? There seemed to be some consensus that immigration and labor policies which help US farmworkers will accelerate the concentration of farm production on fewer and larger US farms, but there is also a sense that the demise of small and medium-sized farms is inevitable, and that preserving such farms should not come at the expense of farmworkers.
It should be noted that despite the IRCA-caused
influx of workers and falling real wages, Florida growers testified
that a NAFTA is threatening. How much further can immigration
and labor policies go in the 1990s to help an industry which felt
increasingly threatened by imports in the 1980s? Florida agriculture
may urge that a parity concept be applied to the elimination of
tariffs under a US-Mexico FTA, i.e., to the extent the US Government
environmental, pesticide, and labor laws raise the production
costs of US producers above the costs that Mexican producers incur
to comply with similar Mexican laws, then the tariff on Mexican
produce entering the United States should reflect these differential
costs to ensure "a level playing field."
The Michigan farm labor market is marked
by (1) diverse crops on one farm so that early (e.g., strawberries),
mid-season (cucumbers), and late (apple) crops can create an April
through September period of employment for migrant workers; (2) a
tradition of employing S. Texas-based migrant families in relatively
good family housingóemployers seemed to compete for the
best workers on the basis of improved housing rather than higher
wages; and (3) a trend toward more reliance on foreign-born
solo men from Florida. Michigan is perhaps 10 years behind Oregon
as an area which has mostly small and diversified farms that are
shifting from family to solo male crews.
Nurseries, whose peak employment is in the
March-May period, employ a significant number of migrant workers.
Hourly wages range from $4.25 to $4.75, and although there is
a 25¢ to 30¢ per hour bonus for workers who stay until
the end of the season in October or November. At least some workers
do not believe they will actually get this bonus, which could
be $375 for 1,500 hours of work. As in other areas, since IRCA
there has been an ample or oversupply of farmworkers which has
kept piecerates mostly stable despite a rising minimum wage.
Family migrant workers and housing for them
were described as Michigan's unique farm labor features. Nurseries
and many other employers have traditionally provided housing;
they are especially eager users of practically free FHA housing
moneyóe.g., the typical 1 percent loan for 33 years
requires employers to pay back $3 per month per $1,000 borrowed,
so that a $20,000 unit for four workers costs an employer about
$60 per unit per month to repay principal and Interest, or $15
per worker per month.
Several employers estimated that providing
housing costs them 50¢ to $1.00 per hour (e.g., free housing
adds 50¢ to $1.00 to the $4.25 to $4.75 hourly wages), although
a $60 per month Principal and Interest payment, plus $60 for utilities
suggests that $120 monthly housing costs for four workers who
work, say, 700 hours in a month, adds only 17¢ to hourly
Much of Michigan's farmworker housing was
built in the early 1960s; Michigan apparently spent $15 million
in federal and $5 million in state funds (plus additional
private monies) to rehabilitate and build new farmworker housing
in the 1980s, although the reason for this wave of house building
is the need to replace or build to provide a traditional benefit
for migrants, not a response to IRCA.
Michigan has 1,200 farm labor camps,
including 900 which require state licenses because they have five
or more farmworkers (excluding dependents?). These licensed camps
have, on average, 30 residents, suggesting licensed housing
for 27,000 workers and dependents. The migrant workers who
live in these private, usually on-farm camps, are described as
60 percent from Texas and 30% from Florida.
Michigan's traditional migrant work force
owned homes in S. Texas colonias, and then got housing during
their summers in Michigan. There has been a tendency for S. Texas
migrants to settle in Michigan and quit doing seasonal farm work
(explaining the rising Florida share of the work force), but recent
freezes in S. Texas encouraged more migrants from there to go
north and to go north earlier in the season in order to guarantee
themselves housing. Most Michigan housing appears to be occupied
on a first-come, first-served basis; there appear to be few formal
systems for identifying and encouraging the best workers to return
by, e.g., guaranteeing them housing.
Changes in housing rules have encouraged
at least some employers to switch from families to solo men in
order to maximize the number of workers per unit.
New workers are typically recruited by FLC crew leaders, although it was estimated that perhaps 60 to 70 percent of the workers return year-after-year to some farms. The Michigan FLC-crew leaders sometimes get 25¢ per hour worked just for recruiting a crew. In most cases, the farmer is the employer, although the FLC recruiter may also supervise the workers he recruited.
New York traditionally relied on FLCs or
crew leaders to bring migrants north for relatively short vegetable
and fruit harvests. These FLC recruiters receive a 15 percent
fee (up from 10 to 12% in the mid-1980s) to recruit and transport
workers to the area and to supervise them there ñ 0.15
x $4.50 per hour is 68¢, or similar to the 50¢ MI growers
reported paying for recruitment and supervision.
An FLC-coordinator (DeMay) charges farmers
another 3% or 14¢ per hour for completing I-9 forms and ìguaranteeingî
that a grower will get a ìreliableî FLC and crew
when needed. DeMay works with growers to develop contracts that
FLCs and their workers will accept. The grower, and not DeMay,
is responsible for housing etc, although DeMay probably has a
joint employment relationship via I-9s etc. DeMay does not work
with H-2A employers, who must guarantee $5.21 per hour rather
than the more usual $4 to $4.25, and DeMay may have trouble persuading
growers to continue paying him 3% year after year once the grower
has established a relationship directly with the FLC.
DeMayís private coordination seems
to have enabled fewer workers to work longer and earn more. A
union hiring hall or the ES could perform the same coordination
function, but there seemed to be little enthusiasm for either
alternative. Suggestions that the ES deal with FLCs in order
to coordinate 20 or 30 workers via one person, or that ES add
a Tier-2 information-only job service, seemed to run up against
suspicions that farm employers who deal with the ES will be subject
to multiple inspections and fines for ìtrivialî violations
of the alleged complex and confusing rules that govern interstate
Solo Mexican men have been replacing more
diverse Black, Puerto Rican, and local workers, permitting average
hourly earnings to increase much faster than piecerate wages.
This means that trends in piecerate wages and hourly earnings
must be interpreted in light of labor force changes e.g. in New
York, piecerate apple picking may have become less attractive
to local workers, even though average hourly earnings jumped,
because the local workers did not pick as fast as the solo Mexican
men who comprise a rising share of the work force.
The 1991 New York AEWR is $5.21, but most
harvesting done by migrants is for piecerate wages. Prevailing
piecerates to pick fresh market apples were reported to be about
55¢ per 40 pound 1&1/8 bushel, up 10 percent from 50¢
in 1985, and for processing apples 45¢ to 50¢, up from
40¢. According to the USDA QALS survey, the hourly earnings
of field and livestock workers in the NE region rose 38 percent
from $3.78 to $5.21 between 1985 and 1990.
New York regulates the farm labor market
extensively. Farm employers must provide workers with work contracts
that describe the job, wages, charges, etc. ñ in practice,
most workers only learn these details of their jobs after arriving
in New York. Many of these contracts are vague, e.g. work begins
Jan 1 and ends on Dec 31, the workday is 6 to 12 hours and 30
to 70 hours per week.
Housing does not have to be provided by
employers, so it may not be made part of the agreement even if
it is being provided. Persons who bring five or more farmworkers
into New York must register with the New York DOL ñ in
1990, there were 134 FLCs and 219 farmers so registered. The
New York Department of Agriculture contributes $3 million to New
Yorkís $4.2 million Head Start/day care program for the
children of migrant farmworkers.
New England is the only region in which
the number of H-2A workers has jumped since IRCA, from perhaps
1,500 to 5,000. This increase in H-2A usage apparently reflects
declining numbers of local and Puerto Rican workers; only 2,000
Puerto Ricans came to the United States to be contract farmworkers
New England farmers who hire H-2A workers
appear to pay recruitment costs similar to those paid by Michigan
and New York employers who rely on FLCs to bring them workers.
An H-2A who averages $6 hourly for 500 hours earns $3,000, and
employers pay about $600 for transportation and perhaps $50 in
fees, or 22 percent, versus the 15 to 18 percent reported for
recruitment in other areas.
Western New York is an area that traditionally
kept migrants returning year-after-year. However, solo Mexican
men are spreading from vegetables to other labor markets, discouraging
traditional family migration to the area.
There is an oversupply of workers, reflected
in more open unemployment, fewer hours for persons employed, and
a sharply rising demand for emergency social services. The percentage
of farmworkers who are fraudulently documented was reported to
be 30 to 40 percent (perhaps higher since IRCA), and rural towns
have not yet begun to deal effectively with settled Hispanic workers.
The oversupply of workers was agreed to be a factor in declining
wages, etc., but support for more sanctions enforcement, etc.
was mixed. Cornell has a trickle-down program which involves
teaching farmers modern personnel management to have plus-plus
effects for farmers and workers.
Farmworkers recounted a variety of problems involving poor housing, reduced wages, and changes in conditions which reduced earnings. These workers reported far more $3.80 (New York farmworker minimum) to $4 wages than employers. There appears to be inadequate enforcement of labor laws, as well as a surplus of workers, which limit the incentive of farmers to improve conditions.
New Mexican farm employment is concentrated
in the south central part of the state, and seasonal farmworkers
are employed primarily to harvest chili peppers and onions. Acreages
of both crops have been increasing, and are now about 25,000 and
7,500 acres. Harvesting is labor-intensive: by some estimates,
the peak (September) chili work force is one worker per acre,
and the peak (June) onion work force is one worker per three acres.
Other estimates put the peak chili work
force at one worker per two acres (a peak 13,000 for 25,000 acres),
and one grower in Oct 1991 reported that picking costs were 12
percent of the grower price, e.g., for a 50¢ per pound price
to the grower, 5¢ went to the picker and 1¢ to the FLC.
The workers observed were being paid $1.10 per 23 pound bucket
of small green chilis, and averaging 4 buckets or 92 pounds per
hour, for hourly piecerate earnings of $4.40 and a harvesting
cost of 5¢ per pound. The FLC received 1¢ per pound
to recruit, transport, and supervise workers.
Most harvest workers are bused daily from
Juarez by FLCs in 40-person school buses and paid daily by these
FLCs. Piecerates vary, and are sometimes altered daily in response
to crop conditions and the availability of workers, but seem to
average about 60¢ per 23 pound (10 gallon) bucket for green
chilis and 40¢ for red chilis. Most growers pay FLCs by
the pound (e.g. 1¢ per pound for green chilis) so that FLCs
ensure that the buckets are full.
If each worker averages 4 buckets or 100
pounds hourly ($4.40 per hour) and the crew is 40 (bus capacity),
then the crew picks 4,000 pounds hourly or perhaps 30,000 pounds
daily and, at the 1¢ commission, the FLC gets $300 per day.
This FLC overhead of 1¢ per pound translates into $1 per
hour, so the FLC commission would be 23 percent to cover social
security, UI, etc.
New Mexico chili and onion producers allegedly
experienced labor shortages in 1989 which in 1990 led to an exploration
of using the H-2A program (rejected because of no housing) and
an attempt to regionalize RAW calculations.
There were apparently fewer shortages in 1990, and few complaints in 1991. It appears that these labor shortage complaints derive from the rapid expansion of the industry further and further from the border. New production, which is two and three hours from the El Paso staging area, threatened the day haul labor market which evolved to handle chili production closer to the border.
The expansion of the industry further and
further from the border has led to housing and other labor problems,
and there appear to be three options to deal with farm labor:
status quo, housing and H-2A, and mechanization.
The status quo of workers making ad hoc
housing arrangements will likely expand unless enforcement forces
a choice between H-2A housing and machines. Given such a choice,
most observers expect rapid mechanization. Growers assess themselves
to support research, and their current emphasis is on solving
disease problems, not developing a chili harvester.
New Mexico has a relatively small and geographically
concentrated labor-intensive agricultural sector. New Mexico
is mostly a livestock state; 1989 cash receipts were $1.4 billion,
including $433 million or almost 30 percent crops. Farm assets
were $8.3 billion, three-fourths for land.
In the 1982 COA, New Mexico crop sales were
about one-half of 1% of the US total, and its labor expenditures
were 1 percent, levels roughly similar to Maryland. Crop production
appears to be very concentrated. According to the 1989 COA, the
largest 300 New Mexico farms account for 60 percent of farm sales,
and in 1985 only 120 New Mexico crop employers met the 20-10 employment
rule and covered their workers under UI. They employed an annual
average 2,500 employees (20 each), once again similar to Maryland.
New Mexico crop producers appear to be quite
concerned about labor shortages, and employers allege that in
1989 labor shortages caused a 3% loss to the stateís $88
million vegetable industry, mostly because workers were not available
to harvest chili peppers.
Worker advocates disputed employer assertions
of a 1989 labor shortage, it was interesting that employers knew
so little about their workers that they offered no reason why
there was a shortage in 1989 and a surplus in 1990 and 1991.
According to New Mexico agriculture statistics, chili cash receipts
rose by 8 percent between 1988 and 1989, production rose 6 percent,
and acreage rose 6 percent. Vegetable receipts rose 16 percent.
These data indicate that New Mexico labor-intensive agriculture
expanded in 1989.
The testimony indicated that New Mexico
agricultural employers expanded since IRCA without worrying about
the availability of labor. Farmers apparently believe that their
proximity to the border, and their traditional reliance on border
commuters, could permit expansion without e.g. building housing
or paying for ever-longer commutes.
Expansion may have reached its limits for
this traditional labor system and, confronted with a choice between
providing infrastructure for workers (housing), mechanizing, or
moving production into Mexico, it was interesting that no employers
were building or planning housing, and that any housing to be
made available would be publicly-funded and 6 miles outside Hatch
in tents, in part because local residents did not necessarily
want seasonal workers downtown.
The major request of New Mexico farm employers
is that New Mexico get some kind of exemption from H-2A housing
requirements or a regionalized RAW calculation that would demonstrate
that there are labor shortages in southern New Mexico. The major
effort of farmers to deal with labor shortages has been political,
i.e., press for exemptions.
Farmers admitted that e.g. the conveyor
belts some used in the early 1980s to reduce the back strain on
workers carrying 25-pound buckets were taken out of the fields
because of the ample supply of labor, and adobe Bracero housing
fell into disrepair when workers proved willing to commute two
to four hours daily from Mexico. There is a machine available
to harvest red chilis in a once-over fashion, and there is a (2.5¢
per pound) 10% tariff on imported Mexican chilis, so that potential
mechanization and NAFTA free trade, in conjunction with how little
employers have so far done to recruit or house workers, may not
make a compelling case for a special immigration exception for
southern New Mexico. New Mexico is similar to other areas where
expansion occurred without thinking of its labor consequences,
and then CAW is asked to help farmers to get continued access
to workers in a way that does not raise their costs and choke
off the expansion.
Worker advocates disputed the existence
of a labor shortage in 1989, and emphasized the housing, earnings,
and FLC problems of workers. A typical worker boards a bus in
El Paso at 4 or 5 a.m., begins to work in New Mexico at 6 or 7
a.m., works 6 or 7 hours, waits an hour or two to be paid his
daily wage, and then is bused again to the border, i.e., of a
total 12 hour day, 6 or 7 hours are devoted to harvesting. While
harvesting at piecerate wages, workers earn $4.50 to $6.00 hourly
but, if the commute and pay time is included, their hourly wage
is below the minimum wage.
Workers are not now paid for commuting or
waiting time and, according to worker advocates, many FLCs do
not report wages to UI, so workers are denied UI benefits because
they have no wages reported for them. New Mexico agricultural
employers are not required to provide workers compensation, and
most do not.
Farm employers are jointly liable with the
150 to 175 FLCs in southern New Mexico for labor law violations,
and FLC labor law violations at the biggest grower (10 percent
of area chilis) led to a one year union agreement apparently covering
25 pre-harvest and 125 to 140 harvest workers. The Border Ag.
Workers Union has been organizing workers since 1984, but this
contract-in-exchange-for-settling labor law violations was apparently
its first. Continued illegal immigration has produced desperate
new workers, making it hard for the union to develop a stable
relationship with an employer which raises wages.
Texas Rural Legal Assistance (TRLA) discussed
the difficulty enforcing labor laws against FLCs. According to
TRLA, some large FLCs gross $300,000 per year, net $60,000, and
consider the $4,000 to $5,000 in Civil Money Penalties(CMPís)
levied by DOL a cost of doing business. TRLA wants injunctive
relief for FLC violators, but admitted that it is difficult to
prevent e.g. a FLC whose license is revoked from continuing the
business in the name of a spouse or child.
Southern New Mexico has traditionally had
legal border commuters, not illegal aliens. However, there has
been a recent influx of illegals, in part due to RAW registrants
coming from the interior of Mexico to the United States to register
and then staying in the United States to work.