Are farmers just refusing to hire Americans?

In several lawsuits, Georgia laborers are claiming that onion growers exhibit racial bias -- by creating harsh conditions to justify their use of Mexican guest workers over US citizens.

By Jason Notte May 7, 2013 3:41PM

Mexican migrant workers harvest organic spinach at Grant Family Farms on October 11, 2011 in Wellington, Colorado (© John Moore/Getty Images)Are there jobs Americans won't do, or are there just jobs that employers make so undesirable that American workers don't want them?


Think about that the next time you slice up a Vidalia onion. The New York Times framed the current immigration debate in the story of onion pickers in Vidalia and Moultrie, Ga. The laborers, mostly black, say they want to work the fields there but are blocked by Mexican workers. 


Farmers say that with local unemployment about 10% and the process for hiring foreign workers proving difficult -- guest workers have to be imported and housed and require extensive paperwork -- they'd prefer to hire local but can't get local labor to keep up the pace or stick around. The laborers contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work, crowded into disgusting camps, driven without a break and cheated of their wages.

Last month, Vidalia residents filed a federal lawsuit against a large grower of onions, Stanley Farms, alleging that it mistreated them and paid them less than it paid Mexican workers. Southern Valley farm in Moultrie was also sued by American workers, who said they had been fired because of their race and national origin, given less-desirable jobs and provided with fewer work opportunities than Mexican guest workers. Under a consent decree with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the farm agreed to make certain changes.

Neither the locals nor the farmers argue about the guest workers' efficiency. What is in question are the conditions those workers must endure to maximize that efficiency. They often work into the night seven days a week just to increase their pay.

"When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work," Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, told The Times. "It's like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he's ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input."

That sounds just a bit racist to folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which argues that farm work would attract more Americans at a reasonable cost and that farmers should not be exempt from paying it. As wages stagnated and conditions worsened, a farm worker pool that was two-thirds American in the 1970s is made up of a vast majority of foreign workers today.

Those numbers may only expand, too, as Congress attempts to bring legal status to the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants and expand the guest worker program. Right now, proposals include include increasing the number and category of temporary workers in the dairy and construction industries, and increasing their stays from a few months to three years.

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May 7, 2013 5:13PM
I have a way to solve this.  THROW ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS OUT OF OUR COUNTRY AND SECURE OUR BORDERS!  Lower educated Americans get hired for jobs and my grandkids won't have english be the second language in this country.
May 7, 2013 4:37PM
Put agriculture on the world free market. This should have been done in 1945. Subsides and government programs for agriculture have been an always be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. I have been in agriculture all my life and I have seen this complete waste taxpayer money. Get rid of government programs and productivity will increase dramatically. Agriculture well have to produce for a consumer not for the government. Most government programs subsidize fats an oils which end up on the American peoples bellies. These subsidizes go to very rich people with millions in assets. This is a major problem with our government, (the president, congress and the fed) they will provide billions for the rich and screw the hell out of the American people.
May 7, 2013 6:53PM
No mention is made of the crime, unpaid emergency room healthcare, violent gangs and drug dealing, graffiti, crammed incarceration facilities, uninsured auto accidents, overcrowded schools needing extra resources to assist non-english speaking students with no attempt to speak english at home, wage earnings exported and on and on that goes hand in hand with illegal immigration. I would much rather pay more for produce, maid service and lawn care than these costly burdensome expenses created but illegal immigrants that cheer against the US in sports, terrorism and national tragedies.
May 7, 2013 4:56PM
I have worked 12 hours a day at hard physical work and it was a heck of an incentive to get a college education.
May 7, 2013 5:31PM
Contrary to popular and media belief. There are American's that like to be out in the sun working.

This is a political thing. And anyone who believes different should just for the sake of it try getting a farm job for just one day.  They say American's can"t work.But then they can and do work imported workers to death mostly because they don't complain.  Wooo !!! What does that say about America.

Why is it that at first it was just farm jobs American's would not do and now it's expanded to construction.  Next it will be all our Wally Mart jobs.

What happens when Wally Mart and McDonald jobs are all done by imports. And that is the new name for these people. Simply IMPORTS.

May 7, 2013 6:25PM
I'm a "whitey" and this is not hard work, some people are just lazy.

I grew up farming and after many years of playing dress-up in an office, I will go back to it the second I get the chance.  I'd rather be poor and earn a living getting my fingernails dirty than shuffle numbers and papers around all day.
As a young man I picked cherries peaches apples berries bailed hay any thing to make a buck. That was the only way to make money if you were to young to work in a factory. Now kids have to much easy money to be had. To all you soft asses who say children shouldn't have to work that hard look around you and feel proud of yourselves.
May 7, 2013 4:34PM
I have know this for a long time. Construction workers in Arizona for five dollar an hour illegal's. Wellington, Ks  calls up other plants that hire illegal for the wage rate. Try to hire an computer programmer for six dollars an hour. Then you can say no Americans will work for that. Then you can hire an illegal.
May 7, 2013 5:29PM
Time to start boycotting anything not made in America, or those who use slave labor like these worthless farmers. We can bring back America, first we take the trash out and clean house..

May 7, 2013 6:06PM

,the nerve of those american people actually expecting a decent wage for work in this country. typical of the wealthy in this country, treat you like they are better than you and pay you nothing. If they would pay people a wage they could live on in this country they could eliminate assistance and many would work for a living instead of bilking the system. It pays better to collect assistance than minimum wage.



May 7, 2013 5:26PM
This is Obama's "Jobs" program.... he doesn't even have to ship jobs to Mexico, he brings them here!
May 7, 2013 5:11PM
The farmers who hire foreign workers are supposed to pay them the greater of the prevailing wage, federal wage rate or local/industry wage rate.  Period!  H-2A applications are screened for any discrepancies in wages and working conditions of foreign workers and compared to those offered US workers.  If these things happen after the foreign worker is hired, then that is a violation of the H-2A law and farmers can be penalized.  There are safeguards built into the law that prevent individuals from cramped and dirty living quarters, paying a fee for a job, working for less than the stated wage.  If you have been a victim of this type of practice, then you should report the employer to the SWA (State Workforce Agency) that listed the position and to ICE and DOL.  Be proactive!  In Israel, young children work on a Kabutz (sic), everyone gets a chance to toil the field.  US children go to Israel for the experience.  What a novel idea, I think not......everyone should be required to do community service an that includes farming.  But, farming is not an easy job and it is not glamorous.  But, we have to sustain ourselves and it is best to see first hand where those nicely packaged tomatoes, fruit, vegetable come from.  "No, Son, eggs do not come from a carton!"
May 7, 2013 6:46PM
Not many years ago (okay 30 is not many) you only saw black men driving garbage trucks; as soon as wages were brought into line with reality white folk found handling garbage more to their liking. Picking crops all day every day takes talent and a desire to work. there also has to be money. the immigrant worker deserves something better than a pig sty provided as shelter. If our migrant field workers are willing to work in such conditions think what they left behind from their home country. No the day of an American person working all day in the sun and heat is gone; we have become the office chair, computer and desk folk who only have our hand out asking for more because we are smart. Folk need to look to past (Greek, Roman, Egyptian) history to see what happens when you "import" workers to do what you feel is below your status.
May 7, 2013 4:53PM
Americans would rather be unemployed and living off FOOD STAMPS and WELFARE then have to actually work, I don't care what color they are .... Look what happened in Alabama when they scared all the Mexicans out of that state the crops did not get picked and the farmers were crying for help.
May 7, 2013 8:27PM
I can't speak for anyone else all I can do is relate my experience at an apple processing plant. When I was hired I was the only non-Hispanic working on the line in my area. One other Caucasian guy was hired on within days after me but quickly transferred to the box producing unit when the opportunity came up where he could work mostly alone after about 2 weeks. I myself did not mind the work and stayed where I was. From the start I was ostracized by my fellow workers. I was constantly glared at from day one especially when I tried to make conversation. When it was lunch time I would sit at a table in the lunch room and everybody at that table would get up and move to another table glaring at me the whole time. It didn't matter what table I sat at . Eventually I ended up eating at a table outside by myself since I was going to evidently eat alone anyway and wanted to skip the production that people made getting up and moving away from me. One day while eating by myself outside a group of my fellow workers came up to me and asked if I would help them study with their Citizenship test. I thought that maybe they were starting to accept me. Helping them turned out to be them asking me the test questions and when I got everything they asked me right, they looked disappointed and left(I don't think I lived up to their expectations) and that was the last they ever talked to me. During mandatory staff meetings everything was in Spanish and no one would tell me what was being discussed or going on. I would have to ask a supervisor later and get the 5 second recap and hope that I got all the info I was supposed to(which usually I didn't). All notices were in Spanish and I had to ask the main office what the content was as I couldn't count on my supervisor. After about 3 months in my floor supervisor pulled me aside and made sure to let me know that I had now officially been there longer than any other white person that had worked there previously in that area(Gee with such warm treatment I wonder why?). Shortly after that I started getting pulled from the line by that supervisor to fold boxes or sweep the floor and other crap work more than any other person working in our area even though the quality and speed of my work was as good as any other worker there. Now there were a couple of people who were nice to me but I could count them on one hand and still have fingers left. A nice older gentleman finally told me the reason I was being treated so poorly was that I was taking a job that the other workers' friends or family could have had and it wasn't going to stop until I was gone. I can only guess they wanted one big Hispanic homogeny. I hung on for a few more months just so I could raise the bar a bit but I was treated so poorly on a daily basis that I dreaded going back each day. I'm thinking the people who are saying that that there are those born in this country who can't or won't do that type of work never have done it themselves or at least not in quite some time. Being shunned by over 50 people starts to get to you when your completely alone surrounded by people every day. It wasn't the work I couldn't handle. It was the constant social ostracization.
May 7, 2013 6:40PM
Keep calling your fellow Americans trash and lazy because you believe low wage workers are for the best. I know first hand the immigrants only do this a short time until other employment or money becomes available. What most of you fail to realize is every season which there are many a year requires workers. How do you justify 5 workers for every job in the US? Well you will soon feel the pinch yourself as the new guest low wage worker is college educated and taking your job. I have seen food prices rise even though costs are low. This is also present in every aspect of the American economy. Quality has suffered and we now have many more problems because of it. This also means you buy the product numerous times at inflated price to quality. Talking heads who don't think things through are the most dangerous. How is that plastic issue working out for you? I have so many examples and points about this subject I refrain from posting. Most of you have not followed nor know anything about the companies and government involvement and you don't want to know. 
May 7, 2013 4:59PM

America, let's face it....There are job's that the white, black & asian Americans won't do...period.


We won't go into the fields & pick produce....even if it was $12 an hour....period.


Americans have goten lazy, they want hi paying jobs w/cadliac health care. They don't want to pay alot for goods & they shop at Wal-mart. Than they whine & cry about why everything's made in China.....Man, we really need to change our ways.


May 7, 2013 5:25PM

I almost never agree with the Southern Poverty Law Center but I think they're right this time.

May 7, 2013 4:32PM
It's a lose-lose situation. If we want Americans to have jobs then we have to pay them more for this awful labor. If we pay them more food prices will go up. Have cheaper food while Americans are unemployed and completely taking advantage of the poor trying to better the lives of their families down south or have more expensive food and unemployment rates here go down?
May 7, 2013 4:43PM

Let's see, i am lazy and can not work as hard as my Mexican brother. I will sue.


pathetic, just pathetic.

this is what this country has come too. Heck man get a job you like. oh wait a minute,You didn't finish a free education and can only pick onions. Pathetic

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