Wages, Workers and Amnesty

Published on June 9th, 2013

During each of the 25 springs I lived in the San Joaquin Valley, a debate about whether there would be enough agricultural workers was always front and center. Growers claimed that not enough pickers were available. The media reinforced the growers' argument by publishing countless flawed stories about the imaginary labor shortage and the crops that would inevitably rot in the fields — but never did.

The funny thing was that in my home town of Lodi, I lived within a one mile radius of strawberry fields, cherry and peach orchards and vineyards. I never saw the slightest indication of a labor shortage. The only thing I witnessed day in and day out were field hands lined up hoping to get jobs. Some, by the way, were American citizens happy to be employed.

This year, one thing that has helped growers attract a larger than usual labor pool is that they have raised wages. Growers say that wages have increased by $1-$1.50 hourly, about a 12 percent bump from last year. The average picker can expect to earn around $10 an hour, $2 higher than California’s $8 minimum wage. [Valley Farm- Labor Shortages Boost Wages, by Robert Rodriquez, Fresno Bee, May 10, 2013]

In 2012, during the peak September harvest, farmworkers’ pay rose to $12.09 hourly. Oscar Ramos, a grape farmer and Kingsburg-based farm-labor contractor, said:

"It is getting very competitive out there and employers are having to offer incentives to find the labor they need. And one of those incentives is higher wages."

Jose Aceves, who works at a Selma peach orchard, added:

"We really appreciate being paid more. Because we know how hard it is right now for some farms to find enough workers. There just aren't as many people as there used to be."

Ramos and Aceves are examples of Economics 101 in action. Fewer workers equal higher salaries for the existing labor force. But if the Gang of Eight immigration bill, S. 744, passes then salaries would likely drop back to minimum wage or possibly go lower.

The Gang proposes to create 200,000 new low-skilled "W" visas that would allow individuals from all over the world to enter the U.S. to take American jobs. More cheap labor allows the government to set wage standards by flooding the market with people willing to work for less than the going rate but one that is highly favorable to employers. The government, therefore, allows immigration to artificially depress wages, a reprehensible practice sanctioned by the Gang of Eight in its bill.

Please use the CAPS action alert to FAX your Senator urging a no vote on S. 744


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