Every decade or so, America’s mass media are surprised to discover that migrant farmworkers are being miserably paid and despicably treated by the industry that profits from their labor.
Stories run, the public is outraged, assorted officials pledge action, then… nothing changes.
Several news reports recently have re-documented that the shameful abuse of these hard-working, hard-traveling families continues.
A Los Angeles Times report revealed that, even if they receive the legal minimum wage, many farm laborers earn less than $17,500 a year because of the low pay and the seasonal nature of their work. Moreover, they are often “housed” in shacks, old chicken coops, shipping containers, and squalid motels.
This year, though, multibillion-dollar agribusiness interests from Florida to California are uniting in a push for new assistance — not for workers, but themselves.
While they backed Trump for president, many are now expressing shock that he may actually try to fulfill his campaign promise to cut off the flow of undocumented immigrants to their fields.
They now admit that these immigrants make up as much as 70 percent of the industry’s workforce, so they’ve rushed to Washington, demanding a special exemption from their president’s planned lockout of Mexican laborers.
In the process, they’ve suddenly re-characterized the very migrants they’ve been so callously mistreating as noble employees who are essential to U.S. food security.
Big Ag deserves no special break at all. But if Trump and Congress give any help to them, they should be required to pay a living wage, provide decent family housing and health care, and treat all farmworkers with the respect due to the people who put food on our tables.
To help push for basic human justice, connect with the United Farm Workers at ufw.org.
*OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.