It comes as no surprise that Arturo Rodriguez can’t find many 100-percent born-and-bred Americans who are willing to take jobs in agriculture.
Rodriguez is president of the United Farm Workers of America, and its latest campaign, “Take Our Jobs,” invites U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farmworkers.
Rodriguez said the effort “spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled.”
The campaign is a political gimmick, certainly, and it has attracted fewer than a couple dozen hearty souls willing to do stoop labor in every type of weather condition to cut, hoe, shovel, sort, pack or carry loads of up to 50 pounds.
Gimmickry aside, the underwhelming number of citizens who are taking advantage of the UFW’s offer is testament to the hypocrisy that is part and parcel of ugly anti-immigrant sentiments now so chic among today’s politically correct. One would think that the immigrant slammers and the unemployed who whine about “the wets who are taking our jobs” would flock to the UFW simply to prove the bleeding-heart liberals wrong.
But they won’t.
They won’t because they are American citizens, and citizens of their stature should not have to endure farmworker conditions and farmworker wages. They’d rather bellyache about Steven Colbert than do an honest day’s work.
I’ve tried working the fields. Twice. Not because I had a political agenda or a comedy act, but because my family needed the money.
The first time out, I was a 14-year-old hired to work the fields by a friend of a family friend who was willing to turn a blind eye to child-labor laws to get me the job. I worked under the full broil of 110-degree Imperial Valley heat, bent over for 10 hours each day for $1.35 an hour with no benefits, except for the generous half-hour lunch periods each day. After day three, I couldn’t answer the bell.
Three years later, I was recruited along with a bunch of my high-school classmates to drive tractors. Seven days a week, 12 hours a day, crappy wages. After a month of under-the-sun drudgery without a day off, a work action ensued. The work stoppage wasn’t led by some fire-breathing socialist-Latino labor leader; it was forced upon us by the aggrieved Anglo son of the foreman who snuck into the tractor shed one night and poured sugar in the gas tanks because he believed we were being treated unfairly. It pissed me off because my family needed the income.
Fast forward several years, to 1978. I was back in the Imperial Valley, covering agriculture for the local newspaper (and earning a wage comparable to what I made during my short-lived career as tractor driver). The UFW initiated a strike, set to begin on a Saturday morning. The walkout came in the middle of the lettuce harvest season, a critical time for growers.
A local farm association leaped into action, organizing its own “take their jobs” event. A couple hundred locals — the unemployed willing to take on the farmers’ cause, housewives who sacrificed their contract bridge gatherings and high school students — gathered in the fields to replace striking farmworkers on that Saturday morning. They showed up with much enthusiasm that first day, but only a handful returned the next morning. It was just too darn hard, too darn hot.
So the farmers had to hire a bunch of immigrants to replace the local gentry hired to replace the strikers.
Good luck with your efforts to fill American jobs with American citizens, Mr. Rodriguez. But please keep their wages low so my iceberg lettuce remains affordable.