Farm labor in George could shift from undocumented farm workers to citizens on probation. It hasn’t happened yet, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal wants it to. The farmers themselves are less enthusiastic. One farmer, according to TIME Magazine, wanted the Governor to show his own confidence in this measure by hiring people on probation to work in the Governor’s mansion, and adding, “I want my family to be as safe as the Governor’s.”
Governor Deal believes ex-convicts on Georgia farms can fill 11,000 jobs opened by the state’s new harsh immigration law. The law authorizes all law enforcement to detain immigrants and that has scared away the undocumented workers who attended the fields beforehand. With unemployment hitting a critical high among citizens on probation, it seems the Governor sees the solution as a simple switch. But how many ex-convicts have gone out to the farms looking for work? If the potential workers who are on probation are not presently looking for those jobs, will this group migrate to the farms, because the Governor says so?
According to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, so far only two-dozen probationers are participating in the push to get the farm jobs filled. The pilot program was launched in a cucumber field in Leslie, GA. Probationers were given buckets and guides for learning how to pick the vegetables. For every bucket of cucumbers, the workers would receive a blue ticket worth 50 cents. If the worker could get 15 buckets in an hour, they would be paid at a higher rate than the minimum wage.
Ultimately we shouldn’t side step the real issue. For Big Agriculture to sustain itself, it has to find labor in vulnerable populations that will accept the low pay and high risk of the job. Attending a field takes almost super-human physical and mental determination. Yet everyday people perform this labor for an average of $11,000 a year, and a 10 percent chance of getting benefits. The undocumented workers do it because they have to so they can provide for their families. Governor Deal is trying to create jobs by scaring or deporting these people and replacing them with a documented yet still vulnerable population. It is a curious shuffle that ignores the problem that farm workers still have little to no rights in the United States. If it is any indication, out of 24 volunteers only six probationers remained to work in the field.
There are groups in North Carolina who are fighting for all farmworkers to receive the respect and payment that they deserve. Check them out and lets remember these people when we enjoy our next meal.
-Keith Gustine, Intern