Reform for Agricultural Guestworkers is Needed Now
This country’s politics are out of control when it comes to agricultural guestworkers and immigration reform, and I’m afraid we’re not going to see a fair solution coming in the near future. It’s more than unfortunate — it just plain sucks, because there’s so much at stake here, for the workers and their families, for the companies who depend on them, for the horticulture and broader agriculture industries, and for the Americans who depend on us to sustain their way of living. How can we expect to feed and beautify our country without enough people to do the work? That’s the Catch-22. Like a bad employer, expecting the work to get done anyway without supplying the resources to do it, the U.S. government is pushing its people too far.
This hit home for us last month, when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on Ohio-based Corso’s Flower and Garden Center, part of the family of businesses that includes Corso’s Perennials, one of Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers, swarmed the operation with 200 law enforcement officials in one of the largest employer stings in recent years, and made 114 arrests. Following the spectacle, Corso’s stated that while the operation is complying with the government’s investigation, it has made it a strict practice over the years to demand proper documentation from all those seeking employment at its facilities, and also ensures all employer taxes are properly paid.
The raid was part of a crackdown on illegals — I get that. We certainly should adhere to the laws and ensure that everyone in our businesses are properly documented and accounted for, no question. But without even a light at the end of the tunnel on when we’ll see immigration solutions and more guestworkers available for the businesses that need them, these raids seem especially harsh, and the treatment of the people affected has been cruel. Personally, I’m ashamed and outraged to see what’s happened to the children of the undocumented at our borders.
Jobs Still Available
Adding insult to injury, just four days prior to the Corso’s raid, the U.S. Jobs Report came out, stating that the U.S. has more job openings than unemployed Americans. U.S. job openings rose to a seasonally adjusted 6.7 million this spring — a record high — and there are 6.3 million unemployed Americans. The jobless rate in May was 3.8%, the lowest since April 2000, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The Wall Street Journal reported that the last time the unemployment rate was lower was in 1969, when young men were being drafted into the Vietnam War. Employers are even competing for workers 25 and older without a high school diploma, as the job market for less-educated workers is the best it’s ever been.
So even if all of our unemployed decided to get a job tomorrow, we still couldn’t fill all of the positions available. And yet we still get the nonsensical comments from the peanut gallery that houses our most ignorant fellow citizens that the workers we need to import to help us run our operations are “stealing American jobs.” Further, the treatment of the H-2A workers and the agricultural businesses that employ them is appalling, with communities protesting new guestworker housing, and even setting fire to a new housing development designated for guestworkers in one extreme case in Nipomo, CA. This country needs to accept that the only way it will fill all the jobs Americans don’t want is to employ guestworkers, and that the majority of its food in the future will be harvested by foreign hands.
Meanwhile, what can we do? Continue to lobby for solutions. Write to your state and federal politicians, and tell our shared story. Invest in labor-saving technology and production methods. And take care of each other. Scott Sterling, Supply Chain Manager, J. Berry Nursery, said it best in a comment he made on the Corso’s story:
“We as a Horticultural Family need to be united in the effort to find resolution to a very complex problem. Not just for our industry, but for our friends who have come to our country to better themselves and us.”