Yes, I’m serious. It’s time to lower the boom. It has been for decades. The criminality of large-scale US fruit and vegetable growers, especially on the West Coast, is so rampant and egregious that it can only be limited with criminal prosecution and the seizure of major assets upon conviction. Many of the people running these organizations need to do jail time and forfeit their land and equipment to the state. There are practically entire valleys where the growers’ morals are so bad that the only way to establish a semblance of equity in the farm labor market is to assert the sovereignty and supremacy of the state over private entities that are acting as a law unto themselves, and to do so backed up with force of arms. The current regime in these places is a lawless aristocracy awkwardly masquerading as a form of self-government. No respectable state fails to compel major business concerns to abide by the duly enacted labor laws and regulations of its government, at gunpoint if necessary.
Here’s why I’m so strident. I keep an eye on agricultural job postings on the CalJobs and Worksource Washington websites, and I’ve come to realize that most of the listings on these sites are bogus. This seems to also be true of Worksource Oregon, although I follow it less closely. What I mean by these listings being bogus is that even though the employers are advertising for real jobs, they habitually include unreasonable requirements that have nothing to do with their actual staffing needs and that have the effect of deterring or screening out most of the regional applicant pool. These companies are cagey about their identities: in Washington State, they’re listed under local Worksource affiliates; in California, they’re referred to as “suppressed.” This way, applicants have no idea who the hell is nominally offering to hire them. They can’t do basic due diligence on prospective employers, e.g., research them online to see if they’ve already had employees raise red flags. In Washington, there’s routinely an additional stipulation that positions are for “local recruitment only,” screening out applicants who have a strong enough work ethic to be willing to relocate for work. Many listings (more often in Washington than in California, it seems) demand a formal commitment to a contract period of several months, suggesting that the employer will lay an epic guilt trip down on employees who decide that the job isn’t worth the trouble and quits, and maybe also blacklist them; I don’t recall ever seeing a recriprocal promise from one of these employers not to fire employees for the duration of the contract.
No employer who really, truly needs help getting time-critical grunt work done pulls any of these stunts. On a number of occasions, I’ve been hired on the spot with a next-day or same-day start date. This is because there’s too much work to be done as soon as possible for management to worry about whether or not labor is ready and willing to jump through hoops and pay its dues.
Then there are the prior experience requirements. For geographical reasons these are especially pernicious and devious in Washington. All of California’s major growing areas are within a manageable commute of reasonably large cities: Santa Rosa, Fresno, Oxnard, El Centro, etc. Much of Washington’s high-volume orchard and vineyard production is way the fuck out in the boondocks. Omak, Tonasket, and Brewster are on par with Colby, Kansas or Limon, Colorado, not Lodi or Visalia. There’s nothing north of Wenatchee with a sizeable reserve labor pool. Even the Tri-Cities area is middling by California Central Valley standards. Zoom in on satellite images of the valleys around any of town in Central Washington, however, and you’ll see shitloads of orchards, a great many of them measurable by the quarter section.
When these big eastern slope growers wring their hands and bitch and moan that they can’t find enough workers, the correct response isn’t to express sympathy for their unfortunate predicament, but to ask, well, gee, how in the motherfucking fuck did that ever happen. They made the bold decision to plant huge orchards at great distances from the workforce, and now they want the rest of us, government and all, to allow them to ignore whatever labor and immigration laws get in the way of their cobbling together pruning and harvest crews.
That isn’t all. Many of these growers are provably not serious about recruiting adequate field help. They pay ridiculously low bin rates, sometimes as low as $13 per bin for less easily bruised varieties; realize that these bins are about four feet square and can hold 900 or 1,000 pounds of fruit. They limit their advertising to hand-painted roadside billboards exclusively in Spanish. Almost none of them advertise on Craigslist; believe me, I look.
Then there are the prior experience requirements on Worksource Washington. Worksource is a statewide clearinghouse, and anyone who knows jack shit about Washington knows that most of the population is clustered around Puget Sound, along with approximately none of the orchards. Go further afield, to a place like Centralia or Montesano, and you’ll find some hardy-ass lumberjacks and mill hands who could use a new gig because they’re out of work. But how the hell are any of these people going to find the one to three months’ experience working in orchards that they need to get an orchard job? There aren’t any orchards in that part of the state. It’s too cool and drippy to reliably ripen tree fruit.
For that matter, how can anyone from the eastern slope pass that contrived chicken-and-egg test without having grown up on an orchard? Management acts like it’s trying to exclusively hire Luther Burbank and Johnny Appleseed. This is not a hallmark of seriousness. Of course, their real goal, which is obvious to anyone paying attention, is to hire Mexicans, and nobody asks Mexican roustabouts for a work history. Hardly anyone with hiring authority even checks their I9 documents for evidence of identity theft or forgery. They’re all like, screw Whitey, we have wetbacks, amigo. And yes, they use that kind of language. Okay, probably not Whitey per se, but wetback? You can bet the border fence on that much.
These growers always act like nonsupervisory pruning and harvest jobs require an intimate knowledge of the inscrutable mysteries of the apple tree. They always insinuate that Mexicans are the only people fit for the job because their peasant boys are initiated at puberty into the occult secrets of the agricultural work ethic by the village shaman or some shit. It’s a fucking weird worldview. What the entry-level jobs really require is reasonably good physical fitness, dexterity, and attention to detail. It is not hard to find Americans who are up to the job, although there will probably be more tweakers and junkies in the mix if recruiting is done through Worksource referrals.
That’s another thing. These growers insist that Americans don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to agriculture, and then they turn around and place their help wanted ads with precisely the organization that will send them the greatest number of shiftless, drugged-out dregs from the unemployment office. It’s common knowledge that unemployment rules force beneficiaries to at least pretend that they’re looking for work. Sending in a bogus application to some shithead who obviously wants to hire a bunch of Mexicans instead is a great way to have Mr. McFeely-style I’m-looking-for-work playtime with the bureaucrats. One need only show up every week or whatever and then catch a bus back home for the first Oxycontyn snack of the afternoon. Look, I don’t really give a shit if people I’ve never met are snowed to Kingdom Come on opiates or tweaking like there’s no tomorrow on the short bus to 7-Eleven, but no one who has the least bit of sense wants druggies handling ladders, saws, and pruning shears.
That said, for better and for worse, platforms like Worksource Washington are only theoretically vectors for the introduction of the marginally employable into the agricultural workforce. They’re more of a mutual fig leaf, like, hey, the unemployment office told me I gotta look for work, and someone told you you gotta advertise for American employees, but you wanna hire Mexicans and I wanna go smoke another big-ass bowl of crank, so it’s all cool.
Of course, it isn’t all cool for those of us who actually want to work. Major growers are doing everything in their power to avoid giving Americans a chance. And there’s no lie they won’t tell to advance their selfish interest in stringing along cheap, unenfranchised labor.
The supposedly uselesssly soft work ethic of Americans is only part of it. The big growers are also catfishing the hell out of everyone else. They never portray themselves as the gigantic Hamiltonian operations, or worse, that they objectively are. No, they’re always some kind of modern-day American Gothic, all aww shucks downhome, gotta get the crop in and git ‘er done.
The attempts of growers’ associations including the Farm Bureau to guilt Americans into feeling bad about crops spoiling due to labor shortages are appalling. In point of fact, the growers that the farm lobby actually represents, as opposed to the small family farms it pretends to represent, can’t be bothered to give a shit about unpicked crops if there isn’t a good margin to be made by picking them. It isn’t like some poor family in overalls will run out of cider and applesauce over the winter because not enough Mexicans showed up to pick their orchard clean, proving the need for immigration “reform.” The big growers do a very cold, pragmatic cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not it’s worth the bother to send in a gleaning crew, and the answer is usually that it is not. They do not shed a fucking tear over a few tons of spoiled fruit. They aren’t going around saying, “Hey, Hector, get your boys out there to clean up after that other crew, wouldn’t want hungry mouths in the valley this winter!”
These are not waste not, want not operations, but they want the rest of us to think that they are. They have absolutely no compunction about stealing the honor of Yankee smallholders, prairie homesteaders, the Amish, or anyone else who looks authentic in farmer clothes and falsely claiming it as their own. If they really wanted to get all the apples picked, they’d advertise for help on platforms that jobseekers actually follow, like Craigslist, and pay more like $30 a bin than $13. Seriously, many apple growers pay their pickers bin rates that work out to somewhere between one and three cents a pound. You read that right: between one and three cents. Few growers can be bothered to pay a nickel a pound for varieties that are extremely prone to bruising.
Of course the Washington apple boosters don’t mention these details. The public would be floored by their brazen stinginess and sense of entitlement.
The growers would get a lot of backsass if they treated the help that way in a competitive but well-regulated labor market. This is why they keep resorting to sleazy schemes like H-2A applications, fraud in support of H-2A applications, the knowing recruitment of illegal immigrants, and suborning document forgery and identity theft. Self-confident Americans who fluently speaka the English are a huge buzzkill. So, sometimes, are pissed off indigenous Oaxacans who are being screwed over by a major Japanese-American planter family in the Skagit Valley:
Outside the courthouse, Ella Mahaffey, Connie Bogel and Marsha Mercado held signs that said, “We Love Berries. Support Sakuma Brothers.”
“We were all born in this valley, so we know them. We’ve always known them. They’re a very good family. This is just totally wrong,” Mahaffey said.
Translation: “We love high cotton. We were all born here. They’re a very good family. Frankly, my dear, we love the O’Haras.” Tellingly, it wasn’t Sakuma Brothers employees who were making these comments; the people who actually worked for them were suing them in federal court to force them to abide by labor and housing laws, for example, by not blacklisting the previous year’s strikers. It’s easy to see how locals in Skagit County would be unimpressed with pay and working conditions and gladly tell an actual Sakuma brother to fuck off, in that old time English that local folk of all races and socioeconomic stations speak and understand. This is far too honest a form of labor relations for some growers. Steve Sakuma is yet another big grower pulling the OMG we left tonz of fruit in teh fields card without mentioning the percentage crop loss or the retail value of the huge amount of fruit that his company did harvest during the labor dispute. This is a guy who was so eager to get the crop in that he reported 370 of his employees to the Department of Labor as “abandoned” because they had gone on strike without his authorization.
If all of that isn’t bad enough, there’s worse. Uppity Mexican peasants can always be replaced by Thai peasants, since “their English is limited and their movements largely controlled.” Lord have mercy, the brains behind this operation is a shanda fur die goyim Jew named Mordechai Orian. Orian recently screwed over a group of Thai farm workers in Hawaii, then announced that he’d misplaced the money needed for the $8.7 million judgment:
HONOLULU (AP) – A federal judge has ruled that a California-based labor contractor must pay $8.7 million in damages to Thai workers who were exploited while working at Hawaii farms, but it’s not clear whether any of them will get the money.
Mordechai Orian, former president of Global Horizons, said Monday that the Los Angeles company is no longer in business and has no way to pay.
“We will fight this ridiculous decision,” he said, calling the amount “insane.”
Orian continued to deny workers were mistreated.
“We paid those guys to the last penny they worked for,” he said. “We tried to keep legal farming in the United States alive, and this is the thanks we get.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 against Global Horizons and six Hawaii farms. It alleged workers were subjected to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats. Five farms settled for a total of $3.6 million.
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi issued the ruling against Global Horizons on Friday.
Anna Park, EEOC trial attorney in Los Angeles, said the agency is pleased but the next challenge will be getting money from Global Horizons.
Kobayashi ruled previously that the company is liable for the discrimination and abuse of the workers.
The contractor sought impoverished Thai nationals, whom they stereotyped to be docile and compliant, the EEOC said, and charged them fees ranging from $9,500 to $26,000. The workers were given overcrowded housing often infested with bed bugs, and some workers resorted to making primitive slingshots so they could catch chickens to eat, the agency said….
“The million dollar question is whether they’ll ever see any of it,” Clare Hanusz, an attorney who represents a large group of the workers with their immigration matters, said of the award. “I’d be surprised if there really was no money, though. I think it’s very carefully hidden.”
The company has no assets and couldn’t afford to continue litigation, so it agreed to allow Kobayashi to issue a default judgment without going to trial, said Javier Lopez Perez, an attorney representing Global Horizons. The company plans to appeal, he said.
“We tried to keep legal farming in the United States alive, and this is what we get.” Holy shit. This schmuck indentures foreign peasants in squalor and hunger, and he acts like he’s doing God’s work. He sounds like either an embezzler living beyond his means or a crafty shell company operator who conveniently misplaced every last cent of his company’s money in bogus accounts in the Netherlands Antilles. He may yet go to federal prison.
By the way, with all the carrying on about human trafficking these days, how the hell are Mordechai Orian and Global Horizons not notorious as human traffickers? They demanded bank-breaking payments up front for transportation, exploited the hell out of foreigners who spoke limited or no English, compelled them to work long hours at arduous jobs, housed them in uninhabitable conditions without enough food, and threatened them with deportation. Orian is a caricature of an abusive scumbag. He ran one of the few genuine human trafficking conspiracies to be documented in open court in the United States, and no one has heard of him.
There’s an eerie, counterintuitive possibility that geography doesn’t particularly matter for the viability of big fruit and vegetable concerns. Moving Thai peasants around Hawaii and the American West is a state of quasi-bondage certainly does something to transcend local geographies, but I’m referring even to the land itself. Look at the huge quantities of salad greens that are grown in the Salinas, Imperial, and Lower Colorado Valleys. The (dare I say it?) terroir in these valleys is favorable, but greens aren’t very fickle or demanding crops. They’re hardy in cool or even cold weather; some dark leafy greens can easily overwinter through repeated lows in the mid-twenties and snowfalls. They’re easily grown hydroponically, and they do wonderfully in high tunnels or greenhouses over the winter in many cold regions. Strawberries are almost as hardy, although they’ll go dormant after a freeze and need a month or two of mild weather to set new fruit. The big strawberry and greens valleys of California aren’t all that critical for maintaining American production. These crops can easily be grown almost anywhere in the country as long as there’s a water supply, and at any time of year.
An obvious problem with most of the alternatives, unfortunately, is a shortage of peasants to tend the crops. The alternate growing sites may be closer to the water supply, but they’re a lot farther from the wetback supply. American governments are much more willing to build monumental aqueduct systems to provide water to big growers below cost than to send labor or housing inspectors into the fields. The growers want the rest of us to think that they’re rugged individualists when in fact they’re subsidized and backstopped by multiple levels of big government. This ain’t Little House on the Prairie. As taxpayers, we all have to pay for this crony capitalism and influence-peddling. Even if we get refunds from the IRS, we still loan these fuckers a portion of our income through the US Treasury between payday and filing our income tax returns if we have any payroll income with tax deductions.
This money could easily be better spent on the direct government purchase of agricultural property for workforce training purposes. There’s already a huge amount of government interference in agricultural markets. It’s just that the interference is done on capital’s behalf and at capital’s instruction. It’s Steve Sakuma’s country; we merely live in it.
Until we righteously sue his ass into compliance with the law.