In the wake of Georgia’s Arizona-esque immigration bill, thousands of immigrants who were content to do the work that — as Stephen Colbert pointed out months ago — few if any Americans want to do, have fled the state, leaving crops to rot in the fields. Needless to say, somebody has got to pick these crops, and who better than the O.G. Croppickers — black folks!
Georgia, which passed an Arizona-style immigration bill in April that is due to take effect next month, has seen thousands of undocumented immigrants flee the state. A state survey released last week found 11,080 vacant positions on state farms that needed to be filled to avoid losing crops.
At the same time as the survey’s release, Deal, a first-term Republican, announced a program to link the state’s 100,000 probationers with farmers looking to fill positions, the vast majority of which pay less than $15 per hour.
The AP reported the first group of probationers began working last week at an Americus farm owned by Dick Minor, the president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
I read about this over at The Reid Report — I urge you to head over there and read her take on this fuckery — and, needless to say, I’m stunned and sick to my stomach.
Here’s the AP:
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal started the experiment after farmers publicly complained they couldn’t find enough workers to harvest labor-intensive crops such as cucumbers and berries because Latino workers – including many illegal immigrants – refused to show up, even when offered one-time or weekly bonuses. One crew who previously worked for Mendez told him they wouldn’t come to Georgia for fear of risking deportation.
Farmers told state authorities in an unscientific survey that they had more than 11,000 unfilled agriculture jobs, although it’s not clear how that compares to prior years or whether the shortage can be blamed on the new law.
For more than a week, the state’s probation officers have encouraged their unemployed offenders to consider taking field jobs. While most offenders are required to work while on probation, statistics show they have a hard time finding jobs. Georgia’s unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent, but correction officials say among the state’s 103,000 probationers, it’s about 15 percent. Still, offenders can turn down jobs they consider unsuitable, and harvesting is physically demanding.
The first batch of probationers started work last week at a farm owned by Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. In the coming days, more farmers could join the program.
So far, the experiment at Minor’s farm is yielding mixed results. On the first two days, all the probationers quit by mid-afternoon, said Mendez, one of two crew leaders at Minor’s farm.
“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, `Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,’” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer. “They just left, took off across the field walking.”
Mendez put the probationers to the test last Wednesday, assigning them to fill one truck and a Latino crew to a second truck. The Latinos picked six truckloads of cucumbers compared to one truckload and four bins for the probationers.
“It’s not going to work,” Mendez said. “No way. If I’m going to depend on the probation people, I’m never going to get the crops up.”
Conditions in the field are bruising, and the probationers didn’t seem to know what to expect. Cucumber plants hug the ground, forcing the workers to bend over, push aside the large leaves and pull them from the vine. Unlike the Mexican and Guatemalan workers, the probationers didn’t wear gloves to protect their hands from the small but prickly thorns on the vines and sandpaper-rough leaves.
The harvesters carried filled buckets on their shoulders to a nearby flatbed truck and hoisted them up to a dumper, who tossed the vegetables into a bin.
Temperatures hovered in the low 90s with heavy humidity Thursday, but taking off a shirt to relieve the heat invited a blistering sunburn. Tiny gnats flew into workers’ eyes and ears. One experienced Latino worker carried a machete that he used to dispatch a rattlesnake found in the fields.
By law, each worker must earn minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour. But there’s an incentive system. Harvesters get a green ticket worth 50 cents every time they dump a bucket of cucumbers. If they collect more than 15 tickets an hour, they can beat minimum wage.
The Latino workers moved furiously Thursday for the extra pay.
The Reid Report has screenshots of some of the comments on these articles, and yes, they are as horribly racist and xenophobic as one might imagine. You really need to read the rest (which includes a quote from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin) to truly grasp the horror of what is going on in Georgia.
Make no mistake, this isn’t about black and white. The plutocrats are just getting started. Pretty soon they’ll be laughing as blacks, whites, and latinos all fight for the opportunity to make 50 cents a day picking crops for rich people.
This is where we are, America.
And this is where we were:
Are you fucking awake yet?
***[For the record, I realize slaves weren't paid minimum wage... or any wage... the title popped into my head after I read the bit over at Joy's place about working for a quarter and the ensuing comments.]