Another Battle in the War Against Working People

The way the U.S. Census Bureau measures such things, New Jersey is the most urban state in the country.  Get in your car and drive through the state, though, and you’ll see that while the state may be pretty urban it also has plenty of farms.  The Curmudgeon lives in a pretty urban/suburban part of the state but it takes only ten minutes for him to drive to several farms and only about twenty to put him squarely in farm country.  New Jersey farms grow tomatoes, corn, grapes (for wine!  the state, believe it or not, has a thriving wine industry), melons, apples, peaches, strawberries, and more.

But the state’s two leading crops are blueberries and cranberries.

And the people who grow those blueberries are worried these days:  worried because they’re accustomed to hiring migrant workers, people legally in the country, they insist, to pick their crops.  Those people who are legally in the country, they fear, will be afraid to return to their farms this year for fear that immigration officials will come to those farms and arrest and deport them even though they’re in the country legally.

Or so the farmers insist.

And before continuing The Curmudgeon would like to note, just parenthetically, that while New Jersey went solidly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, many of these farmers, who incidentally live in the very town that gave the world alternative fact queen Kellyanne Conway and honored her in a post-election parade, voted for Agent Orange and are now reaping what they have sown:  their boy is the guy behind all of the fear of deportation.

But back to the farmers. They’re worried that their regular berry-pickers won’t return this year for fear of encountering immigration officials and note that they’re already having trouble reaching some of those workers to confirm that they’ll be returning to pick this year’s crop.  The farmers worry that they’ll lose their experienced berry-pickers and note that these people have skills that others may not.

Fortunately for those farmers, The Curmudgeon has a two-part solution for their problem.

Part one:  PAY YOUR DAMN WORKERS A DECENT WAGE!  Berries get picked in the summer and there are plenty of teenagers and young adults living within reasonable distance of your farms.  Yes, it’s hard work and yes, it’s work that some kids just won’t want to do, but pay a decent wage and you’ll be surprised at how many people looking for work will come crawling out of the woodwork.  In recent weeks one of the community newspapers The Curmudgeon reads has featured two columns of ads for farms in New York state looking for people to pick crops and they’re all offering pretty much the same thing:  a choice of $12.38 an hour (a rate that yields an annual salary of a hair under $26,000, which would leave such workers seriously, seriously poor) or a rate based on how much fruit you pick (and tools provided free of charge, isn’t that swell of them?).  So if farmers can’t get the help they want for $12.38 an hour then they need to pay more.  It’s the law of supply and demand, the same law that determines what they get for their crops, and they can’t insist on playing the supply and demand game when they take their crops to market but then refuse to play the same game when it comes to paying for the people who pick the crops that make them their money.

Part two:  train people how to pick berries.  When did American businesses decide that it was government’s responsibility to train their workers?  Except for vocational training in the major trades, public education hasn’t worked that way in this country for about a century, yet employers are constantly complaining that there aren’t enough qualified people to fill their jobs – something truly ironic, moreover, when you consider that it’s people like those who own businesses who are constantly leading the charge to lower taxes in a way that drains public school systems of resources and even further reduces their already-limited capacity to prepare young people for adult life and work.  Can’t find workers with the skills you need to fill your jobs?  Stop blaming the government for something it was never supposed to do in the first place and train your own damn workers.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for business owners who function in a market and vote for people who demand that government step aside and let this ridiculous concept of “market” decide all things and then complain when that market denies them the workers they need because they aren’t willing to pay wages that the market demands.

They should.  Then, they can grow all the berries they want and people will pick them and get paid wages that will actually enable them to put food on the table and a roof over their heads and clothes on their kids’ backs and the rest of us will buy them and we can all enjoy the literal and figurative fruits of their labors.

Or they can always pick their own damn blueberries.

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