Yesterday the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched the “Take Our Jobs” campaign, a bold effort to highlight the importance of immigrant work
June 25, 2010

Yesterday the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched the “Take Our Jobs” campaign, a bold effort to highlight the importance of immigrant workers to our food supply -- and the difficulties agricultural employers have in maintaining a stable, legal workforce.  As UFW points out on their campaign website, “We are a nation in denial about our food supply."

farm workers

During a news conference yesterday, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez argued:

Farm workers do the work that most Americans are not willing to do. Our current labor force is comprised of professional farm workers who possess essential skills needed to maintain the viability of the agricultural industry. But our nation’s struggling economy has fueled an increasingly ugly debate on immigration policy and many Americans believe that undocumented farm workers are taking jobs from our citizens and legal residents.

Either Congress acts to bring a solution, or we will continue to see our food production move to other countries. The United States depends on these farms and farm workers for food.

A statement by the union explains further:

County Supervisor Rubio, who represents the second largest agricultural county in the nation, said the industry is utterly dependent on a foreign-born workforce. And even with double digit unemployment rates, few legal residents are seeking jobs on the farm, he said.

According to Marisa Treviño at Latina Lista:

In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, UFW offers farm workers who are "ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields," and encourages Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions.

While immigrant farm workers are the backbone of United States agriculture, many of these workers have no way to normalize their immigration status – they often live in fear of exploitation and deportation. These workers and their advocates have been asking Congress for years to fix what most everyone agrees is an outdated, ineffective, and inhumane immigration system.

Now, hoping to push Congress to pass what’s known as “AgJobs” legislation, the UFW’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign is a creative attempt to break through the right-wing media narrative that immigrants take jobs from American workers instead of contributing to the U.S. economy and U.S. food security.

So far, people in the agriculture industry appear skeptical that many unemployed Americans will sign up for the farm work, given the strenuous conditions, need to relocate one's family, and low pay. The Silicon Valley Mercury News reports:

Salinas farm labor contractor Paul Powell had not heard about the "Take Our Jobs" campaign Wednesday, but said he doubted that most unemployed Californians would be up to the challenge.

"There may be a lot of folks who show up and don’t stay for more than a day or two," Powell said. "They don’t realize how hard the work is. Field work is not easy."

Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, sarcastically remarked:

Come out here and climb the ladder, pick tomatoes, and oh, by the way, you’ve got to prune, and oh, by the way, it’s seasonal work so you have to move all over the place.

It seems that the UFW has set up a win-win situation. If it turns out that Americans do take them up on the offer, kudos to them for helping jobless Americans find work and gain skills. If native-born Americans balk and refuse to sign up, lawmakers will have a hard time opposing AgJobs legislation with the claim that immigrants are “stealing American jobs.”  

The offer itself should serve to highlight the hypocrisy of anti-reform politicians who continue to scapegoat vulnerable populations whose labor fuels our economy and feeds our country, instead of reforming our nation's dysfunctional immigration laws.

Even better, UFW has announced a July 8th appearance on the Colbert Report -- stay tuned.

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