Agricultural industry groups complain that President Barack Obama's immigration action won't help them find the workers they need to bring home the bacon. In a brilliant display of rationalization, Hurley hog farmer Steve Schmiechel says the President's inaction and the free market will force him to break the law to stay in business:
Steve Schmeichel, a Hurley, S.D., pig farmer, said he hasn’t hired undocumented immigrants to work on his operation, but the growing labor shortage and ongoing challenge to find employees willing to work means he’ll probably need to soon. Schmeichel said farmers he knows who have hired undocumented immigrants describe them as reliable and willing to work.
“It’s difficult for us or anybody else to find people who are willing to work and do the job and not be afraid to get dirty to get it done,” Schmeichel said. “It’s something that we’re almost going to have to do. It’s our next step” [Christopher Doering and Bill Theobald, "Ag Largely Left Out of Immigration Plan," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.21].
I guess South Dakota's hog farmers and dairy farmers are in the same situation as illegal immigrants. We flooded the Mexican market with subsidized American farm products, crushing the Mexican farm economy. Wal-Mart, sweatshops, and other fruits of NAFTA made things worse for Mexican workers. Mexican workers couldn't wait for the United States Congress or the President to expand and expedite H-2A visas. They couldn't wait to save up half a million dollars to buy an EB-5 visa. To feed their families, those Mexican workers needed to cross the border illegally. They had to. It was their next logical, justifiable, sayable-in-the-paper step, right, Steve?
Schmeichel and the rest of Big Ag just don't want to pay the wages that the local market would bear. They don't want President Obama or Congress to do anything, because that would take away their pool of cheap, exploitable labor:
Sanjay Rawal is the director of Food Chains, a documentary about farmworkers in the United States, which is released in theaters today. I got to chat with him about whether Obama’s failure to address farmworkers in his immigration reform is actually a significant setback.
“Obama is not addressing the needs of agricultural workers in this country,” he agrees. “The reason why the agricultural lobby did not push for farmworkers to be included – and in essence actually fought against it – was because they said that if farmworkers get a pathway to citizenship, they will no longer work in the fields, and [farms] will lose that labor force” [Eve Andrews, "Obama's Immigration Order Won't Help Farmworkers. What Can?" Grist, 2014.11.21].
But wait! We can still get Schmeichel off the hook. Don't blame farmers for the exploitation of migrant labor; blame Safeway and Hy-Vee:
The thesis of Food Chains, essentially, is that the exploitation of migrant farmworkers is a direct result of supermarket monopsony. In short, huge supermarket chains have maintained prices at artificially low levels as the cost of producing fruits and vegetables — in terms of land and equipment — has increased. To survive, farmers have no choice but to hire very, very cheap labor.
“Over and over, we kept hearing that the problem was farmers, the problems were labor contractors, but it seemed like the issues were much more systemic,” Rawal tells me. “And when we started following the coalition, we understood that the problem was really these gigantic corporations that control the entire supply chains. And these corporations can be ruthless” [Andrews, 2014.11.21].
A hog farmer resorts to breaking the law instead of paying market wages. Supermarket corporations refuse to pay producers the market value of their products. Consumers aren't making enough to afford food at the prices legal employment practices and fair payment of farmers would set because their corporate employers aren't paying living wages. That's the American "free" market at work.153 comments