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A profile of a few families who chose to cross the border and a view of agricultural work in America for migrant laborers.
December 30, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Do American citizens really want the agriculture jobs "illegals" are "taking?" Apparently not... "Only 8,600 people expressed an interest in working in the fields, says Ms Machuca. But they made demands that seem bizarre to farmworkers, such as high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs. In late September only seven American applicants in the “Take our jobs” campaign were actually picking crops."
posted by ShadePlant (113 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
health ... benefits

and

That was the point, says Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW’s president. America’s farm jobs, which are excluded from almost all federal and state labour regulations, are not normal jobs.

I think I see the problem here.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 7:10 PM on December 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


This is a pretty weak rhetorical argument. Americans don't want those jobs because the benefits suck. But the reason the benefits suck is that the work is done by undocumented immigrants who don't have the political sway to demand benefits and legal protections. If they all left, farmers would be forced to hire Americans and put up with their fussy demands for things like "labor regulations" and "workers comp"
posted by delmoi at 7:13 PM on December 30, 2010 [34 favorites]


...or they will get prison labor to do the job. America was founded on unpaid/low paid labor and still benefits greatly from it.
posted by edgeways at 7:15 PM on December 30, 2010 [31 favorites]


Lots of working American citizens have shoddy benefits and I don't see much of that changing any time soon for them, either. "The working poor" are exactly what they sound like... They work but remain poor. Government sponsored healthcare for most Americans... That was easy to pass, right?! Good thing everyone united to make that change so smooth!
posted by ShadePlant at 7:17 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty weak rhetorical argument. Americans don't want those jobs because the benefits suck. But the reason the benefits suck is that the work is done by undocumented immigrants who don't have the political sway to demand benefits and legal protections. If they all left, farmers would be forced to hire Americans and put up with their fussy demands for things like "labor regulations" and "workers comp"

Thats sarcasm right?
posted by Max Power at 7:22 PM on December 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


I know such things are going out of style these days, but it sure would be nice to have a new incarnation of César Chávez come along to help pull these jobs into the twenty-first century.
posted by hippybear at 7:24 PM on December 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


yeah it would, but can you imagine just how demonized a modern Chavez would be? It'd make that whole Jeremiah Wright issue look like a picnic
posted by edgeways at 7:26 PM on December 30, 2010 [16 favorites]


delmoi: Here in Canada, we have farm jobs too. We don't get many Mexican immigrants here, or actually many illegal immigrants at all. The jobs still suck. The single most excruciating, backbreaking labor I ever worked is picking daffodils. You get paid 1.4 cents per flower. They must be over 11 inches long. They're spread out so it's about ten 11" flowers every meter (yard). In my short stint doing this, I made an average of $20 a day. No benefits of course, it's piece work, that's just how the agriculture industry works. I absolutely destroyed my back within a week of doing this, and at the end of it had barely enough to feed myself.

Considering a bunch of daffodils costs like $2, and of that, 20 cents goes to the workers, that's pretty much a standard rate. If you started paying ten cents per flower plus medical and dental, daffodils would cost $40 a dozen. At that rate we'd stop farming them altogether and outsource it to china.
posted by inedible at 7:26 PM on December 30, 2010 [18 favorites]


The Farm Is too Damn Hot! Party...?
posted by ShadePlant at 7:28 PM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Doug Stanhope.
posted by pianomover at 7:30 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


America was founded on unpaid/low paid labor and still benefits greatly from it.

Civilization was built on slave labor. Manchu Pichu was built by slaves, not aliens. The Chinese who built America's railroad were, for all practical purposes, slaves. Why do you think New York City has such a great subway system? Because it was built before labor laws and OSHA. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Eerie Canal. The grand engineering projects of that era were possible because labor was cheap and expendable. It is truly amazing what humanity is able to accomplish with a little engineering know-how and a whole lot of manipulation of the underclass.

If I knew farm workers were getting a fair wage, I'd be willing to pay more at the grocery store, although it seems food is stratifying right now -- Whole Foods and other specialty markets driving up prices and Costco/Walmart driving down prices -- although has that stratification always been the case? If only we had a single-payer health care system, then employers wouldn't have to worry about paying for health benefits. My crazy Republican super-businessman stepdad desperately wants single-payer so he doesn't have to pay for his employees' health care any more.
posted by incessant at 7:33 PM on December 30, 2010 [23 favorites]


can you imagine just how demonized a modern Chavez would be?

Someone organizing for workers' rights being demonized? In America? Oh, that's never been a problem, ever!
posted by hippybear at 7:35 PM on December 30, 2010 [20 favorites]


Our food prices are more mixed up than a dog's breakfast. Many vegetables and fruits would be much more expensive, if we didn't use slave labor in agriculture (in many cases, literally - the illegals often are cheated entirely out of even the little money they're owed). But then, if we actually didn't subsidize a lot of agriculture directly and indirectly (indirectly: through environmentally unsustainable farming), our prices would be higher. But then, if we didn't use unfair trade barriers, a lot of our food would be cheaper, because of imports (see: sugar). But then, if we didn't export a ton of food at subsidized prices below production costs, we wouldn't bankrupt farmers in f.ex. Mexico, and so we wouldn't have then come over here to avoid starvation and work at slave or near-slave cost, and food costs would go up. But then, if we abolished subsidies, we'd be paying market prices for the right kinds of food (and so, f.ex., the cost of meat would go up), and our food consumption profiles would change, perhaps resulting in ultimately cheaper food as a result of a shorter food chain. But then... but then it's all such a mess that we'll just keep muddling through, with no real reform. Oh, and the farm workers in the U.S., whether legal or not - they'll always be fucked in our system.
posted by VikingSword at 7:39 PM on December 30, 2010 [43 favorites]


This is a pretty weak rhetorical argument. Americans don't want those jobs because the benefits suck. But the reason the benefits suck is that the work is done by undocumented immigrants who don't have the political sway to demand benefits and legal protections. If they all left, farmers would be forced to hire Americans and put up with their fussy demands for things like "labor regulations" and "workers comp"

You are kidding, right? It's not like farm labor jobs used to be awesome until those nasty illegals showed up. Farm labor jobs have always been tough and low paid; there just used to be more desperately poor US citizens with no safety net who would take that work. Now (meaning, since World War II, so we are talking about almost 70 years now) we import the labor instead.
posted by Forktine at 7:42 PM on December 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


inedible: Considering a bunch of daffodils costs like $2, and of that, 20 cents goes to the workers, that's pretty much a standard rate. If you started paying ten cents per flower plus medical and dental, daffodils would cost $40 a dozen. At that rate we'd stop farming them altogether and outsource it to china.

Not everything is economically feasible in every place - the cost of living is relevant and has to be taken into account. That's why they don't make cheap plastic junk in Switzerland. Some of these agricultural jobs are simply not feasible in the US without dumping the cost onto the public - but that doesn't mean we should try to keep them! Everyone (except some corporate overlords) would be better off if these jobs just moved overseas - we wouldn't be paying half these worker's wages through taxes, and they'd be making a wage that would be much more in line with the local cost of living.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:43 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Americans don't want these jobs. They want a brown scapegoat that they can piss on.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:46 PM on December 30, 2010 [23 favorites]


Well, roses at my shop are 59.99 a dozen.


Just saying.

(We do NOT sell daffodils.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:49 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll never understand why no ire ever gets directed at the mind-bogglingly corrupt Mexican government.

This is a country that was ruled with a one-party system for more than 70 years. Before Mao was running China, before Stalin was running the Soviet Union, before Kim Il-sung was running North Korea, the PRI was running Mexico. And they drove it so far into the ditch, you can't even see the ditch anymore. The entire country is a ditch.

"Oh, but the U.S. exploited Mexico..."

Fuck you. You mean the same way the U.S. exploited its other neighbor, Canada? Poor Mexican families crawl over the border wishing they can be exploited by the U.S. Hoping to be exploited. Demanding to be exploited.

Why? Because their own leaders are worse.

Immigration won't leave the airwaves, and our next door neighbor has 20 percent of its population below the poverty line, but somehow keeps minting fresh billionaires. Un-fucking-real.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:52 PM on December 30, 2010 [35 favorites]


How much does the cost of farm labor affect the cost of food? If farm workers were paid proper wages and benefits, would Americans then buy foreign-grown food instead, thus eliminating the US farm jobs (and US farms)? If so, what would working conditions be like for the people in all the farm jobs that shifted from the US to somewhere else? Or would tariffs be used to preserve US farms and shift the cost increases to US consumers?
posted by pracowity at 7:54 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone (except some corporate overlords) would be better off if these jobs just moved overseas

What is this, bizarro world?
posted by ghharr at 7:56 PM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Mexico's no picnic...
posted by ShadePlant at 7:57 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops: link

http://www.allheadlinenews.com/briefs/articles/90028935?Lone%20police%20officer%20of%20Mexican%20border%20town%20still%20missing%20after%20kidnapping
posted by ShadePlant at 7:57 PM on December 30, 2010


inedible: "delmoi: Here in Canada, we have farm jobs too. We don't get many Mexican immigrants here, or actually many illegal immigrants at all. The jobs still suck. The single most excruciating, backbreaking labor I ever worked is picking daffodils. You get paid 1.4 cents per flower. They must be over 11 inches long. They're spread out so it's about ten 11" flowers every meter (yard). In my short stint doing this, I made an average of $20 a day. No benefits of course, it's piece work, that's just how the agriculture industry works. I absolutely destroyed my back within a week of doing this, and at the end of it had barely enough to feed myself.

Considering a bunch of daffodils costs like $2, and of that, 20 cents goes to the workers, that's pretty much a standard rate. If you started paying ten cents per flower plus medical and dental, daffodils would cost $40 a dozen. At that rate we'd stop farming them altogether and outsource it to china
"

Hell yes. I picked strawberries and raspberries in Québec for a dollar a basket and four dollars a "tray" (a cardboard pallette with I think eight or ten little plastic boxes of raspberries) respectively. There were only three types of people doing this work: high school kids (in the summer), professional agricultural workers who moved coast to coast following different harvests, and registered immigrants.

I'd show up in the parking lot of a church at dawn, where a bunch of buses were parked, and someone walking around with a clipboard would yell out crops to be picked. You chose what you wanted, got on the bus, and drove out to whatever farm it was. Sometimes you got some friendly folks to work for and sometimes you didn't. But no matter how nice anyone was, the pay still sucked, the work was still grueling, and the benefits were still none. Even in a country with as strong a social welfare system as Canada.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:58 PM on December 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Thats sarcasm right?
Uh, the last sentence was somewhat sarcastic.
there just used to be more desperately poor US citizens with no safety net who would take that work.
Right... but because there are not the work is now done by mostly illegal immigrants. The point is, people will do any job if you pay them enough. And crops don't pick themselves, so they would have to hire someone, at some price. Or plant less labor intensive crops. But they don't have to do those things, because they can hire undocumented workers instead.
posted by delmoi at 7:59 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


...high pay, health and pension benefits, relocation allowances and other things associated with normal American jobs.

[citation needed]
posted by anarch at 8:00 PM on December 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


I don't buy flowers much. But last time I did calla lillies were 10 bucks each. I asked how many people usually buy, since I didn't want to show up with 1 flower if it's normal to buy a dozen, the woman replied "As many as they can afford"

It would probably be like that for most if not all produce if pickers got humane treatment and wages. I don't know much about farming, but it seems for some crops the means to plow, plant, etc has far outpaced our ability to harvest. These people suffer horrendous treatment but are a vital part of our society since each family doesn't work it's own little tract of land anymore. So a permanent underclass is the price society pays for cheap and abundant produce.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:04 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I find that really interesting actually. Most of the people picking daffodils were Quebecois. They were some form of migratory hippies who would travel all the way to BC to pick flowers once a year. They quite enjoyed it, and were very good at it. Some of them managed to break $80 per day. Similar setup, too. They'd get you to gather in a public place at 5AM, then they'd drive up a cavalcade of buses, from which clipboard-wielding people would emerge and start taking names.

It always made me think, when I realized that Quebec is further from BC than Mexico.
posted by inedible at 8:04 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


inedible: "Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I find that really interesting actually. Most of the people picking daffodils were Quebecois. They were some form of migratory hippies who would travel all the way to BC to pick flowers once a year. They quite enjoyed it, and were very good at it. Some of them managed to break $80 per day. Similar setup, too. They'd get you to gather in a public place at 5AM, then they'd drive up a cavalcade of buses, from which clipboard-wielding people would emerge and start taking names.

It always made me think, when I realized that Quebec is further from BC than Mexico
"

Now that is fascinating. I averaged about $20/day with the strawberries (although I came late in the season) and maybe $30 with the raspberries. The people who earned more than anyone were the immigrants; in particular, west Africans (usually from Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire) who made $60 a day easy. I once tried watching them, copying their picking styles and speed and I just couldn't keep up. Strawberries grow on the ground. So you can either do this sort of stooping crawl along the dirt as you drag your baskets behind you, or bend at the waist, as the Africans did. I was in pretty horrible pain by the end of the first week there. Raspberries are a bit easier, growing on actual bushes and all, but they're so friggin tiny and fragile and no farmer is selling bruised raspberries.

Man I really don't miss that job.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:13 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ad hominem: So a permanent underclass is the price society pays for cheap and abundant produce.

I tend to think that if people weren't so cheap to exploit, we'd have invented a machine to do it thirty years ago.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:14 PM on December 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Manchu Pichu was built by slaves, not aliens.

I agree with your general point, but this is inaccurate. Well, not the alien part, of course. But we know so little about Machu Picchu, or really any of the large scale Inca cities and fortresses that predate contact with Europeans, that it's impossible to assert that they were built with slave labor. We don't even know what Machu Picchu was for, let alone who specifically built it or how much they were paid.

It's true that Inca commoners paid taxes in the form of corvee labor (probably because the mountainous terrain made it impossible to pay in material goods), but that's not the same thing as slavery.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on December 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


this is a disservice to the issue of illegal immigration and the jobs they have - most of the jobs being taken are not agricultural - and yes, quite a few american citizens would and do work at them - and even though my company obeys the letter of the law and verifies documentation, it wouldn't surprise me if one or two of my co-workers had slipped in

i wouldn't turn them in, of course - and i'm not one of those who are all up in arms about "our" jobs being "taken" - but the plight of the farm worker, as bad as that is, is not representative of the plight of the illegal immigrant - and i really do think that the UFW ought to remember that

i tried picking apples - after falling off the ladder a few times, i concluded that this was not a viable career path for me
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on December 30, 2010


I tend to think that if people weren't so cheap to exploit, we'd have invented a machine to do it thirty years ago.

That's possible but we certainly harvest corn, wheat, certain nuts with a machine even though there are plenty of people to exploit. I don't see how anything short of a robot could harvest soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries. There is probably incredible profit motive to invent such a machine, so I'm sure somebody has worked on it.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:25 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Right... but because there are not the work is now done by mostly illegal immigrants. The point is, people will do any job if you pay them enough. And crops don't pick themselves, so they would have to hire someone, at some price.

I've said the very same thing at some point, delmoi but once you pay more for migrant farm labor you must expect a rise in cost of food stuffs. ( and don't get me wrong I'm not feeling sorry for myself at the expense of laborers. I'm thinking of the impact to the working poor of every industry.)

What scares the hell out of me for everyone, myself included is the fear that nothing about the way we feed ourselves is sustainable without a kind of slave labor. Which is abhorrent but maybe none the less a fact of our existence. The horror being that we only exist on the backs of slaves. The horror being that our whole moral framework is a pack of lies we tell ourselves to feel better about living on the graves of millions who feed us while we starved them.
posted by nola at 8:26 PM on December 30, 2010 [36 favorites]


It is interesting to note that the Take Our Jobs campaign was a "joint production" of the UFW and Stephen Colbert. He filmed his day out working in the fields (well, okay... "working"), used it as a two-night segment on his show, and then testified before Congress about his experiences and concerns about the conditions farm labor has to endure. (full 2 hour hearing video here)

The man may make a lot of jokes about things, but the very end of his congressional testimony was actually rather touching.
posted by hippybear at 8:27 PM on December 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


What scares the hell out of me for everyone, myself included is the fear that nothing about the way we feed ourselves is sustainable without a kind of slave labor

Millions of people cannot live and work in cities and have all their food trucked in without millions of people toiling away to grow food. There are poor people in the cities too that would have to contend with price increases.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:33 PM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


It is interesting to note that the Take Our Jobs campaign was a "joint production" of the UFW and Stephen Colbert.

A "joint production" is quite a bad choice of words. The Take Our Jobs campaign was wholly conceived and executed by the UFW and Colbert supported them by participating and promoting the cause, as well as testifying before Congress.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:36 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now I hate myself for eating strawberries. Thanks.
posted by djduckie at 8:37 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, what?! Colbert testified before Congress in character?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:38 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are poor people in the cities too that would have to contend with price increases.

That's what I'm saying.
posted by nola at 8:40 PM on December 30, 2010


Yeah, you're right. It was a bad choice of words. I did try to set it apart in quotes to say that it's not quite serious...
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on December 30, 2010


That's what I'm saying.

I agree, I'm saying I think your fears are correct.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:43 PM on December 30, 2010


> Here in Canada, [w]e don't get many Mexican immigrants

More than you might think. Tiny Leamington, ON has a Mexican consular office just to deal with the seasonal tomato pickers.
posted by scruss at 8:43 PM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


So a permanent underclass is the price society pays for cheap and abundant produce.

Maybe not. My Father grew up a migrant farm worker, as with the rest of his family. He wasn't an illegal immigrant, but he was brown skinned, spoke Spanish, and such a distinction didn't matter much back then. Still doesn't for most people. He was still a wetback. But his family did manage to settle in Michigan when the eldest brother got a job on the assembly line at GM (Took yur job!). And up the ladder they moved. This isn't an unusual story.

As a younger man, I worked side by side with illegal immigrant laborers under the table. Wasn't particularly great work, but it put money in my hand, and I was grateful to have the opportunity, as there was nothing else going at the time.

I employed a Oaxacan woman to clean my house for several years. And her husband to paint my house. Both cash money at a rate we both agreed upon. The two of them had been in the US several years, saving up to return to their family. When she gave me notice, I can say I was genuinely happy she and her husband had met their goal, and were following through on their dream.

I'm sure there were times when it felt like all these participants in the labor force thought they'd be fixtures in a permanent underclass. But it was not to be. Despite sometimes facing great barriers, much effort was expended to ensure otherwise. The great hurdle, as always, is to keep the US a land of opportunity, like it has been for so many in the past. And not give in to protectionist and/or racist sentiment in the labor market.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:44 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


delmoi: Here in Canada, we have farm jobs too. We don't get many Mexican immigrants here, or actually many illegal immigrants at all.

No, when I lived in Vancouver, the farm laborers were legal, mostly Chinese or South Asian. But they still lived in grinding poverty and got treated like shit. Every year or so, a van - with the seats taken out and replaced with benches so they could pack more people in - would crash and catch fire on the Trans-Canada somewhere near Abbotsford, and like twenty of them would burn to death. There would be another round of disbelief that they could pack that many people into a van, and another round of cries for better regulation of seasonal farm labor, but it never happened.
posted by Naberius at 8:47 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


What scares the hell out of me for everyone, myself included is the fear that nothing about the way we feed ourselves is sustainable without a kind of slave labor

Teenagers. Where I grew up the local school kids worked on all the farms. We thought we were making so much money! And you can pick fruit all day when you're 15.
posted by fshgrl at 8:52 PM on December 30, 2010 [9 favorites]


Civilization was built on slave labor. Manchu Pichu was built by slaves, not aliens. The Chinese who built America's railroad were, for all practical purposes, slaves. Why do you think New York City has such a great subway system? Because it was built before labor laws and OSHA. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Eerie Canal. The grand engineering projects of that era were possible because labor was cheap and expendable. It is truly amazing what humanity is able to accomplish with a little engineering know-how and a whole lot of manipulation of the underclass.

It's a pity that modern engineering feats such as the Millau Viaduct rather undermine your implicit assertion that slave labour is required for great engineering feats; likewise the TGV and numerous other European feats of engineering. Perhaps it's simply that the US has never gotten over an addiction to forced labour.

Fuck you. You mean the same way the U.S. exploited its other neighbor, Canada?

Tell me more about the invasions of Canada peeling off great chunks of the country.

Or would tariffs be used to preserve US farms and shift the cost increases to US consumers?

Your farmers are already part of one of the most subsidised, protected groups in the world, with exemptions written into every "free trade" agreement the US signs to prevent US farmers facing meaningful competition. The US taxpayer already pours billions into the back pockets of the farmers screwing their workers. Sweet, isn't it?
posted by rodgerd at 9:00 PM on December 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


Having lived in (and visited for buying food) in the USA and Canada; goddamn if food in USA so much cheaper; meat of all kinds, CHEESE, other dairy... I know that in Canada our dairy has much stricter rules against using excessive (if any) hormones but I cannot figure out how the price difference is manifested unless swaths of corporate industry were subsidized.

True, fresh produce is prohibitively expensive in poor neighbourhoods (from my experience living for four years in a small town in Iowa - local places either didn't exist or everything was expensive; drive 30 minutes to get a suburb/city to find a supermarket and produce was way more expensive than it is in Vancouver BC *now*, drive some more to find a co-op, if they even existed, and decent food was found... at the expense of burning of a lot of fuel) but "food" was so incredibly *cheap.*

Even with much more expensive raw-food-materials, I eat so so so so so much better now in Vancouver than I did as a college student in Iowa (despite having much less money for my food budget now; I can afford less calories and less grams of protein, but my diet is more healthy and... varigated...). $100 USD back in '96-00 in Iowa fed me whatever I wanted, which was protein rich, (unless it wasn't available) for an entire month... in '06-'10, $100 CDN is two weeks if I follow my budget and that leaves me mostly in staples (protein poor).
posted by porpoise at 9:05 PM on December 30, 2010


Here in Canada, we have farm jobs too. We don't get many Mexican immigrants here, or actually many illegal immigrants at all. The jobs still suck.

Actually, Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programs bring in over 100 000 people every year. On the illegal immigrant front, it is estimated that in Ontario's construction industry alone there are over 50 000 undocumented workers.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:05 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Manchu Pichu was built by slaves, not aliens.

It was built by aliens using cavemen and mammoths as slave labor, if movies have taught me anything.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:05 PM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


Considering a bunch of daffodils costs like $2, and of that, 20 cents goes to the workers, that's pretty much a standard rate. If you started paying ten cents per flower plus medical and dental, daffodils would cost $40 a dozen. At that rate we'd stop farming them altogether and outsource it to china.

If 20 cents of a dozen daffodils goes to the workers, that's 1.7 cents each. If you start giving the workers 10 cents an hour, daffodils would cost $3 per dozen, not $40.

The thing that always kills me about any sort of ridiculously low wage labour story is that if you increase the wage given to the people at the bottom of the food chain to a living wage, the increase in price of the final goods are minimal, and certainly well worth it.

Here's an example, using this 2006 study (PDF) on strawberry production costs in California.

Strawberries cost $2.50 a pound on sale in season in my local supermarket, and $3.50 a pound in winter for the ones that taste like cardboard because they're durable enough to store half a year. When sold by the farm, they go for $1.00 a pound. So $1.50-$2.50 of the cost goes to everybody after the farmer; warehouses, truck drivers, the supermarket. They're all under labour laws, so let's assume they're at least working poor, and in some cases making decent blue/pink collar wages.

An acre of land produces about $30,000 worth of strawberries (or 30K pounds). The labour needed to produce those strawberries costs $8,700. If we doubled the cost of labour, that would give these migrant farm workers a much higher quality of life. It would also add $0.29 per 1 pound clamshell. So my $2.50 pound costs all of $2.79 instead. I would still eat strawberries at that price.

I don't know why this isn't possible, why we can't have living wage produce for sale. Is it because everybody else needs to take a percentage? Is it just our crazy race to the bottom with the rest of the world?

Here's one thing I do know, thanks to the paper. The plastic clamshell that the strawberries come packed in costs 50% more than the labour to pick and pack the strawberries in that clamshell.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:06 PM on December 30, 2010 [75 favorites]


Movies have taught you nothing that was not even the same continent. bad zombie no brains for you.
posted by elizardbits at 9:07 PM on December 30, 2010


Tiny Leamington, ON has a Mexican consular office just to deal with the seasonal tomato pickers.

And is also featured in the worker documentary El Contrato!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:12 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bit more on foreign workers and their situations in Canada from the Toronto Star.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2010


Having never read any of the previous posts, I ask a question.

Are you against American companies manufacturing offshore for cheap labor?
or cheap labor staying here for cheap labor?
posted by Mblue at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2010


one slight correction: The Golden Gate bridge was built almost entirely by white men, thanks to one of FDR's work programs. Now on the plight of the typical illegal alien, i used one for a cook many years ago (paid her cash of 400 dollars a week). one afternoon after work, I drove her home, yes, in two bedrooms, were was only a mattress on the floor, three families all related, lived there. one t.v. and couch in the living room, and one of the family had to sleep on the couch. above the refrigerator was 4 loafs of unopened plain white bread. i did'nt see the stacks of tortillas.Any left over money was sent to Mexico at the end of each month. that money helped all the mothers and fathers and in-laws survive on the sent money. Except for the t.v. the families rarely ventured out, just trips to the market and a sunday outing at a park, when weather permitting.My heart sank at touring their apartment.
posted by tustinrick at 9:21 PM on December 30, 2010


ovies have taught you nothing that was not even the same continent.

Who are you to limit what aliens can do?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:23 PM on December 30, 2010


porpoise: Beans and legumes are rich in protein. They remain cheap throughout Canada. Meat and corn and wheat and so forth are subsidized in the US, making them artificially cheap. I agree, all foodstuffs in the US are ridiculously cheap, but that comes at a cost to the taxpayer. A loaf of bread here costs $2, whereas if I go across the border I can get one for 48 cents. The reason for that is communist wheat. Wheat, and other crops are heavily subsidized by the government. The taxpayer covers the rest of the cost without realizing it. It's funny that republicans will shout and curse and yell to defend these subsidies while decrying sane and rational balanced healthcare reforms, but such is the nature of the beast.
posted by inedible at 9:24 PM on December 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


I don't know why this isn't possible

Because while your math might be spot-on, you forgot the part of the equation where the landlord realizes his tenants' wages have risen, and increases the rents accordingly.
posted by Ritchie at 9:38 PM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


The entire food industry is skewed, but I don't think forcing small farmers to raise wages is going to be the solution. Have you noticed the huge growth in small farms? Any growth? Are the venture capital funds shifting to berry farms? Any daffodil farm IPO's?

Intractable problem.

Robots, all those jobs need to be done by bots.

Then those migrant workers will have enough time to start internet web sites and become rich.

Put much pressure on small farmers and you'll get parking lots. Or more subsidized highly industrialized corn fields.
posted by sammyo at 9:42 PM on December 30, 2010



Put much pressure on small farmers and you'll get parking lots. Or more subsidized highly industrialized corn fields.
OMG That's SOO much worse then inhumane working conditions!!!
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on December 30, 2010


Meat, corn and wheat may be more subsidized in the US than in Canada, but they're also subsidized in Canada.

In the late 90s/early 2000s, it was a thing to do for young people from Quebec to go pick fruit in BC; people who did that in my small home town certainly did quite a bit over minimum wage ($7-8 at the time), probably about what an entry-level (and very hard to get) job in a local factory would have gotten them. A student could do that over the summer and then, with financial aid, be relatively well-off for the rest of the year.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:56 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


forcing small farmers to raise wages

A vanishingly tiny percentage of farmers in the US are "small farmers".

Anti-labor forces would like us to think "poor guy and his family working their own butts off to till the soil" when we hear the word "farmer". But it's not terribly useful or realistic. The vast majority of farms, especially on the scale we're talking about here, are not family farms in the traditional sense.
posted by Sara C. at 9:57 PM on December 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wow, theres been a lot of comment since I started writing this, much covering what's below, but I'll pst anyway...

I've got some real-worldian anecdote about this.

I used to live in DownEast Maine. One of the local agricultural industries there is the annual harvest of "wild" blueberries, which has been going on for a very long time. When I lived there - late 1970s to early 1980s - raking blueberries was a way large numbers of locals put some cash in their pockets. Every August, the fields would be strung off into long narrow strips ("ricks") and people would work their way from one end to the other, bent over halfway with one elbow on a knee and the other hand reaching down to use the multi-tined blueberry rake to get under the low bush blueberry plants and pull up carefully to strip the berries off the plants and dump them into big plastic buckets.

That includes kids as young as 12 years old, perhaps even younger thugh I'm not sure. Because it was (and still is) seasonal farm labor, the work rules were (and probably still are) different. You would often see entire families working together, mom and dad and 2 or 3 kids out there all day in the hot sun. Some families traveled to several different farms over the month, moving on to the next when one set of fields was finished.

At the time, most of the field owners paid on the order of $5 to $6 per box, a box being measured after your bucket was poured through a winnow, a machine that blew air through a stream of berries to separate out the leaves and twigs that were difficult to keep from also raking up. A well-raked relatively leaf-free bucket would usually wind up being slightly more than a full box. If you were a good fast raker and the field was loaded with well-producing bushes, you could fill buckets very quickly; I saw some people able to bring in 15 or 20 boxes per day consistently. I was kinda slow, only able to average about 6 per day, which meant if I worked 3 weeks I could pull in something like $750-$800. A fast worker could make $2,500 or more in the same time.

To put that in perspective, at the time the minimum wage was $3.25/hour, so even an average worker would make around twice that while they were raking. Some local businesses even closed down to let their workers (and sometimes even the owners) go rake in more money. The cost of living was generally quite low there, so some people were able to make a substantial portion of their annual income just raking. A few that I knew, raking and a few other seasonal jobs were all they did to make money, and they just kinda hung out the rest of the year.

So this wasn't chump change, it was worthwhile work that helped a lot of folks get by better than they would have without. For a lot of 12-to-16 year olds, it was the only money you could make, and if your family was poor like mine, you needed it just to buy school clothes and other necessities.

This means, of course, that a large portion of the workforce was kids between 12 and 18 years old.

Now, so I'm told, things have changed a lot. At some point, most of the kids stopped wanting to rake blueberries. The most common reason I've been told about is that they think it's beneath them, but that may not be true. Maybe parents stopped letting them or making them, or maybe the labor rules changed, I don't know. The upshot was, however, a shortage of local raking labor over time. Even a lot of adults stopped wanting to work the fields.

And this has been replaced by bringing in migrant workers from Mexico, who I'm told work their asses off. I'm guessing 80-85 degree heat doesn't bother them much if they've been used to farm labor in Mexico.

I have no data as to what they're being paid now, so I don't know if pay has kept up with the times; from things I heard some years ago it probably hasn't. Also, they may largely not be illegal immigrants, since apparently they are bused in from Mexico every year.

So there's one story for you, for what it's worth.

I think it may be unreasonable to expect from farm labor the kinds of benefits that "regular" jobs pay. Farm labor is more like being a "gypsy" contractor in a lot of ways. The work is usually highly seasonal and short-term temporary. On farms that need manual labor they usually need a whole lot of it for only a few weeks, and this applies often to an entire region. For instance, at about the same time as the DownEast blueberry harvest, northern Maine harvests vast fields of potatoes. It used to be all manual labor, but that may have changed by now. Some people used to make a choice every year whether to rake blueberries or go up to Aroostook and pick taters. So the application of the labor force is very uneven over time.

I mean, you'll recall that the reason US schools are closed in the summertime is that in the former highly-manual-labor-intensive mostly agricultural USA, the kids were needed to work the farms during the summer.

Having done some of this kind of work as a kid, not being exploited or treated poorly, and coming out of it all right, I'm of mixed feelings about how that kind of seasonal farm labor is dealt with. I'm sure it's related to increased automation, corporate agriculture and various social shifts, but maybe people are expecting a bit too much in terms of wages and benefits for this sort of work, and maybe taking 14-18 year olds out of the potential labor pool for such work should be re-examined (with great care taken to prevent real exploitation).

The pay needs to be appropriate, but demanding auto-worker wages isn't going to work. This isnt skilled labor, anyone can do it with little or no training. Paying on a production basis, rather than hourly, makes sense as that's how the farmer gets paid, by weight or volume or per item. Work hard and well, you make more. That's how it is for all kinds of freelancers everywhere.

I feel like there's a middle ground point in there somewhere.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:00 PM on December 30, 2010 [17 favorites]


I don't think it is small farms we have to overly worry about here. In my neck of the woods we have quite a few small farms and I'd venture to say an almost negligible amount of migrant workers. Small farms, in my experience, do a bit better in paying their employees, in part because they are not in it to maximize profits at workers expenses, but to make a living and provide a living. In Northern MN we have local fresh tomatoes year round, winter is not as tasty as summer mind you, that are reasonably priced, and available in just about every supermarket in my medium sized city. Migrant workers and migrant wages are not used. If we can do that here you can do it almost anywhere in America.
I know different crops will be different... but "small farms" are better poised to treat their workers better.
posted by edgeways at 10:09 PM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is probably uncool, but man: this is basically the greatest and most thought-provoking and educational set of comments I have ever read on MetaFilter.

High-fives for everyone!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:16 PM on December 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


An acre of land produces about $30,000 worth of strawberries (or 30K pounds). The labour needed to produce those strawberries costs $8,700. If we doubled the cost of labour, that would give these migrant farm workers a much higher quality of life. It would also add $0.29 per 1 pound clamshell. So my $2.50 pound costs all of $2.79 instead. I would still eat strawberries at that price.

It doesn't work that way. First of all, averaging from your info, strawberries are marked up to three times their whole sale cost - from $1 to $3. Consequently, that 29¢ extra labor costs would also be marked up three times (because things are marked up by percentage . . . they don't just add a certain amount to the wholesale cost.)

29¢ extra for the workers thus becomes 87¢ extra for the consumer, even if you figure things as ludicrously simply as this. (More on this in a second.)

That's a 29% increase in food cost, as opposed to what you represent (which was a little more than a 9% increase.) This is an incredible increase in price; if the same labor increase were applied to all domestically-grown / raised foodstuffs, the true increase in food prices would be gigantic. Why? In part because strawberries don't go through that many channels, and their price is marked up only three times. Processed foods have a much greater mark-up than whole fruits, and thus the labor cost would be multiplied to a greater extent.

But also, it's also fallacy to assume that - even with the mark-ups - you can simply double labor prices and see it end there. Everyone up the chain would want their increase in pay as well. You'd double the pay for pickers and not increase pay for foremen, machinists and more skilled workers. Good luck with that. And pickers - who work incredibly hard just to stay afloat - might not need to work as hard, which means not only would you double pay, you might have to hire more workers, too. I could expand on how all this would likely play out, but you get the idea. That 29% increase could actually be a lot closer to a doubling of food prices.

Americans are used to incredibly, incredibly cheap food. Food prices have actually gone down drastically, in real terms, during the lives of most American MeFites. It's a swell deal for consumers, but only in a superficial way ('inedible' touches on this, in a post above), but a bad deal for taxpayers, for small / family farmers, for agricultural workers and for the health of the consumers (whose dependence on processed foods, HFCS (etc) has had negative effects on health of most Americans.

So even though you're quite wrong about the extent to which doubling pay would affect food prices, I totally support it. Let prices double, end subsidies for corporate farmers, make processed food too expensive to eat. (But expand food assistance programs.) It'd be better, and more fair, for all of us.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:25 PM on December 30, 2010 [21 favorites]


MCRC Report on the Conditions of Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers-2010
posted by clavdivs at 10:35 PM on December 30, 2010


This is probably uncool, but man: this is basically the greatest and most thought-provoking and educational set of comments I have ever read on MetaFilter.

High-fives for everyone!


Awesome thread.

Good dudes. Good brew. Good buddies. I feel great, man. I FEEL GREAT!

I dunno man… I hate my father, I hate my life, but I feel great, man. You guys are great.


...I'm gonna go pick a fight.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:48 PM on December 30, 2010


Consequently, that 29¢ extra labor costs would also be marked up three times (because things are marked up by percentage . . . they don't just add a certain amount to the wholesale cost.)

I understand perfectly well that's how things seem to work in the real world, but it doesn't make any fucking sense to me. If Union Pacific is adequately paid $500 (for example) to ship a reefer load of $1 strawberries from Salinas to Seattle, why is $500 not adequate to ship a reefer load of $1.29 strawberries? Or $20 strawberries, for that matter? Why does my grocery store need to make (say) $1.00 a pound selling strawberries that they buy for $1.50, but needs to make more if they buy them for $1.79? Does it cost more to send out a flyer advertising $2.79 strawberries than it does to send out the flyer advertising $2.50 strawberries?

Everyone up the chain would want their increase in pay as well. You'd double the pay for pickers and not increase pay for foremen, machinists and more skilled workers. And pickers... might not need to work as hard...

I doubled the farm labour cost, which includes foremen. Also, the wages seem to be about half hourly and half on a piecework basis, which mitigates (but, to be fair, doesn't eliminate) worker efficiency problems. Regardless, picking strawberries is demanding, physical work in the hot sun with short term employment prospects and no benefits. I suspect the wages could be more than doubled before the warehouse or transport or retail workers involved in the strawberry industry decide to quit their year-round steady jobs to work picking strawberries. The minimum wage has been increased successfully in the past without skilled tradespeople and professionals having the exact same proportional wage bump. I'm not proposing doubling the wages of everybody in America, I'm talking about increasing the wages for the people doing incredibly hard work for sub-survival rates.

Yes, I admit, part of the margins added 'twixt farm and store are for losses, whether those are spoilage in transit, or shoplifters or whatever. That part of the margin added would increase proportionally to the cost of the product at the stage of loss, it's true. But surely this is a small portion of the total these days.

(You also didn't mention the inflationary effect of higher food prices, which would cascade throughout the entire economy. But that's probably because the inflation impact of a modest increase on the small portion of foods that are hand-picked would be small. But real, nonetheless, I grant.)

Fundamentally, a $1.29 pound of strawberries doesn't cost any more to ship, doesn't cost any more to store, doesn't cost any more to stock, doesn't cost any more to sell than a $1 pound of strawberries. Yet somehow the extra $0.29 needs to triple on the way to the consumer.

Perhaps the problem is that everybody sees the world through the need to get their percentage in, rather than charging an adequate rate and leaving it at that.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Why does my grocery store need to make (say) $1.00 a pound selling strawberries that they buy for $1.50, but needs to make more if they buy them for $1.79? posted by Homeboy Trouble

I'm approaching the point in this thread where I'm too drunk to give a meaningful reply, but I'd guess that has something to do with the very nature of commerce itself. If your company invests X dollars into something they expect X.5 return. If they invest 2x into something, they expect more than 3x in return. The more you invest, the more financial risk you take, the more you should return on your investment. If a major produce purchaser couldn't secure more profit on larger higher risk investments, they'd go play slot machines instead.
posted by inedible at 11:20 PM on December 30, 2010


@DeExtrovertwhat you are saying makes sense to me. The farms here that get subsidies are simply huge. A dairy farm here is acres and acres of cows up to their udders in their own body wastes. I live not far from a town with a lot of these huge dairy farms, and I feel sorry for those poor cows. I remember when I was a kid how good milk tastes because the cows grazed on fresh grass, and had the right kind of hay. Some thought was given to their comfort.
As far as fruits and vegetables, legitimate points have been made about agricultural work being seasonal and not like other work.
What changed was labor laws. My children actually worked in a cherry orchard two years in a row. I signed all the papers and they stayed at the farm. They used the money for things they needed and wanted. Then the law changed and it was illegal for anyone under 16. They appreciated the money and even rather liked the work. The people they worked for had seasonal workers from Mexico also, who were adults with the responsibilities of families.
Agricultural workers these days nesrly all have families now. A place to live, even a bad place to live costs money. Food costs money. There is a myth in my town that 'the illegals' get massive amounts of welfare and medical aid, etc, etc, yada yada. It's not true. What is true is that Americans who grew up in cities can't do stoop lsbor. Not usually. American lifestyles cost more. Even an American who cuts all expenses to the bone is living too high on the hog to afford to work on anyone's farm.
It's not just what is offered in wages and benefits, it's a thing called working expenses, and another one called living expenses.

posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:41 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"So my $2.50 pound costs all of $2.79 instead. I would still eat strawberries at that price."

And you'd probably still eat some strawberries at $5 pound, if not so many. And if fruit and vegetables received anything like the humongous taxpayer subsidy that wheat and corn and sugar and soy receive, you wouldn't even notice the price difference.

Or if there were no subsidies, you would find meat and grain-based products so much more expensive that $5/lb strawberries would receive a greater proportion of your food budget.

Or maybe $2.79/lb strawberries are just stupid. I live in a country with no land borders (makes illegal immigration tricky), better enforced labour standards and no agricultural subsidies (making us unique in the developed world) and ideal horticultural conditions, and strawberries cost about US$4.50/lb. Would $5/lb strawberries bring civilisation to its knees? Hardly.

I think Dee is right, but the distortionary effect of the subsidies on other agricultural products make it hard to assess how these things would play out. For example, you're only going to want to grow strawberries on land that you couldn't get subsidies for growing corn on... fundamental business decisions are totally different in the US (and EU) environment because of the taxpayer funding of certain producers, and have been for so long that we don't even know what normal prices as set by the market might be.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:44 PM on December 30, 2010


PS it's midsummer in New Zealand right now. The prices I quoted will more than double six months from now.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:45 PM on December 30, 2010


Maybe it's time for corporations to rethink their so-called "need" to stick to absurdly high profits.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:52 PM on December 30, 2010


Fundamentally, a $1.29 pound of strawberries doesn't cost any more to ship, doesn't cost any more to store, doesn't cost any more to stock, doesn't cost any more to sell than a $1 pound of strawberries. Yet somehow the extra $0.29 needs to triple on the way to the consumer.

Perhaps the problem is that everybody sees the world through the need to get their percentage in, rather than charging an adequate rate and leaving it at that.


You've clearly never been in business! Percentages simply work better than "flat rates," which - to be fair - would be calculated from percentages anyhow. Let's say that an "adequate rate" of profit for store selling a pound of strawberries is $2, and a pound of strawberries costs the store $3. The store's increase is 67%. That should cover costs (labor, real estate, etc), risks (spoilage, theft) and profit. Fine. But next years strawberry crop fails. Strawberries now cost the store $6 - double. The increase is now only about 33% - maybe that's not enough to cover theft, spoilage and costs. So the store now has to set a new "adequate rate." Guess what? That adequate rate will probably be pretty close to the same percentage as before.

Setting standard mark-up percentages is simply a way more efficient way to do business than deciding on some sort of "adequate rate" and then having to change it all the time as conditions change. Which they do, constantly. And the bottom line is, the standard mark-up probably shakes out to be LESS than or EQUAL TO what an "adequate rate" would be, simply because the "adequate rate" - due to its inflexible nature - would have extra "insurance" charges built in. So those standard mark-up percentages save you money, in actuality.

In other words, your idealism would also end up costing everyone more. If implemented, someone would come along and create a competitive system just like the one we have now.

(You also didn't mention the inflationary effect of higher food prices, which would cascade throughout the entire economy. But that's probably because the inflation impact of a modest increase on the small portion of foods that are hand-picked would be small. But real, nonetheless, I grant.)

The problem of low wages and shitty conditions don't apply to just pickers, but to nearly every sort of food we eat. Conditions in meat processing centers (also big employers of illegals) and food-processing plants are also pretty sucky, often dangerous and low-paying. Most of the food we eat in America ends up on our table via heinous exploitation, not just "picked" stuff like strawberries.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:01 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I understand perfectly well that's how things seem to work in the real world, but it doesn't make any fucking sense to me. If Union Pacific is adequately paid $500 (for example) to ship a reefer load of $1 strawberries from Salinas to Seattle, why is $500 not adequate to ship a reefer load of $1.29 strawberries? Or $20 strawberries, for that matter?

Consider the increased liability on the carrier when the goods are 10x more expensive.. Percentage (on commissions, mark up, insurance costs, and pretty much everything else) makes a lot of sense.
posted by Chuckles at 12:31 AM on December 31, 2010


"Maybe it's time for corporations to rethink their so-called "need" to stick to absurdly high profits."

fff, I'm entirely with you (as you probably already know); this always is the most sensible first step, yet it will probably never, ever, ever be taken.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:45 AM on December 31, 2010


Well, roses at my shop are 59.99 a dozen.
Just saying.
(We do NOT sell daffodils.)


What do you mean by this? Are you somehow trying to smugly say that your shop is blameless in regards to unethical labor practices because you sell expensive roses? Because that's bullshit, and if you thought before you spoke you would realize that. The higher price of roses is a result of the fact that they are much, much more difficult to grow than daffodils. Daffodils- throw some bulbs in the ground, wait a year. Roses - plant a bush, tend it for years, prune it, feed it, and then carefully cut out the few roses that are perfect, with long, straight, stems. And, oh yeah, depending on what part of the world we're talking about, do it in greenhouses that are heated or cooled as needed, year-round, with expensive watering systems. THAT'S what you're paying for, not the labor of the people who tend the roses, pick the roses, remove the thorns from the roses, and package the roses. Those people also get the added benefit of pesticide exposure, which at least daffodil pickers don't have to worry about. Roses, and most other cultivated flowers, are COVERED in the stuff. I'd wash my hands all day if I were you. And maybe wear a mask.

Just saying.
posted by Wroksie at 12:52 AM on December 31, 2010 [8 favorites]


If Union Pacific is adequately paid $500 (for example) to ship a reefer load of $1 strawberries from Salinas to Seattle, why is $500 not adequate to ship a reefer load of $1.29 strawberries?

If you're a railroad company shipping the strawberries, one way or the other you're taking some responsibility for them arriving on time and unspoilt. Chances are that you'll have to make a substantial refund if (say) 10 carloads' worth accidentally sits in a siding for a week and then arrives as an evil-smelling mush. So you look at the value of what you're shipping to get some idea of the potential loss to your customer if you screw up, and thus what your potential liability is as shipper. Then you multiply that by the probability of a screwup, and add that to the shipping price you quote - it's insurance, basically. Say out of $500 in shipping fees, $300 is overhead, $100 is insurance, and $100 is your profit (a drastic over-simplification, obviously).

So if the price of strawberries goes up 30% compared to last year, your potential liability does too. That part of your shipping fee that acts as insurance should also go up by 30%, so your shipping price is now $530. Otherwise, you might be unable to cover your customers' losses if you do screw up, and nobody will want to do business with someone so unreliable.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:08 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Maybe it's time for corporations to rethink their so-called "need" to stick to absurdly high profits."

This is a meaningless statement without numbers to give it context. Some sectors, such as finance, do have very high profit margins and the finance industry in particular is regarded as having gotten way out of control in recent years.

But you seem to think corporations in general make 'absurdly high profits.' Not so. Take Walmart, a stereotypical Big Bad Corporation. Their profit margin is about 3.6%. That's not absurd, it's pretty slim really. It's just that there are so many Walmart stores that it adds up to a lot of cash every year. When you hear about Walmart making a 'gross profit' of ~25%, that's a number investors like to look at called EBITDA - Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. Those things all need to be paid for (D & A are the cost of building and maintaining stores/warehouses/etc.), but as they're somewhat predictable in advance (and as different analysts like to estimate the ITDA in slightly different ways), EBITDA gives investors a quick neutral snapshot of how a company is performing. But after all the expenses are covered, a profit margin of between 3-4% is entirely reasonable.

Even if this were the case, there would still be some need for companies to pursue high profits, because if they don't make the most of their opportunities then people will invest their money somewhere else. These profits do not only line the pockets of the rich, they also fund pension obligations and so forth. A great deal of the pressure for growth and profit comes from institutional investors, who vastly outweigh super-wealthy individuals. TIAA-CREF is one well-known example: they manage $400 billion in retirement funds, which requires them to look for investments that will provide a reasonable yield (I don't mean any comment on their particular investment policy).

Investors don't want a company that's looking to mark time and doesn't feel like expanding any, because they assume (rightly) that before very long the company's competitors will try to eat its lunch. So companies need to plan for perpetual growth, even though this is logically not possible over the long term. Once a company becomes so big that it's becoming unmanageable, investors will usually demand that management sell off parts of itself to other companies and pay the money back to the shareholders as a special dividend, or a share repurchase (which increases the value of other shares). In well-regulated markets (which are neither an eventuality or an impossibility), the constant competition drives innovations and keeps prices affordable and profits in check. The financial crisis is an example of a poorly regulated market gone badly wrong over the last couple of decades. Computer technology, by contrast, is a market that functions rather well.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:42 AM on December 31, 2010 [7 favorites]


Setting standard mark-up percentages is simply a way more efficient way to do business than deciding on some sort of "adequate rate" and then having to change it all the time as conditions change.

I'm pretty deliberately arguing from a position of naiveté and idealism. But supermarkets where you are must operate a hell of a lot differently from where I am. Here, all of the major chains adjust prices on a wide variety of foods on a weekly basis; sure, there's the occasional "orange crop failed" adjustment, but they are constantly trying to beat each other with weekly specials and promotions, with loss leaders and seasonal items. This week, ham, cases of pop, large bags of chips and finger foods are being discounted and form the battle lines. Last week, it was eggnog, turkey and mandarin oranges. Supermarkets price check each other and adjust their own prices constantly.

Conditions in meat processing centers (also big employers of illegals) and food-processing plants are also pretty sucky, often dangerous and low-paying.

Meat packing is absolutely one of the worst jobs in the world; it also has an average hourly wage of $11.47/hour, which is low (and, as the link describes, has been falling in real terms - especially during the Reagan era), but is 50% more than the wages from the OP, and is at least something approaching a living wage. BLS data gives an average wage for all production occupations in food manufacturing of $13.30/hr as of May 2009.


Consider the increased liability on the carrier when the goods are 10x more expensive.
So if the price of strawberries goes up 30% compared to last year, your potential liability does too.

I didn't think carrier liability was worth bringing up separately in my spoilage etc. caveat; for the record, 6% of Union Pacific's operating costs (PDF, p.32-33) were in the "other" category, including freight damage and insurance as well as utilities, state and local taxes, employee travel, computer software and... other stuff. So we're talking something that's maybe 2-3% of their cost structure. And while I'm being nerdy, turns out a carload of agricultural product averages revenues of around $3K, not the $500 I guessed (and reefers are surely higher than grains).


I live in a country with no land borders (makes illegal immigration tricky), better enforced labour standards and no agricultural subsidies (making us unique in the developed world) and ideal horticultural conditions, and strawberries cost about US$4.50/lb.

Interestingly, it's your neighbour Australia (with two out of three conditions) where a strawberry picking robot is being developed (PDF). Labour costs there represent 56% of the product at the farm gate, rather than the 29% seen in the US. Another one is being developed in high labour cost Japan.


But all of this is berryplating to the nth degree.

One problem is we live in a society with a business model where profit margins and commission rates and the like take priority. The low-end workers at the very bottom of the economic pile are being squeezed out into total poverty. I still submit that an increase in the pay of the poorest of workers could be accomplished in a way that didn't immediately scale up to massive consumer price increases. This particular discussion is about migrant strawberry pickers in Watsonville, but it could be about the Foxconn workers in Shenzen and the $4 per iPod they get paid.

The fetishization of profit margins seems to be one aspect of this. I'm no better; I've invested in Costco, for instance, which had just ridiculously good net margins for a retailer at the time. The margins were a big reason I invested. The other half was the fact that they treat their employees well for a major retailer.

Another problem, which I don't really know enough about to even start talking about, is agricultural subsidies. The subsidies seem to have a much smaller distorting effect here in Canada than in the US, but maybe I'm just more used to our distortions. About all I know about agricultural subsidies I learned from NPR's Planet Money, which reported on Brazil's recent victory at the WTO arguing that US cotton subsidies were illegal. The solution is that the US now also subsidizes Brazilian cotton growers.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:59 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


What do you mean by this? Are you somehow trying to smugly say that your shop is blameless in regards to unethical labor practices because you sell expensive roses? Because that's bullshit, and if you thought before you spoke you would realize that. The higher price of roses is a result of the fact that they are much, much more difficult to grow than daffodils. Daffodils- throw some bulbs in the ground, wait a year. Roses - plant a bush, tend it for years, prune it, feed it, and then carefully cut out the few roses that are perfect, with long, straight, stems. And, oh yeah, depending on what part of the world we're talking about, do it in greenhouses that are heated or cooled as needed, year-round, with expensive watering systems. THAT'S what you're paying for, not the labor of the people who tend the roses, pick the roses, remove the thorns from the roses, and package the roses. Those people also get the added benefit of pesticide exposure, which at least daffodil pickers don't have to worry about. Roses, and most other cultivated flowers, are COVERED in the stuff. I'd wash my hands all day if I were you. And maybe wear a mask.

I think a lot of our flowers come from South America. But some are locally grown. I don't know why we don't sell daffodils.

BTW when we get the roses they still have their thorns. But good point on the pesticides. My boss just had surgery yesterday to remove a brain tumor. So. who knows?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:46 AM on December 31, 2010


A vanishingly tiny percentage of farmers in the US are "small farmers".

Anti-labor forces would like us to think "poor guy and his family working their own butts off to till the soil" when we hear the word "farmer". But it's not terribly useful or realistic. The vast majority of farms, especially on the scale we're talking about here, are not family farms in the traditional sense.


At least here in northeastern Illinois, the small farm communities are generally the richer ones. Lots of new, expensive equipment, brand new pickup trucks, boats, snowmobiles, impressive homes, etc. BUT, that's corn and soy and sorghum, things easily grown and stored.

The problem with agriculture is the stuff that isn't so easy. It seems ridiculous that a daffodil costs $10 at retail when the workers are paid $0.014 to pick them. But almost none of that $10 goes back to the farm- it is in logistics. Getting the flowers (or strawberries or bananas) from the farm to the market to the stores. That's a lot of diesel and truck drivers.

(And, don't forget that the price of picking is not nearly the total cost of production. Gotta pay for the land, the seeding, the weeding. Probably need to double that again, to save up for the years that the crops get destroyed or the market is saturated. Then you have to feed the family. And the extra money you need to have in the bank to weather the other 300 something days of the year between harvests.

To use a retail analogy, because farming can be a lot like retail, I used to be a McDonald's manager. Even been to Hamburger University. One thing that we learned, and then verified through experience, is that the only way to actually be profitable is to keep an eye on the little things. If you open the doors and manage to serve all the customers well enough that they keep coming back and don't ruin anything, you will *maybe* break even.

Same thing with farming. If you are lucky and your crop doesn't fail, or the market doesn't fail, you can cover costs.

The profit comes from maintaining equipment so you don't have to replace it before you are done paying it off. From not turning things on until you have to. From giving out only one napkin per item, one sauce packet per 4 nuggets, and all those little things. A case of chicken nugget sauce is (was) like $45. Give out extras when people don't ask for them, and you are literally throwing $20s out the window. At the time, that was 2-3 labor hours. In a good year, the most profitable restaurant in our group of 4 grossed about $1.5 million. What was the fat-cat owner's take of that? Maybe $50 - $100 thousand. Over five years it might average out to $40k a year.

The point of my rant is that in so many industries, raw labor, (primary) raw materials and profit to the fat cats aren't nearly as great a portion of the cost of doing business as it might seem to people on the outside looking in. So when you buy a $4 hamburger, or a $10 rose, the shriekingly vast majority of it runs right through the doors to third parties. Pay the pickers a dollar more a day and the farmer's family is eating cat food.)

I wish I knew a way to fix it without taking something away from someone else, but I don't.
posted by gjc at 7:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pay the pickers a dollar more a day and the farmer's family is eating cat food.)

Only if he's the only one doing it and his competition isn't. This is why the change will need to be a legislative or regulatory one.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


THE jobs no Americans would want are the jobs Tom Joad and all the Oakies had when jobs were scarce and benefits non-existent. The Oakies have moved on and would no longer settle for sub-minimum wage work (alas, the US allows under minimum salaries for farm help), or work without some health coverage etc. If they brought back slavery, the owners would not bother with illegals or those granted temporary work permits. Then we would have the jobs that illegals would not want.
posted by Postroad at 7:42 AM on December 31, 2010


Now, so I'm told, things have changed a lot. At some point, most of the kids stopped wanting to rake blueberries. The most common reason I've been told about is that they think it's beneath them, but that may not be true. Maybe parents stopped letting them or making them, or maybe the labor rules changed, I don't know.

I'm gonna guess it might have something to do with McDonald's paying more for a lot less work, and more regular hours.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:44 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In a good year, the most profitable restaurant in our group of 4 grossed about $1.5 million. What was the fat-cat owner's take of that? Maybe $50 - $100 thousand. Over five years it might average out to $40k a year.

same thing in the convenience store business - for starters, forget about making money on gas - maybe the big company makes money on it, but you're probably losing money - and the price is set by the big company, not you

a busy gas station i worked at made a million a year - but what do the owners get from that? - 2 to 3% - 20 to 30k - (this is early 90s money)

to make 20K to 30k a year, my owners worked about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week - i was making over 6 bucks an hour working for them - they were making a lot less an hour

their real payday came when they sold the place and retired - but basically, that guy who owns the convenience store is probably working for less than you do
posted by pyramid termite at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2010


fff: "Maybe it's time for corporations to rethink their so-called "need" to stick to absurdly high profits."

But the business of business is business!! Profit is what we do.
posted by sneebler at 8:10 AM on December 31, 2010


St. Alia, your comment still doesn't make sense as anything other than a smug sort of "WE don't sell cheap flowers so we aren't to be blamed for the problems of unethical labor practices" thing. Please explain what you meant if this isn't the case.

Here is an interesting article about the South American - specificaly Ecuadorian- rose industry. A quote:
The labor force of the rose industry in Ecuador is dominated by women, who often make up nearly 80% on any given plantation. This puts women particularly subject to pesticide poisoning. Many women have reported health problems ranging from headaches, blurred vision, intolerance to light and nausea to more serious problems, such as experiencing still births, sterility and birth to children with abnormalities and defects. These problems do not include the intrusion of the industry on the personal lives of the female workers who are forced into the position of working long, rigorous hours in the green houses in additions to making sure the needs of the household and family are met. The extremely low wages they receive for their labor are hardly adequate for providing these women and their families with quality living conditions and proper nutrition, let alone sufficient medical attention if someone was to become ill.
posted by Wroksie at 9:11 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing that is so far missing from this discussion is some understanding of the changing model of farm community "economics" in America, from the mid-20th century, to the present.

In the early 1960's, I was growing up in a small town in Kansas, and even though we were not then a farm family, I wound up working on local farms, a few weeks every year, putting up hay, and lending a hand on farms where family illnesses or other problems meant that temporary workers were needed. A lot of this activity was coordinated through the local Grange, but some was simply arranged directly with people I knew, to get friends who otherwise would have had to work extra weeks on their family farms, off them, in time to play sports, like fall football, or spring baseball.

Volunteerism was certainly an expectation of the community, but it was also a kind of spendable social capital, in ways money never was. Kids who were known to work putting up hay in late summer, were often in better shape, according to the football coaches, and got a better shot at varsity slots than boys who didn't. So, while $1.65 an hour could never persuade me to get as hot, itchy, dusty and thirsty as I got spending a mid-August day putting up hay on a friend's farm, getting that friend off the farm a week early to play football with me, and knowing we both would get a better chance at the varsity squad, because of it, was sufficient recompense, along with the money, to get me in the barn.

Same with showing up at 0 dark 30, day after day, to help on a dairy operation, when several members of the family that owned it were recovering from a bad car wreck. Sure, it put a few bucks in my pocket, but it also was known around at Grange, so that if I was seen squealing tires away from a few stop signs around town, I wasn't getting tickets, and wasn't thought of as a "problem kid." When I did have free time, I could even hang out Saturdays at the pool hall, where the old men smoked too much, drank beer discreetly without the place being actual licensed to serve alcohol, and taught young kids to cuss, without much damage to my local reputation.

But since those days, there have been a lot of changes in American agriculture, towards monetizing it, more and more. Partly, that's a result of corporate farming, and the continuing moves of the American population out of rural farm life, and into the cities. But that trend of monetizing agriculture, and trying to understand it as a purely economic activity, conveniently ignores that traditionally, agriculture was a way of life, which included non-economically reckoned obligations and rewards.
posted by paulsc at 9:16 AM on December 31, 2010 [10 favorites]


a busy gas station i worked at made a million a year - but what do the owners get from that? - 2 to 3% - 20 to 30k - (this is early 90s money)

Assuming a five day work week they're making at least $10 an hour, which isn't great but it's still better than minimum wage. Assuming the profit from the sale of the business is worthwhile they stand to make even better per hour for the investment. Just saying.
posted by nola at 9:22 AM on December 31, 2010


I only took St. Alia's original post to be saying, "Yes, fair labor practices would make those flowers expensive. Some flowers are ALREADY expensive but they still sell."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:23 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Assuming a five day work week they're making at least $10 an hour

i said they were working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day - that's two people
posted by pyramid termite at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2010


We pay for subsidized farming. It's just that instead of paying the food logistics chain at its tail end and hoping it trickles back to the farmer, we pay the government to pay the farmer directly.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2010


A couple other points worth considering in the larger picture of agricultural economics, that do affect people's willingness to take farm jobs:

Increasingly, farming takes place farther out in the country, than it used to. By that, I mean that many once "rural" communities are being consumed in urban growth, while farther out from city centers, more farms are effectively becoming larger, either through corporate ownership, or long term land leasing, which effectively displaces families that once lived on and worked smaller farms. One result is a net longer commuting distance for people living in urban situations, who might want to work agriculture jobs, but are otherwise dissuaded simply by the time and expense of getting to them. More and more, unless farmers grow crops which can be effectively harvested mechanically, they're faced with having to contract with large migratory labor contractors, and sometimes the farmers have to construct underused seasonal housing for such workers, simply to continue in business.

As an illustration, a few years ago, I revisited the Kansas town in which I grew up. One of the dairy operations I worked on is now a housing sub-division, of $200K+ McMansions. A former soybean and cattle farm on which I spent many summer weeks cutting and putting up hay, is no longer a farm, and much of its former pasture is now paved as a parking lot for the new high school, out past what would have been the town boundary, before a 1989 annexation brought the land into the town. So, while it's all good economic activity for the county, and the town, the net result is that there is less agriculture in that county, and more housing/schools/industry. The place is slowly transforming from being a farm community, to a more mixed economy. But frankly, if I had to drive from where I used to live, to the remaining farms, farther out, I don't know that I would have, back in the day, even when gas was 19 cents a gallon, and there was less traffic. And, to make a buck, kids in that town now have more choices, than we did when I lived there, and a lot of those additional choices are jobs in nice air-conditioned buildings, doing things that are less dangerous than working on farms.

The result is that in that county, there are now no dairy operations, and no orchards. Even some of the truck farms that used to be "pick it yourself" seasonal operations, have converted to much larger mechanized soybean, milo, corn, and wheat growing, under leased acreage arrangements.

And the local Grange chapter has about 40% fewer members, than it did back when I lived there. And the local machinery dealer is now selling tractors made in India.
posted by paulsc at 10:30 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


The profit comes from maintaining equipment so you don't have to replace it before you are done paying it off. From not turning things on until you have to. From giving out only one napkin per item, one sauce packet per 4 nuggets, and all those little things. A case of chicken nugget sauce is (was) like $45. Give out extras when people don't ask for them, and you are literally throwing $20s out the window. At the time, that was 2-3 labor hours. In a good year, the most profitable restaurant in our group of 4 grossed about $1.5 million. What was the fat-cat owner's take of that? Maybe $50 - $100 thousand. Over five years it might average out to $40k a year.

The point of my rant is that in so many industries, raw labor, (primary) raw materials and profit to the fat cats aren't nearly as great a portion of the cost of doing business as it might seem to people on the outside looking in. So when you buy a $4 hamburger, or a $10 rose, the shriekingly vast majority of it runs right through the doors to third parties. Pay the pickers a dollar more a day and the farmer's family is eating cat food.)


Ya, but you are ignoring all the ways that franchise businesses are.. leveraged.

For example, that $45 case of nugget sauce. How much would that cost if it didn't have McDonald's printed all over it. Then consider all the other supplies your local franchise buys as well. McDonald's has very carefully designed the cost structure of their outlets so that the main company can extract as much profit from the franchise as possible. While of course still making sure that the business proposition appears to be attractive enough to entice the franchisee in the first place.

In fact they spend a ton of money, and employ thousands of white collar employees, just to carefully engineer this process. Personally, I can't help thinking of those people as fat cats too, even though they aren't the supper wealthy.
posted by Chuckles at 11:03 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I only took St. Alia's original post to be saying, "Yes, fair labor practices would make those flowers expensive. Some flowers are ALREADY expensive but they still sell."

Yep, that is what I meant.

Our store sells callas at 11 bucks a pop. Stargazer lilies are also 11 bucks a stem (at least these have more than one bloom, and the buds will open, and they ARE fragrant, but-11 bucks!)

There is a local farmer who sells us filler flowers and unique stuff, plus we also buy from a guy who drives up from Florida but the bulk of our items come from a wholesaler who gets the lions share of their stuff from South America.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fuck you. You mean the same way the U.S. exploited its other neighbor, Canada?

Tell me more about the invasions of Canada peeling off great chunks of the country.


OK, how about the War of 1812? Oh wait, you didn't know that was an American invasion of Canada?

But look, the whole "we stole the good half of the country" argument is irrelevant.

The Mexican-American War concluded in 1848. That'd be 162 years ago, and 13 years before the start of the American-Civil War.

In contrast, the PRI had a hammerlock on Mexican politics from the 1920 Mexican Revolution, until 2000, and in 2009, regained control of the Mexican legislative branch.

Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels have effectively taken over huge portions of the country.

But we're talking about Wal-Mart and the price of strawberries.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


i said they were working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day - that's two people


So you did, I stand corrected.
posted by nola at 1:33 PM on December 31, 2010


their real payday came when they sold the place and retired - but basically, that guy who owns the convenience store is probably working for less than you do

And what kind of payday and/or retirement can someone expect should they choose to "make more money" than the selfless owner and work for minimum wage at the register for their whole career?
posted by Hiding From Goro at 1:53 PM on December 31, 2010


The message I remember growing up is labor was noble and quintessentially American. Of course this is obvious bullshit, no one gets rich by employing themselves as labor. Labor is looked upon by modern economics as a cost that must be reduced to increase prosperity. Lenin was writing about this nearly a hundred years ago, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, the rich stay rich by employing their capital and collecting interest, of course let us ignore the fact that the major Abrahamic religions either prohibit or discourage usury.

Paying more for labor of all sorts and less toward capital and rent would create a more egalitarian society which in turn would lead to the powerful and rich to have fewer powers and riches. Counterarguments against paying more in wages because of 'risk' or competition is also bullshit spouted by those in comfortable armchairs. As people have pointed out labor is also a 'risk' one in which you don't just lose some wealth but you could lose an arm or ten years off your life or worse, and I know which 'risk' a just society would be more concerned over.

A hundred years ago something like 50% of societies labor went into the production of food, today it is closer to 2%, and the percentage of your paycheck which goes to food over the last 50 years has also decreased. Those of us who are not suffering from poverty can obviously pay more for food. The people who would be harmed the most from rising costs in food are those who live on less than $2 dollars a day, you know the people who riot when food increases as in 2008 and let me remind everyone that price spike was caused in part by Wall Street speculation.

If we lived in an ethical society we would pay those who labor more and we would subsidize the world's poorest 25% instead of giving the top .01% more. We're getting pissed on, and this is why communism was so dangerous: it was an alternate narrative to capitalism, many people today cannot even imagine a society which works without capital markets as their center, and the same goes for Islam, it is an alternate narrative to capitalism. Good thing all I ever hear about Islam is that they are cruel to women and want to blow themselves up. Luckily I live in a western democracy that values nearly everyone equally as a means to extract wealth, that money is the measure of all value, and how everyday technology makes humans lives less and less valuable.
posted by Shit Parade at 1:54 PM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


this is why communism was so dangerous: it was an alternate narrative to capitalism, many people today cannot even imagine a society which works without capital markets as their center

Probably due to experience. Here's an excellent explanation of why markets allocate capital more effectively than central planning, by a filthy capitalist.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:17 PM on December 31, 2010


And what kind of payday and/or retirement can someone expect should they choose to "make more money" than the selfless owner and work for minimum wage at the register for their whole career?

nothing, which is why people generally choose to do something else, sooner or later - but i think what you're missing here is that the rewards are pretty paltry in the small business world, all around - things are on a very thin margin - there's no slack left to take up if things get tighter and they have

our system isn't working well for anyone except the people at the very top - and being snarky and calling that owner selfless doesn't show any real insight into the situation
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 PM on December 31, 2010


I really hate to go all Econ 101, but... if we mandate wage increases OR kick our illegal immigrants, that will increase prices and decrease demand, so: we'll buy less produce than we otherwise could afford, and less total money will go to agriculture workers as a group (due to deadweight loss). Either action hurts both immigrants and non-immigrants, with a possible small benefit only to those few Americans who are willing to work on farms, and leads to a net decrease in social welfare.

The status quo isn't all that bad, compared to mandating wage increases or kicking out illegal immigrants. Deep down politicians know this, which is why the system has survived for 70 years. But it's politically unacceptable for Republicans to publicly admit that illegal immigrants help our society, and it's politically unacceptable for Democrats to publicly admit that illegal immigrants come here voluntarily and would leave if they could have better lives elsewhere.

The right thing to do is to give agriculture workers a guest visa, and make sure they have access to basic housing and medical care. They should have access to police protection to make sure they aren't being enslaved by their employers, and access to education for their American citizen children. But due to the political stalemate, that's unlikely to ever happen.
posted by miyabo at 8:20 PM on December 31, 2010


if we mandate wage increases OR kick our illegal immigrants, that will increase prices and decrease demand, so: we'll buy less produce than we otherwise could afford

How is this different from all our ice cream suddenly being sold to us in 1.75 quart containers for the same price as a half-gallon... or all our yogurt being suddenly in 6oz containers instead of 8oz?

If people are making more money, won't they spend the money on things which then are slightly more expensive, rather than currently foregoing purchases of those items altogether?

Maybe I don't understand economics, but when it comes to people who have been making less than the median wage, don't they tend to spend the money they make on things, rather than not spending it simply because the price of lettuce has gone from $1.99/head to $2.25/head?

I am not sure I understand, outside of the basic statement that people make ALL THE TIME about how people will spend less if they are making more and things cost more. Surely that all balances out somehow, which doesn't compute to me.

Otherwise, how will this payroll tax holiday which we're all going to be living under (possibly with the threat of weakening Social Security and Medicare) possibly help our economy? If people who are making more, and goods cost more (which they do, as anyone who has been paying attention), then there's more money in circulation. Right?
posted by hippybear at 10:51 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


In contrast, the PRI had a hammerlock on Mexican politics from the 1920 Mexican Revolution, until 2000, and in 2009, regained control of the Mexican legislative branch.

Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels have effectively taken over huge portions of the country.

But we're talking about Wal-Mart and the price of strawberries.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at


You blame the bad state of Mexico as the core of the problem, of workers fleeing their own country, without going back a bit further to see that it is not the result of the PRI, but of a state where cartels have more money than the government.

I dont know why more ire isn't directed at the American people. Who do you think the drug cartels are supplying drugs to?
posted by vacapinta at 3:09 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget US-subsidised corn driving rural Mexicans off the land after NAFTA took effect. That's where a big chunk of the migrant worker pool originates.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:09 AM on January 1, 2011


I live in a poor rural agricultural county where lots of local residents used to work in the various ag industries: peanuts, melons, cattle, corn, timber, pine straw, etc. Now locals pretty much only work in cattle, timber and the final stages of peanut and melon production (and mainly only as drivers and machine operators).

School kids used to work in the melon fields, especially athletes, because their coaches wanted them to have the incredible workout that picking melons provides. Now almost all field-level ag work is done by men and women from guatemala and mexico - some on special visas, most probably not.

The farm owners don't even want locals - they'd have to pay them too much, and someone would care if they got sick or hurt. Furthermore, there are no standards for wages or housing (or nobody's enforcing them), with field workers being stashed 10 or more to a trailer, and paying rent for this atrocity out of their pathetic wages.

The really shameful thing is that all these farm owners are harvesting millions in federal subsidies, at least some of which they could be putting back into the county in the form of wages. Sure, our food would cost more. But it wouldn't cost that much more - that's the point of the subsidy! The problem is they love to cash that government check, pay the migrants in chicken feed and pocket the money. Meanwhile the working poor of this county have to commute to the adjacent county to get minimum wage jobs, because there are virtually none here.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:51 AM on January 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


For example, that $45 case of nugget sauce. How much would that cost if it didn't have McDonald's printed all over it.

Probably more. Raw material prices are (were?) kept low because of standardization. They only way McDonald's "screwed" the franchise owner is in equipment. And not even because it was over priced for what it was, but because McCorp required them to buy the best equipment available. Also, somewhere in the 90's, they made a number of blunders that caused owners to buy a LOT of equipment that wasn't really necessary.

The corporation makes plenty of money, but only because it makes plenty of money for other people too. Someone running the same kind of restaurant wouldn't nearly have the (more or less) consistent results a McFranchise holder did. The franchise fee was 1.5% of gross, I think.
posted by gjc at 3:19 PM on January 1, 2011


I don't mean to be all snarky with you gjc, but did they teach you that at Hamburger U? This is how the franchise game is played.
posted by Chuckles at 12:25 AM on January 2, 2011


The really shameful thing is that all these farm owners are harvesting millions in federal subsidies, at least some of which they could be putting back into the county in the form of wages. Sure, our food would cost more. But it wouldn't cost that much more - that's the point of the subsidy!

This is really the nub of the problem. Addressing EU subsidies, a writer in the Guardian in the early 90s (which is why I can't find it online to link to...) noted that on the one hand, many farmers in Britain were happy to pick up subsidies from the public purse, effectively living off taxes levied on people who didn't happen to own land, but then would be incredibly aggressive about obstructing rights to roam, conservation efforts, and numerous other public good projects.

On the one hand, the farmers would play to the idea of traditional rural values, quality food (a major non-tarrif barrier to imports from other countries in the EU, although domestic food comes under but a fraction of the scrutiny of imports. BSE, anyone?), but would then greet non-farmers with a hearty fuck off about, well, everything. If food is a business to be run as farmers see fit - agribusness - then, the writer argued, no more subsidies, no more protection. The farmer is no more special and unique than the glassblowers and potters of Stourbridge or British Leyland. If the farmer is being subsidised to preserve the character of rural Britain, to secure food supplies at a certain quality and so on, then it is absolutely the right of the society paying the subsidiy to dictate the strings attached.
posted by rodgerd at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2011


OK, how about the War of 1812? Oh wait, you didn't know that was an American invasion of Canada?

It ended rather badly for the Americans, though. But feel free to point out the other instances of Canada losing territory the size of Texas and New Mexico to their southern neighbours.
posted by rodgerd at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2011


Lots of Canadian territory has been stolen by the Yankee hord over the years.
posted by Chuckles at 2:07 PM on January 2, 2011


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