Dear Good Fruit Grower:
Growers need temporary workers, but they do not need to find those workers in foreign countries—they are already here. That requires thinking outside the traditional box, but it is so.
To understand, you must first know what is not being clearly presented in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s monthly Employment Situation Report. The face of that report shows unemployment at 4.9 percent, or roughly seven million people in January. That is only a part of the picture, though, one intended as a measure of economic activity month to month.
Another portion of that report tells a different story. The Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization (Table A12) reflects that 9 percent of the labor force is out of work. That is nearly 14 million workers. (The percentages vs. raw numbers do not correlate because the "unemployment" figure is based on an adjusted "work force" count, while the "underutilization" figure is based on "labor force.")
Many of those 14 million are looking for work, and most of those who are, are from the middle to lower end of the educational and economic spectrum. But like any of us, they want to keep shoes on their kids’ feet and not lose their houses; they’ll work for their living.
A foreign guest-worker program will require that growers recruit, transport, train, pay, provide benefits, and house their workers. And every year, they will have to deal with the bureaucracies, immigration and labor, in both the United States and Mexico, and Mexican consuls here as the consuls look after their citizens.
Now, envision a program where employers do those same things, but they don’t have all the immigration and consular problems because they are recruiting in Georgia, not Guanajuato, or wherever their fellow Americans are out of work. The worker is brought here, and when the season is over, he goes back to his home.
Space here does not permit us to expand on all the reasons it can work, and we would not presume to try to design the nuts and bolts of such a program. Employers and workers, and finally, legislators, are the ones who should do that. But we do believe that there is a solution to the growers’ need for labor, and it lies within America—just as it should.
For further information, visit our Web site at www.nafbpo.org, or call me at (509) 961-7001. I live in Yakima and will go anywhere to talk to anyone about this.
Chairman, National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers