I recently attended two different township meetings, Sterling and Laketown, where the issue of giant hog factories coming into Polk County was discussed. The proponents pushed the idea that they should be judged by the creation of good jobs.
If one examines the facts of agriculture jobs, we see they are low paying, dangerous, dirty as well as being primarily done by foreign born workers, of which the majority of those are here illegally.
Some proponents state that the “average wage” is good. That may be true – a full time veterinary gets $200,000 per year and 10 workers $20,000 per year giving an average wage of $36,363. The median agriculture job in the US pays $12/hour.
The most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey reports 78% of all agricultural employees are foreign born. Estimates are that 50-70% of the foreign born workers are here without legal documents. Another six percent of hired farm labor are children 14-18 years old and mostly paid minimum wage.
Are farmers and farm organizations in favor of foreign workers? YES!
“The U.S. pork industry needs access to a legal and productive workforce,” said National Pork Producers Council President Jim Heimerl. “And skilled and unskilled foreign workers have been crucial to maintaining and growing the workforce ... We need more of them, not less.”
Will clamping down on immigration create more jobs for Americans? NO!
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service: “a reduction in the foreign-born workforce – prompted by a change in immigration policy – would not be offset by native-born workers and permanent residents. Instead, the tighter supply of foreign-born workers would reduce overall demand for workers as production costs increase and would decrease agricultural output as farmers abandon labor-intensive operations.” We see that in the move to robotic and automated agriculture over human workers.
Should farmers follow the rules against hiring undocumented workers? NO! if you listen to their organizations. “The Farm Bureau, as one of the largest voices for agriculture, understands that hiring immigrants is essential to fill the critical workforce demands of agriculture. The official Farm Bureau policy opposes using E-Verify.”
Can we believe promises by the proponents of local hires and high paying jobs? NO! As in all agribusiness, labor is a cost line item to be minimized. Owners who are states away are concerned with maximizing profits. They see the somewhat unregulated NW Wisconsin area as an opportunity to move in with a minimum of regulations to follow, and possibly hope they can get cheap local labor, but we can be sure they will look for the lowest cost workers available.
There are jobs that fit into a community, good jobs, safe jobs, high paying jobs; jobs that hire local folks. But, sadly folks, big animal operations, as we already know from the few in our area, look for cheap foreign labor that bring a whole new set of challenges and changes.
Russell B. Hanson