I commented recently on the Mexican worker issue, saying, “Where are illegal Mexican immigrants primarily employed? They mostly work on farms picking vegetables and milking cows, shingling houses, working as housekeepers, or in meat processing plants. I totally agree that we need to control our borders, but along with that, some accommodation needs to be made to make this workforce legal.
I didn’t say make them citizens. As far as taking American jobs is concerned, they do jobs Americans would rather collect unemployment than do. Comedian Stephan Colbert put together a “Take our Jobs” spoof, offering these jobs to “Americans.” I don’t agree with the lament that these illegals are stealing our jobs, at least not those Americans would do, even if the wages were boosted significantly. The farm community supports controlling the borders with a legal means of access to Mexican farm workers.”
I got this response from Darin Dykstra, a third generation dairy farmer with a Dutch dairy heritage who has a 3,000-cow dairy farm near Maurice, and loves what he does. It is always good to get the view of an issue from the perspective of real life experience.
Darin shared this with me, “When I read your commentary for today, I thought I should respond and let you in on what my experience is being a dairyman.
“First, I know of no dairymen or dairywomen that pay their employees minimum wage.Here, I start my employees at $9.58 per hour and after three months, if they are still here, they get a $340 bonus and I buy them health insurance that costs me anywhere from $150 to $180 per month. I have 1 white, American-born employee and 31 Latino employees.
“I give tours of the dairy to 20 to 30 groups each year that range in age from Pre-kindergarten to retired people. One of the subjects the older generation seems to always bring up is the fact that there are Latinos milking the cows.
“The fact is that most people don’t understand that I and several other dairy owners in northwest Iowa have tried to hire white, American workers and it has, so far, turned out the same way every time.
“In April 2009, we had two sets of Latino brothers that actually came to blows in the milking parlor.We had to fire three of the four immediately.We put out an ad on the Iowa Workforce Development web site and got a quick response from about five people.
They either called or came to the dairy and we hired three of them.Two were about 21 years old, young men that were quite hungry for work.
The other was a 45-year-old man that had milked several years earlier at a 200 to 300 head dairy.
One of the younger new hires never showed up the day we told him to and the other lasted for two days and could not get out of bed on the third day.The 45-year-old made it through one shift and called it quits.
“I asked him when he picked up his check why it didn’t work out for him and he said it was a lot different than what he remembered from his previous milking job.He said he just couldn’t keep up.It was an honest answer that I appreciated.We also called back to the other people that had inquired about the job, but never got a response back.
“Which leads me to the question:How much would we have to pay American workers to do the jobs on our dairies that need to be done every day, 24 hours per day?Our buddy Steve King has talked a lot about slowly rounding up all the illegals and shipping them out and that it would be good for America because wages would increase and we wouldn’t have to pay for all the services that they are using for free.He has even suggested the 2 million people in prison should be doing our farm labor because of our shortage.
“Wow, I would be so excited to work with them.They would make ideal milkers!My wife would be thrilled to have them around, too!
“All mockery aside, there is no doubt that the immigration/illegal problem exists and it needs to be fixed.But if Americans enjoy the abundance of meat, eggs and dairy products they can buy in our stores, then we certainly need willing and able-bodied people doing the work it takes to get it to the store shelves.
“All of the workers on these dairies pay taxes. I know of no one that pays cash to any of their workers.That would truly be insane and impossible (book keeping, IRS and tax wise).Remember, none of the illegals that are paying into social security will ever benefit from it.
“Americans are being told every day that employers are benefiting from cheap labor and illegals don’t pay taxes.All Americans benefit from the work that gets done to put food in front of them.We need a reliable and stable workforce for agriculture, plain and simple.”
Immigrants have always done this kind of work. The transcontinental railroad connected the country after Chinese immigrants blasted tunnels though rock at Donner Pass. The Polish worked the meat packing plants in Chicago. There have always been entry-level jobs that immigrants glad to be in this country have filled. Whether they were legal or not was determined by public acceptance.
The need for these workers has not changed with time. Today, I do not believe that immigrant workers are ill-treated and employers have consistently praised their work ethic.
Many risks and criticisms have been embellished by emotionalism. There is no current solution to replace them or accept them, so one needs to be found.
More perspective, more wisdom, less ideology and less emotion is required to accomplish this. Some would rather have a political issue than a solution.
I live in the same Congressional district as does Darin Dykstra and our congressman is one of those who works the politics much harder than he does for agriculture.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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