On Michigan farms and in restaurants, who will fill the jobs?

Strawberry picking
steffens

Kent County apple grower Rob Steffens: “I don't think people understand just how much food is touched by migrant hands.” (Courtesy photo)

This time of year, Michigan fruit and vegetable farmer Fred Leitz tends to focus on things like the weather, pests like the brown marmorated stink bug and what kind of prices his harvest might fetch.

With 700 acres of cucumbers, cantaloupe, tomatoes, apples and blueberries on his Berrien County farm in the southwest corner of Michigan, there's plenty at stake.

But like other growers around Michigan, Leitz has another worry these days: Will there be enough workers to pick the crops?

“If we lost a significant part of the workforce after we had everything ready to harvest, we would go out of business. Everything is hand-harvested,” Leitz said

Leitz

Berrien County grower Fred Leitz said Michigan's crop industry would “collapse” without undocumented labor. (Courtesy photo)

His concerns were heightened by enforcement measures announced Feb. 21 that give U.S. immigration agents sweeping authority to target “removable aliens” for deportation, in effect making most of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants priority for removal. The guidelines – which largely fulfill campaign pledges by President Donald Trump - empower local police to aid immigration enforcement and call for the hiring of 5,000 more border agents and 10,000 more immigration agents.

Michigan growers fear these measures – if funded and approved by Congress -- will drive away workers critical to their operations, given that undocumented labor remains a key part of the nation's farm work force.

According to a 2014 report by the American Farm Bureau Federation, undocumented workers comprise fully half of  hired U.S. farm workers. There is no such calculation specific to Michigan agriculture, where the seasonal workforce is about 45,000.

Within the past month, Leitz said, he's already heard from a few of his past workers that they won't be coming back this year. Most are originally from Mexico, but have lived in the United States for the past 10 or 20 years. “They're afraid. They're not going to budge from where they are right now,” he said.

He added: “If you took all the undocumented workers out of Michigan, crop agriculture would collapse.”

The concern over farm labor is acute in the fertile swath of land that stretches along the west side of the Lower Peninsula from north of Traverse City through Kent and Ottawa counties all the way south to the Indiana border. That's where the bulk of fruit, including apples, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, is grown as well as a variety of vegetables that must be hand-harvested.

In a state that ranks at or near the top in the nation in cherry and blueberry production – and where fruit and vegetables account for a $1.4 billion economic impact – the viability of seasonal farm labor is no small matter.

Even before the announced immigration crackdown, Michigan farmers were calling for fixes to a  system they say fails to provide a reliable supply of workers for their operations. The problem as they see it: Most non-immigrant Americans just won't do the work.

The Work They Do

Undocumented workers are a key part of numerous U.S. economic sectors

26 percent of farming, fishing and forestry

17 percent of building, ground, cleaning and maintenance

14 percent of construction

11 percent of food preparation and serving

9 percent of production

Source: Pew Research Center

About an hour north of Grand Rapids, the owner of a large fruit and vegetable operation recalled attending a conference summoned to offer ideas for plugging the farm labor shortage. He farms more than a thousand acres of carrots, asparagus and other vegetables and said he would not survive without immigrant labor.

As he recalled, someone at the conference suggested, “Why don't you bus in college kids to do the work?'”

He said someone else replied, “'They would be back on the bus by noon.'”

The farmer – who asked that his name not be used, added: “I just think Americans aren't going to do it. College kids aren't going to do it. It's just the way it is. It's hard work. I wouldn't do it myself.

“I just think Americans aren't going to do it. College kids aren't going to do it. It's just the way it is. It's hard work. I wouldn't do it myself.” -- farmer in west Michigan, talking about hand-harvesting crops

“Our system is broke, but most people won't admit to it.”

From farm to table

There's apprehension as well in Michigan's restaurant and tourism industries, which also depend on immigrant labor. According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented workers comprise 17 percent of U.S. building, ground, cleaning and maintenance workers and 11 percent of U.S workers in food preparation.

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, said his organization is closely following immigration developments on Capitol Hill.

“It will definitely impact this industry. It is something we follow and take very seriously,” he said.

winslow

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, said his industry is concerned that a labor shortage could be made worse if immigrant workers are removed rather than given some path to citizenship.

Winslow said Michigan restaurants employ 435,000 people in a $15.9 billion industry; one that is facing a likely worker shortage over the coming decade as commercial growth outpaces the supply of local labor. It is expected to need another 37,400 workers within 10 years, while the population of the state’s biggest age cohort – those age 16 to 24 – is projected to shrink.

Winslow noted that the National Restaurant Association has adopted a formal position calling for a clear path to legalization for the 11 million undocumented U.S. residents.

“It is not a position the Michigan Restaurant Association has opposed,” he said.

Frustration with visa program

Michigan farmers interviewed for this article say the labor pinch has tightened as a smaller numbers of migrant workers come north, in part because of a more secure border with Mexico. At the same time, an older generation of migrant workers is aging out of the work force while their children have moved on to better jobs outside agriculture.

In recent years, more Michigan farmers have turned to a visa program that provides temporary foreign workers for their operations. While it added nearly 5,000 workers in 2016, farmers say the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers is cumbersome and expensive.

Berrien County fruit and vegetable grower Russell Costanza said he turned to H-2A the past couple years for workers, after he had increasing trouble finding domestic migrant labor. They now comprise the bulk of the 130 workers he needs for his operation, since his domestic workforce dropped from 110 a few years ago less than 20 today. He farms about 500 acres, growing Roma tomatoes, cucumbers and a variety of hot peppers.

His assessment of the visa program: “It doesn't work. It's broken. It's too expensive and there are too many hoops to jump through.”

Under the program, farmers are required to advertise in local newspapers for job openings before accepting foreign workers. Farmers must also pay for transportation to and from the foreign country and provide housing and three meals a day. The 2017 wage for these workers in Michigan is set at $12.75 an hour.

“On top of that, I've got an expense of about $2,000 an employee. By the time I'm done, they are costing me $17 or $18 an hour,” Costanza said.

Costanza said he's lost money on his farm operation the past couple years, adding that he would consider shuttering it if it weren't for the involvement of his adult children in the farm.

“If it was up to me, I wouldn't plant a crop this year. It's too risky. If I didn't have the kids involved I would shut it down.”

John Kran, associate national legislative counsel of the Michigan Farm Bureau, agreed that the visa program “is not a perfect system at all. It's not going to work for everybody, that's for sure.

“Right now, it's the only tool in the federal tool box.”

Kran said farmers have been asking for decades for a more flexible guest worker program – thus far, to no avail.

“It's getting harder and harder to find people who are willing in agriculture, especially in jobs that will last only two or three months. We need to make sure we have people here ready and willing to work in agriculture.”

And beyond the fruit and vegetable industry in Michigan, Kran said dairy farmers are also facing labor troubles since the H-2A program is aimed at seasonal farm workers – not the permanent employees dairy farms need.

“It's very much an issue for dairy,” Kran said.

Economic pragmatism urged

In Kent County, apple grower Rob Steffens said he is increasingly concerned about what kind of workforce he will have this fall. With about 300 acres and 17 varieties of apples in his orchard, he needs 30 to 40 workers to harvest his crop. A fourth generation grower, he farms an area that extends north of Grand Rapids known as The Ridge, especially suitable for fruit because of its elevation, clay loam soil and proximity to Lake Michigan.

“I'm nervous,” Steffens said. “There's no doubt about it. I'm worried whether people are going to be willing to come up from Florida. I know there's a lot of fear out there.”

Steffens said he sees no point in deporting undocumented residents if they have not committed a serious crime.

“I understand if it is a felony. But to just say, 'Let's round them up,' is a big mistake. I want to talk about the guy who's working, who's working hard, who's helping his family.

“I don't think people understand just how much food is touched by migrant hands. I don't think the president understands this issue yet.”

Supporters of Trump, however, see the intended crackdown as fulfillment of campaign promises by the president.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told the New York Times that limiting foreign labor would open up jobs for Americans.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s programming computers or picking in fields,” he told the Times. “Any time you’re admitting substitutes for American labor you depress wages and working conditions and deter Americans.”

Berrien County grower Fred Leitz needs about 225 workers at peak harvest time for his operation, about 170 of which he expects to fill this year with H-2A workers. Most of the rest presumably would be immigrant laborers.

“We have (Americans) that want to drive tractors, but nobody wants to harvest. Working in fields with hot or cold weather is not for everybody. American workers are far removed from working on farms with those conditions.”

Leitz said it's impossible to know for certain when workers are undocumented, since employers are required by law to accept a variety of forms of identity for employment, including a Social Security card, birth certificate and driver's license. They can easily be forged.

“You have to make sure it's not obviously fraudulent and accept it. If you ask too much for certain documents, you are discriminating.”

In the meantime, Leitz said he's uncertain what will happen at harvest time this year.

“That's the million-dollar question,” he said.

Leitz, the immediate past president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said he was in Washington, D.C. in early February for the organization's annual board meeting.

“There were growers from around the country there. They are having problems all over. It's not just a Michigan problem, it's a national problem.

“We make our  plans and have our crops in the ground and Congress does something that changes. You are stuck. My banker has asked me over the years, 'What happens if immigration comes and takes all your workers?' I just take my keys out of my pocket and threw it at him and say, 'It's yours.'

“He didn't like that.”

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Comments

Matt
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 8:00am

Seems that "Path to Citizenship" and "Birthright citizenship" (both inventions of the left) are the big hang ups to solving the immigration problem. It's not about the jobs. How many parents aspire to have their kids become roofers, housekeepers, dishwashers and strawberry pickers? Bring back the the Bracero program, which again was killed by the left,and we'll move towards solving our problem. We'll either import labor or we'll import food.

Drew
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 1:12am

WTH are you talking about Matt?
"Path to Citizenship" was never even introduced in the House. It can't be blamed for anything.
"Birthright Citizenship" is in the Constitution, the "Citizenship Clause" of the 14th Amendment. Are you going to "blame" the left for the Constitution too?

Matt
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 1:26pm

Drew ,Path to citizenship has been an absolute demand from Democratic leadership of any immigration reform that comes forward. The 14th amendment was put in 100% to give newly freed slaves citizenship and was never envisioned as now interpreted giving any baby born to any foreign national automatic citizenship (this interpretation largely given by Justice Brennan) . Nor has it been tested, not that I have any confidence that original intent means anything anymore.

Frank Ka linski
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 8:42am

Having been involved with the agiculture suppling eqjipment, my impression is many "migrants" come up from Mexico every season. How many will not make the trip now? What will that do to the price of fresh fruits and veggies? Small and medium sized farms live on the edge; one bad crop and they're done for.

G. Dufey
Sun, 03/05/2017 - 1:49am

"let them eat cake"......

Jay
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 8:49am

That's the problem with America, nobody is willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty, and go to work. Getting your hands dirty is so beneath everyone. Everyone is entitled to high pay with little effort. The liberal ivory tower mentality where only highly educated people matter has taken over the philosophy of common sense and putting in a good day's work. Every high school graduate should be required to work on a farm for a year or two just to experience what hard work is about. But, it's more important to enable kids to waste hours each day texting and playing video games. That's why kids don't appreciate anything, they don't have to do real work and earn what they get. They've been taught to be entitled snobs that view hard work as beneath them. And we wonder why everything is so messed up. How about rather than putting kids on Ritalin, we put them to work and mentor them to grow up to be responsible and appreciative adults? No, that's too much of a burden for the special snowflakes to handle.

Just Saying....
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 9:53am

Jay,
Please take a moment and discuss your background, your family and especially your children and discuss your and their employment history. Thank you.

Jay
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 11:07am

I grew up splitting and piling wood for the wood furnace in the house that I grew up in, I spread horse manure on gardens where we grew our own potatoes, beets, carrots, corn, beans, cucumbers, peas, and radishes, I worked my way through college and graduate school, at times working three part-time jobs just to pay my bills, I worked as a financial analyst for more than a decade and now I run my own consulting business, and I paid off all of my student loan debt in 10 years, which was my goal when I graduated from college with my masters degree. I've been married for nearly 20 years. No kids since certain health issues with my wife won't allow us to have kids. Any other questions Just Saying...? Now it's your turn to provide your background information.

Jim Hendricks
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:26am

Excellent point! All of our kids (and their parents) started employment life at the very bottom of the job pyramid. The goal was attempt to do that job better than its ever been done before. At the end of the day, maybe only you will know that, but that is how you hold your high.

Anonymous
Mon, 03/06/2017 - 2:18am

Then, send your kids to pick those crops from 7 to 7. You get paid by how much you can pick, come rain or come shine. Don't know why your kids can't do the job migrants do.

Linda
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 11:11am

The "ivory tower" doesn't appear to be top-heavy with liberals.

Matt
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 1:31pm

Seriously, you don't think university profs aren't overwhelmingly off the left side of the political spectrum? Unless you share a place with Pol Pot on the political spectrum?

William C. Plumpe
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 1:45pm

Well then since you seem so determined to bad mouth liberals (I'm one by the way and proud of it) I have an innovative solution to the problem. Let's bus West Virginia coal miners to Michigan to pick crops and make $12.50 an hour. Trump promised them jobs and he should deliver. The coal miners don't want to pick crops? Too bad. Those are the jobs Trump promised you. You better take them and get to work.

Jay
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 3:35pm

William C. Plumpe, those West Virginia coal miners keep your electric bills lower for your cell phone, iPod, and whatever other electronic gadgets you plug into the electrical outlet. And I commend those West Virginia miners for doing the work that overburdened kids won't do. So William, when you're old and can't take care of yourself anymore, is a college graduate going to be the one that bathes you and wipes your back side? No, it'll be just an ordinary worker, which you seem to look down on. We all end up in the same place William, whether you have a Ph. D. or a grade school education. Guess you'll find that out when your time comes.

Anonymous
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 1:13am

AND GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DANG KIDS!!!

Ariel
Sat, 03/04/2017 - 2:09pm

Very interesting comments. After putting myself through college while working full time and raising my daughter on my own without child support, welfare, WIC, Bridge Cards, Medicaid, etc. I got re-married the year my own daughter graduated from college. We moved to the UP with my husband's job. Not knowing anyone nor having any relatives or friends up here, I took a seasonal job at the DNR planting, sorting, processing tree seedlings at the Wyman Nursery (part of DNR). It was hard physical labor. I had done nothing like it in my life although I had worked at just about any job over the years. AMong my co workers were the wife of the park superintendent at Indian Lake state park, a former dietary supervisor at a hospital in the Keweenaw, and other ladies of all ages and life experience. I made it through the first and second seasons there. However, the next year we were told not to come back, as the Michigan DNR had hired Mexican migrant workers. No explanation was given. Perhaps it was a special program through the government. Since jobs up here are few without family connections , this left lots of the ladies without a good supplemental income. The work had always been finished on time and to the department's satisfaction. The DNR nursery is closed now. My point is that although I am from an upper middle class educated family, as were other co workers of mine, we decided to do something different and take a chance on the unknown, just to be productive rather than sit at home . All my co workers were not married. Some were welfare moms working for the first time, building up a resume. I chalk this up to a life experience out of my realm of expertise, and feel that it gave me some strengths. I believe no person should be "above it all" and no honest job is beneath any one.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 8:52am

Support for Trump came disproportionately from rural areas. Now many farmers are wringing their hands due to the consequences of their electoral actions. All over the countryside there are chickens coming home to roost. The buyer's remorse has just begun.

Turnerbird
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 9:22am

Yes, I agree - the reality of this work is widely known, and also widely understood that there will not be enough people locally to do the work, nor want the work. Rural America got what they wanted in their vote. Now live with it. Well, we all will, when prices soar, and vacant farms are popping up.

Rich
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 9:37am

Who will fill the jobs? LEGAL immigrants. How hard is it to understand that we don't want people simply walking through a hole in the border. We want them walking through a checkpoint where someone checks their papers and asks them a few questions, just like would happen to any American citizen going to any foreign country.

Drew
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 1:28am

Yawanna bet?
"...a few questions"? I thought you guys were into "extreme vetting".

Charles Moss
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:03am

Gosh! Maybe he'll have to pay his workers more.

Steven Smewing
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:08am

For those of us who have a grasp of how the principles of economics work the answer is clear. What will happen is the wages will go up in order to attract people willing to do the work. As Trump has said a thousand times of once, illegal immigration suppresses wages.
This does mean that prices will have to go up. In trade there's more people earning a livable wage than before from that point forward.
The next point is, when the wages go up the welfare roles to down.
This will move the US closer to a true market economy. The second prong of this is to prevent low wage foriegn goods from tax freely entering the US. Another Trump policy.

Jim Hendricks
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 10:20am

In a market economy, the wages will rise until the demand is met. If that causes the price of the end products (farm goods) to rise, so be it. Bottom line - keep raising the hourly pay until you hit the sweet spot where you have eager workers willing to do the job.

Scott Roelofs (...
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 11:43am

Thank you Mr. Hendricks. I rarely see such common sense expressed so succinctly on these Bridge comment pages.
Many businesses love to have an unlimited supply of undocumented workers so that wages are suppressed. This disrupts the proper operation of the labor market. Another disruption of the labor market is the economic "safety net." So many government benefit programs create a disincentive to work.

Here in Traverse City, McDonald's is offering $11/hr. Why would anyone want to work in the fields for less pay? If farmers can afford to pay the wage needed to find workers, perhaps they should make a living at something else.

duane
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 2:16pm

Are you sure it is only wages? Could it be that there isn't the need or desire or culture that encourages and supports people doing such physical labor?

An earlier comment said parents don't see their children doing the physical labor. It seems providing for yourself or your family isn't as important as it is how you garner the moneys for one's self and one's family.

The sense I get from many of the articles from education to economy is more about what American's deserve then what what it takes to earn it, from and education to the wages. Could that mean the barrier to local workers is more than the pay?

Va
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 6:50pm

Farms products will most likely be imported because that will be the easiest way to keep prices down. We will not pay those higher prices.

Bob
Wed, 03/01/2017 - 10:00am

Agree: it is always amusing to see so called conservatives promoting the idea of market based solutions to social issues until it looks like a market solution may cut into their profits and then they want all sorts of governmental interventions and subsidies to protect their enterprises. As a proud leftist I am tired of subsidizing welfare payments to wealty farmers, ranchers. And multinational corporations while we throw the poor and weak overboard.

duane
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 4:07pm

Bob,

How do you define 'wealthy farmer'? Is it the taxable income or the prorated income over all the hours the work or is simply because they don't have someone else paying them, is it the price they would get for their land and equipment when it is sold and they can't farm any more, is it the hours of work they put in everyday, is it the type of tasks/work they do, is it the jobs they provide, is it their mobility or lack of mobility to work elsewhere? How do you define a 'wealthy farmer'?

How do you define the 'poor and weak'? Does it have to do with their taxable income or is it the hourly rate they get paid? Is it the physical and mental effort they put into the job, is it how much they invested in preparing themselves for their jobs, is it their mobility or lack of mobility to work else where and work at better paying jobs? How do you define/describe 'poor and weak'?

g. Dufey
Sun, 03/05/2017 - 1:56am

...and the other sweet spot, where higher prices eat up a large part of the higher wages....

Kaarin Averill
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 1:20pm

Immigration reform is obviously a complicated problem. If it weren't, it would have been "fixed" already. I do not want to see Michigan suffer in the meantime because the current labor supply is afraid to work here. In Florida, crops are rotting in the fields because of cheaper produce shipped in from Arizona, California and Mexico http://www.palmbeachpost.com/business/exclusive-farms-leave-produce-rot-...
-and yes, those are also places where immigrants work the fields - but so is Florida. "Fix" one problem and you create another - prices are bound to go up, whether it is from paying workers more, or from taxes/tariffs imposed on imports. We love those cheap imported goods, but who will pay when we start taxing them? We will. Yes, the American goods can be more competitive, because both will be more expensive. If this creates better wages for workers, I am fine with that, but I am guessing that there will be many who will just buy less of it.

Jay, you made a lot of sweeping negative statements about unwillingness to work hard and kids being drugged up on meds for ADHD and playing video games. I'm sure we all have anecdotal evidence of cases where this is true. I worked as a teacher and school principal for 33 years, in both very wealthy Bloomfield Hills and struggling Ypsilanti. In both places, I experienced many, many more hard working and dedicated students and parents than the opposite. The good kids and parents don't make the news, because putting your head down and working hard isn't newsworthy. News is supposed to be unusual - that's why it's news.

Whatever your political leaning, please take time to read widely and start questioning even the media you agree with. Do your own research from varied sources. Right or left, they are ALL trying to make a buck off of all of us, and our tendency toward confirmation bias keeps us tuning in like sheep and agreeing without making up our own minds based on data and lots of information, not just the part whichever media decided in advance to show you. Even selecting which story to run is a form of bias. We can't eliminate it, but we can be aware of it and its effects.

When Michigan growers tell us they are nervous about getting their crops to market, I think we should listen and while Washington is trying to figure things out, let's hope Michigan's economy won't be damaged any further. There are plenty of other states growing cherries and blueberries and more, and they will be happy to step in and ship their goods here. For me, if that means a path to citizenship for hard working people who have been in the country 10+ years and are willing to do work that the growers say Americans won't do, I'm OK with that.

If you think that welfare recipients are staying on assistance and getting more than the migrant workers, here is some research from Forbes that indicates the average welfare recipient gets about $25 per day.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2015/05/04/the-average-us-welfa...

Here's another example of a headline meant to grab your attention - the above is meant to be a response to a stat saying that this average $25 per day ($9000 per year) puts one in the top 20% of all earners - but you have to read the fine print to learn that it is the top 20% of earners in the WORLD, not in the US.

Thanks Bridge for bringing this issue to light. I hope Michigan farmers, and thus the rest of us, do not pay the price for political grandstanding, but I'm not holding my breath.

duane
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 3:05pm

Kaarin, you seem to have an answer that is looking for a problem.

I am not so sure the problem and the solutions aren't simple. First do we even have a common description of the problem, is it illegal immigration or is lowering wages or is a less burdensome life in other countries, is it the shear volume, is it ease of access, etc.? What is the problem? How would you define it?

As for your answer, it seems to address the wants of the illegal aliens, but it does seem to address the issues raised by the farmers or restaurateurs.

"I experienced many, many more hard working and dedicated students and parents than the opposite." How do you define 'hardworking'? Is that simply the amount of hours put into education or does it have to do with how effective that work is? Does hard work turn into better or best results? Does working harder require working smarter? Is hard work the goal or are results the goal?

Simply reading the article suggests that those most concerned with increased control of illegal immigrants and even those trying to use the prescribed legal process aren't working smarter. Those in this article that complain about the problems with the visa process make no mention of what changes they would like to see to make that work more effectively. How smart can someone be if all they do is complain others are doing for them when they don't even know what they want to change?

My best guess is that those [hardworking, dedicated people] writing the rules have no experience at being governed by the rules they write so why should anyone expect them to write would will be effective now and in the future. That becomes even obvious when you realize the foundation of what they write is based on ensuring simplicity of enforcement. They never write the rules to help all concerned improve results.

Those working the fields and other tasks are working harder but does that mean it is smarter to rely on them by those who have such large investments in what they are doing?

mary
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 3:47pm

How many of these farmers and restaurant owners thought it was a good idea to support Trump and the Repubs?

Disgruntled Taxpayer
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 4:13pm

I don't wish to add fuel to the political fire here, but I do wish to share from personal experience and observation. I grew up in Michigan. When I was a teenager (late high school), my best friend and I worked in the farm/food industry, in a workforce that was overwhelmingly comprised of seasonal migrants. I don't know what everyone was paid. I assumed at the time, perhaps naively, that we all were paid the same. I do believe that our employer housed some of the migrant workers, so you'd have to look at their total compensation to determine the cost-effectiveness of employing migrants compared to locals. But, ultimately, I have no tangible evidence that I was paid any more than the migrants I worked with. I certainly didn't outwork them. We all pulled our weight. And for every migrant I worked with, I can probably name a buddy from school that was sitting at home doing nothing. I.e., the labor force was right there, in the community, just not - for whatever reason - actually laboring. Frankly, I'd have been counted in that number, too, had my dad not made it clear that sitting on my arse and goofing off with my friends 24/7 all summer was not an option.

Bottom line - based on my own experience, though being ignorant of the employer's relative costs, I don't find it a stretch to believe that Michigan's seasonal labor force is already sitting in Michigan's communities, currently doing nothing to productively add to the economy.

Ariel
Sat, 03/04/2017 - 2:14pm

Good post. I agree with you. You can read my experience in my post above. Being willing to work at anything is a useful skill. i.e. no job is "beneath you " if you want to be busy and productive.

Carolyn
Sun, 03/05/2017 - 9:59pm

I did seasonal farm work (corn detasseling) for two seasons and was looking forward to the third, since my Mom said she would look into getting me a farmer's permit to drive myself. Unfortunately, the seed company had too much seed and our area didn't get a field to work in. I think other teenagers in Michigan would also like a chance to drive before driver's education age and take a seasonal job. Unfortunately, you now need to grow up on a farm to get the farmer's driving permit. When I did corn detasseling they had school buses that brought some people in from a county or two away.

I think if advertised through the schools to junior high and high schoolers and allowing students to apply online or by phone students might be interested if their was a chance to get a license earlier than otherwise allowed. Didn't the Michigan legislature delay when public schools could start so students could work the Summer Jobs through Labor Day? Offer to make the money free from Michigan taxes if put in a fund for education (self or family member) or retirement (for low income people, people under 18, US citizens with a physical and/or mental handicap (include tax free if using funds for equipment to compensate for disability), or US citizens with a criminal record).

Lou
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 6:36pm

Seems like some of these agri-businessmen are tacitly admitting to the past hiring of illegal workers. I doubt they will be rounded up.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 02/28/2017 - 8:57pm

I always get a laugh whenever I hear this "argument":

"The problem as they see it: Most non-immigrant Americans just won't do the work."

Because the person saying it ALWAYS leaves out these six words:

"...for what the market will bear."

I'd love to buy a brand new car for under $5,000 or a new house for less than $20,000 in a good neighborhood.

I'm intelligent enough to know that either one of those examples will never happen again.

Those people trying to drive down the earning of Americans (and give generously to the campaigns of democrat and republican parties alike) need to realize that they are living on borrowed time. Economic forces are eventually going to force them to get with the program whether they like it or not.

Matt
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 2:37pm

Kevin, I buy all your implications of supply and demand, except isn't putting in limitations on labor whether foreign or domestic also doing the same thing on the other (labor or supply) side of the coin? Secondly, absolutely labor rates will rise, (from my sources domestic labor will demand twice the rate at half the productivity) which will in short order drive consumer prices up dramatically making domestic production uncompetitive with foreign producers except where equipment can be developed to do such labor, (and thereby killing off small producers). All this to leave us with dramatically higher food prices and with no real benefit. And as I said before how many US parents aspire for their kids to be fruit pickers?

Kevin Grand
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 7:50pm

Matt, the closest analogy that I can cite to respond to your argument would be to look at what so-called "free trade" agreements have done to the American economy.

Ross Perot famously warned everyone almost a quarter century ago of "a giant sucking sound" should NAFTA be approved.

He was ridiculed by everyone, including democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore, of making wildly unrealistic predictions that would never occur.

Today, we all know better.

I don't have any problems when we are dealing with competition within our own country, or countries on a comparable economic level as our own. But, when you are dealing with such disparate standards of living between America and the countries that these laborers originate from, not only is it IMHO short-sighted, but it is akin to national economic suicide to perpetuate such a system. Just ask the former employees of Cal Edison or Disney what they think of the people brought in to do the jobs "that Americans won't perform"?

I honestly do not see any difference between programs promoted by the businesses above and other forms of crony capitalism like the "Gilbert Bills", SB-97 of 2017, Capitol View or an unwanted MSP HQ.

Matt
Sat, 03/04/2017 - 3:35pm

Kevin, Big picture here, the decline of manufacturing employment (Perot's giant sucking sound) really has very little to do with Nafta or any other free trade arrangement, it's more regulation and automation that reduced employment in these areas. But this is off subject. As I said and you've not responded to is that most of the jobs performed by illegally employed foreign workers (the subject of the above piece) are those that we really don't aspire ( or our children) to do anyway. (Forget roofing and dry walling, people don't even want to become plumbers!) And the choice is between imported foreign workers vs. mechanization, much higher costs or more imported products, none accomplishing anything of benefit to Americans in general. I have full confidence your libertarian instincts will come to this understanding eventually.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 03/04/2017 - 7:41pm

The decline in manufacturing had NOTHING to do with the disparate standards of living between America and other countries?

Click on that Cal Edison and Disney link above and then get back to me on that.

And those two are only starters.

OABTW, a libertarian would just as soon abolish any restrictions at the border and let everyone into America with no questions asked.

Obviously, I'm not naive.

Matt
Mon, 03/06/2017 - 12:05pm

Kevin for starters you're off topic here, (I previously took your bait), the topic was Michigan restaurant and Ag workers and not Nafta.. Is that what you want for yourself or your kids,other than as teenagers? I don't look down on any anyone based on what they do, but I wouldn't, verses what they are doing now if they doubled their pay! BTW you are taking the most extreme version of libertarianism, more like an anarchist. But yes I believe people should be able to hire who they want and can.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 03/06/2017 - 7:10pm

There is a stronger correlation between those examples I gave above than you apparently realize, Matt.

Companies are increasingly using the tactic of being "unable" to fill jobs across the wage spectrum as an excuse for wanting to bring in foreign labor, be it for manual labor or those with a more specialized skill set.

And yes, I chose that particular link for a reason.

And personally, I don't care who any company decides to hire...provided that they are from this country.

Mike West
Thu, 03/02/2017 - 2:21pm

I don't feel the least bit sorry for these large greedy Gowers with there plantation mind set and industrial scale operations. They knowingly built their business using illegal practices, yes it has always been against the law to hire people that are here illegally
Actually two or more crimes against American citizens have been committed, one the hiring of an illegal alien by the criminal enterprise and two the invasion of our country by the alien. The owners of these plantation like criminal enterprise have done immeasurable harm to family farmers by there use of artificially and unfairly low priced labor to over supply the market with product and drive the price of crops down to the point that legitimate law abiding family farmers can not make a living. No is this dynamic more evident than the dairy industry wear the number of family sized farms continues to crator due to unprofitablity bought about by the flood of milk from these mega dairies which are only possible because of their exploitation of illegal aliens. Another harm done is to young farmers who are excluded from land ownership by these treasons enterprise and their illegal workers through both unfair competitive advantage and monopolization of the land base. Further the industry mouth pieces in this article are misleading the readership about causes of the increasingly difficulty in finding Hispanic seasonal field hands. The reasons workers from Mexico are increasingly difficult to procure are both demographic and economic. Mexico's baby boomers which historically made up seasonal farm workers are ageing into retirement. Their kids and Grand kids who are fewer in number due a normal modernization of the birth rate in Mexico are finding good jobs in Mexico thanks the improving and modern industrialization of the economy there. So do we want to continual to reward the criminal grower owners of plantation like operations with access to ever more distant and desperate seasonal immigrant labor like they have for many decades? Or do we want a modern agriculture system in this country that adopts a fair pricing system, employs Americans, pays living wages, adopts modern technology, automization, robotics, and precision ag to increase productitive and improve working conditions? Do we want to allow the existence of smaller family farmers and young innovative farmers? Do we want to reward those who inovate, modernize and invest in technology? Do we want a system that provides high quality reasonably priced food produced in a socially responsible way? Or do we want continue to reward those intrenched interest who knownly built business using illegal, immoral and unpatriotic practices and now are not willing to deal with foreseeable demographic changes in a positive way? Do we want to reward those large growers that continue to grow crops using midevial production practices dependant on lots of cheap labor or do we reward those who invest in innovation and modernization?

Ralph
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 9:29am

Here's an idea. Why not pay Americans to do the jobs? You will have to pay them more, but that is what should have been done all along. There is a movement to compel a $15/hour minimum wage by legislation, which is wrong. Let the market decide what the wage will have to be. Since this will mean higher prices, that is one of the prices we will have to pay for breaking up the cabal of Dems who want voters who like big government, and businesses who want cheap labor. And while we're at it, stop paying able bodied people not to work. I know, it's all a silly dream...but it took us a while to get to this point and it will take a while to fix it.

Farmer John
Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:33am

The comments by Dan Stein are completely false. If growers do not have access to immigrant labor then the crops will be shipped in from countries that have lower labor costs. When that happens the millions and billions that come back to Michigan for the sale and packing and processing of our crops will go to a foreign nation. So the food will still be picked by non Americans but America will be dependent on foreign nations for its food supply.
Dan should take note that Michigan schools do not prepare anyone for field work and no Americans view field work as an employment opportunity. I am not saying Americans are too lazy, I am saying they have better opportunities.

Mrs. A.
Sat, 03/04/2017 - 1:31am

Well put. I feel sure some American workers would consider these jobs, however the hours suck and there is no future. Why should someone with language and computer skills that qualify them for entry level work indoors choose harvesting over a job where they could join a company team, have work that lasts more than a few weeks, be protected by federal work regulations, and potentially pursue a career path? Horror stories about the treatment of migrant workers abound -- denied bathroom breaks, women sexually harassed, cheated out of pay by convoluted minimums, dangerous working conditions, etc. This is what comes of treating pickers as though they were slaves or vagabonds undeserving of respect. If growers are serious about hiring Americans, why has no one tried setting up a recruiting agency serving member growers within a region, tasked to recruit and orient pickers for each full season with a regular employment program including benefits, scheduled breaks, housing and transportation, and coordinating a rotating schedule to move pickers between harvests as needed. There is a long American tradition of such contract opportunities, from cattle drives to military rotations to summer camps to construction projects, jobs willingly filled by Americans. As long as growers can take advantage of poor people who arrive by the truckload, why bother to modernize your industry?

Carolyn
Sun, 03/05/2017 - 10:07pm

If they do setup a recruiting agency, they should consider a division for the handicap since I heard their a tax breaks making the pay rate out of pocket less than one would think. I also heard the handicap once sufficiently trained tend to be very good workers.

Alternatively, they could look into partnering with the prison system on new releases who need to find work and don't have records that would exclude them (i.e. abusing animals on farms raising animals or anything that would make them unfit for their workplace).

Joe
Mon, 03/06/2017 - 2:04pm

If illegal immigrants are first eliminated from the better paying jobs like construction, they will probably revert to the lower paid service work.

Tammy R
Mon, 03/06/2017 - 2:55pm

It's despicable that racism is promoted in our modern society. Will there be a famine, will the prices of food skyrocket? Has the Trump Administration even thought about the consequences of his drastic deportation laws? I agree with one farmer in that "Our system is broken, [Antiquated] and no longer works!" I have been saying that for years and if anything we need to "Drain the Swamp," of antiquated policies and politicians whom don't do their jobs.

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