Every Labor Day, I try to keep in mind those that work so that I may live. This includes everybody who performs what are generally “invisible” tasks in our daily lives, from the workers who pick up my garbage to those who make sure our house has running water. It also includes those I think of as “producers of life.”
There are over two million people in this nation right now who work planting, growing, harvesting, and processing the food you and I consume on a daily basis. They are overwhelmingly from Latin America, poor, and subject to gross inequities in their daily work lives. From pay to the provision of something as simple as shade, their rights in the workplace are not only consistently violated but they are not always even assured by the “laws” of the nation within which they work. And, in a very literal and symbolic way, they are the people whose labor assures the reproduction of the human race. They are “producers of life.”
Today, from the advocacy organization Farmworker Justice comes this Labor Day news relating to the Department of Labor and “guestworkers,” many of whom toil in the fields and processing plants so that we can eat. As posted on their blog, Harvesting Justice:
The Labor Department today announced new proposed rules for the nation’s agricultural guestworker program which would largely reverse the Bush Administration’s harmful changes which slashed wages and vital worker protections in the program.
The H-2A agricultural guestworker program is supposed to ensure that U.S. workers are offered decent wages and working conditions before employers are permitted to hire foreign guestworkers based on claimed labor shortages, but the Bush Administration’s changes gave agricultural employers access to cheap foreign labor with little government oversight. The new proposal would restore the guarantee that US workers will be hired before foreign workers; a protection that was weakened under the Bush regulations.
The new proposal would also restore the wage system used under the previous regulations which will overcome wage cuts that US and foreign workers experienced during 2009 due to the Bush Administration’s changes; many workers lost about $2.00 per hour under the Bush rules. H-2A workers in North Carolina, for example, earned $8.85/hr last year under the old regulations. This year under the Bush rules, they are getting only $7.25/hr. Under the wage rate calculation of the previous rules, these workers would be earning $9.34/hr this year.
Happy Labor Day. May there come a time when the value of everyone’s work is appreciated and recognized for the role it plays in our daily lives.