The Birmingham News is reporting that 256 people have signed up for temporary agriculture jobs through the state’s website. Wow, that ought to solve the farmers’ problems.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that undocumented immigrants make up 5.1% of Alabama’s workforce. That’s around 120,000 people who will need to be replaced. Now, not everyone who is looking for agricultural work is going through the state’s site. Cullman sweet potato farmer Kevin Smith says he has plenty of people calling him directly. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t conditioned for the physical challenges of farm work.
Smith said he has 10 or more people a day calling him saying they are willing to do the farm work, but he said most quit after a few hours because it is such intense labor.
“Most American workers aren’t in good enough shape. They can’t do this work. You get two, three or four hours out of them, and they’re gone. They say they can’t do this no more,” Smith said.
He said he has heard of the state program, but he hasn’t tried it because he doesn’t think he will get any better quality workers.
“I ain’t signed up for it. Why should I call them when I’ve got people calling me?” Smith said.
Smith, who freely admits he used illegal immigrants to pick sweet potatoes, said three-quarters of his crop is still in the field after his workers moved away.
“We ought to be half done or better by now,” he said. Smith, who is a strong critic of the immigration law, said his crop will rot in the first freeze of the year.
Tom Surtees, Director of Alabama’s Department of Industrial Relations Pokies, continues to ignore reality:
Surtees said he rejects the idea that Alabamians aren’t willing or able to do the difficult work.
“I think the governor referred to that the other day as insulting,” Surtees said.
“I’m hearing only the Hispanics can do this. Well, I’m saying who did it before them? Alabamians did,” Surtees said.
Yeah, Alabamians did it decades ago. Those Alabamians are retired or gone on to their reward, and I bet most of them encouraged their children to find less physically taxing ways to make a living. As I said in yesterday’s post, labor is not fungible. It’s not reasonable to expect former office workers to jump into backbreaking physical labor without a significant period of adjustment, and farmers don’t have time for that.
Surtees sounds just as out of touch as Kris Kobach, the Kansas
attorney general Secretary of State who drafted Alabama’s short-sighted law:
“We’re displacing the illegal workers. That may cause short-term pain for some, but the markets will adjust,” he said. “It may be they have a season with some losses, and it may be that they have to increase their wages. But you’ve got something like 200,000 unemployed people in Alabama, and many of them are going to find jobs as a result of this.”
The farmers and their families are just pawns in the market adjustment. They’re not real human beings. Everything will work out in the long run, and if a few farms fail along the way…well, out-of-state agribusiness will be more than happy to take up the slack until the state can arrest enough Hispanics to put them back in the fields – as convict labor.