While a storm of discussion rages about immigration and deportation issues, University of California researchers have found surprising stability in the state’s huge agricultural workforce, largely composed of immigrants. By recognizing that many farm workers in California work at two seasonal jobs in a year’s time the report has pegged the number of farm workers employed in California in recent years at more than 800,000, larger than generally believed. Author of the report is longtime observer of farm worker numbers and conditions Philip Martin, now emeritus professor in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Department of the University at Davis. Co-authors were M. Akhtar, Deputy Division Chief of the Labor Market Division in the California Employment Development Department(EDD) and Research Program Specialists at EDD B. Hooker and M. Stockton.
Their findings appear in the current issue of California Agriculture, the quarterly peer-reviewed publication of the university dealing with agricultural and Natural Resources issues. One element of the new found stability of the agricultural workforce is in wages, not impressive by Silicon Valley standards, but adequate and sufficient for workers living beyond that area’s inflated economic bulge. The study revealed that wage payments to farm workers are made largely by farm employers. A smaller percentage of farm worker compensation is paid by businesses that supply farmers with everything from tractors to telephones.
The report indicates that a major source of economic stability in the farm worker community is supplied by farm labor contractors. Workers by the thousands become attached to contractors who supply labor to farmers, food processors and packers. The contractors are alert to the needs for labor, and maintain corps of qualified workers to meet them at a moment’s notice. The data indicate that workers attached to farm labor contractors generally receive higher pay than those who work directly for farmers. However, some of the highest paid workers are those who have worked directly for farmers for several years. For some the length of employment stretches to 20 years and beyond.
Although the study did not deal directly with this aspect, in cases of long-term employment workers can receive benefits comparable to those that might be given to family members, including housing, cars, educational benefits for their children, extended family vacations to Mexico or elsewhere and extensive medical insurance coverage.
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