By: Francisco A. Espinoza
An Opening Word
Both producers and labor look for a good season and good profits. If everyone feels rewarded, successful, and happy at the end of the season, most likely their outlook for the coming year is also going to be positive. Growers will plant again and workers will head north, returning for another profitable season. But there is no guarantee. Every year brings potential for good and bad. And there are some indicators for the 2014 season.
Traditional Choice of State
Hispanic farm labor decides where to work for the season not much differently than anyone else seeking employment. Chief considerations revolve around earning potential, work conditions, and community amenities providing for good housing, family needs, and local services. Of course, details differentiate between a local Ohio resident and a migrating family, but here are some factors Hispanic labor utilizes in choosing which state they will travel to each season:
- Potential for profits: Simple. Workers look for states where they can make money.
- Crop Calendar: States/employers that offer an extended season of work, either through a single employer or several across the state, will attract workers, who do not want to spend their profits and time on traveling expenses and inconveniences.
- Historical contact: Labor will return as long as their experiences with employer/state/region have been positive. If so, no surprise that families sometimes have returned for generations.
- Good work environment and conditions: These include issues of safety and division of work.
- Familiar crops and work: Workers will choose what they do best, and most profitably. Some even specialize, perhaps looking only to pickles as the best economic choice.
Spring Trip to Florida
March 2014, staff from Ohio’s Teaching & Mentoring Communities (TMC), providers of Migrant Head Start, traveled to Florida to meet with a Head Start agency serving farmworker families, some of which work seasonally in Ohio. TMC wanted to address the decreasing numbers of children and families participating in Ohio Migrant Head Start, looking toward the coming 2014 season. Their contact with migrant families revealed some indicators of concern for traveling north.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), unsurprisingly, was of chief concern. A high percentage of labor is reported as undocumented and, therefore, unauthorized to work. The risk of apprehension and deportation while traveling, or even while working up north, causes labor to hesitate in deciding. States with proven enforcement, like Alabama and Georgia, are seen as barriers to travel. Workers would like to have Florida issue some form of license ID that would allow them to drive north legally. Also basic to worker consideration is the cost of travel, such as gasoline prices. Overall, lack of CIR is the greatest concern for Hispanic migrant labor.
Implications for Ohio
Early planting of specialty crops and some greenhouse activity calls for labor. With spring conditions finally opening up the season, recruitment of farm labor intensifies. Though it is still too early to make a definitive determination of labor availability, planting season has arrived. With it will come some serious questions for producers. Is the farm labor contractor (FLC) having success recruiting workers. Will emphasis be on hiring more local/seasonal labor to mix with the migrant workforce. If there is a decrease in Florida workers, is a return to recruiting Texas workers called for. Were there enough workers for planting, and will there be enough for harvesting. The end of May and certainly mid-June should provide a clear picture of labor availability for the 2014 season.
A Closing Word
The mid-term Congressional elections can greatly affect CIR and the availability of labor. Will there be any movement for reform, or will it be kicked down the road.