Category Archives: Workers’ Rights and Stolen Wages

Undocumented labor translates to cheap fruits and vegetables?

You’ve heard the argument before: we need “illegals” so we can keep paying low prices for our fruits and vegetables. The basic argument is that, since undocumented immigrants need work, they’ll work for cheap. And paying those workers less ensures that our produce stays cheap.

One Half of One Percent

Next time you hear the argument, keep this in mind: For each 32 pound bucket of tomatoes a farmworker picks, he or she will receive, on average, $.50. Those 32 pounds of tomatoes when purchased at the Publix grocery store in Naples, FL, on Sunday however, cost farmworker advocates $79.63. Do the math: .50 divided by 79.63 equals, rounding up, 0.0063.

That means that farmworkers earn roughly one half of one percent (0.63%) of the final price of a pound of tomatoes at the checkout counter. 99.5% of the final price of tomatoes goes to everyone else in the supply chain, with the lion’s share going to the corporate supermarkets, like Publix or Wal-Mart, who make millions in profits from farmworker poverty.

Growers Squeezed

So why, then, are growers around the country telling farmworkers that they cannot afford to raise their wages? Part of the reason is that corporate buyers have used their increased purchasing power to demand cheaper produce. As Wal-Mart grows, it commands a larger and large portion of the retail market and, therefore, has more influence over produce growers. Squeezed by corporate buyers on one side, and raising production costs on the other, growers try to control their costs the only place they can: lower wages, increased workloads, faster paced work and–in the most extreme cases–modern-day slavery.

Overlapping Exploitation

So if corporate buyers are pressuring growers for cheaper fruits and vegetables, why don’t we see lower prices at the produce stand? The reality is that the corporate food industry is equally happy exploiting farmworkers and consumers alike, demanding more produce for less and passing the savings on to their profits instead of on to consumers. It is precisely the recognition of that overlapping exploitation that has infused the farmworker-led Campaign for Fair Food with it’s sustained energy. Consumers and farmworkers have united to demand dignified wages and working conditions and an end to mondern-day slavery from the corporate food industry.

Farmworkers–no matter their immigration status–deserve dignified wages and working conditions. And as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food have demonstrated time after time, corporations profiting off of farmworker poverty can easily raise wages without raising retail prices–for documented and undocumented, citizen and immigrant alike.

LUPE’s organizing against wage theft getting stronger

Worker learning his rights

“Although we’re undocumented, we have rights.”

Rosario Contreras has dedicated herself to educating those around her about the rights that all immigrants have, whether documented or not. For that reason she is being trained to advocate for workers’ whose wages have been stolen.

“They abuse us because we don’t have documents. They don’t pay us the minimum wage and many of us aren’t paid at all.”

LUPE member Rosario Contreras helps lead training

At the training, organized by South Texas Civil Rights Project and LUPE, members learned that, although you might not have documents, you still have the right to organize, the right to be paid for your work, and the right to the minimum wage.

“The training was about the rights that we have, as people without documents, and how we can defend ourselves from bosses that want to abuse us,” Rosario said.

Organizer Cris Rocha trains LUPE leaders on worker rights

STCRP and LUPE are training leaders that can advocate for the rights of their fellow members and therefore better tackle the rampant problem of wage theft in the Valley. STCRP and LUPE are part of Fuerza del Valle, a new workers’ center dedicated to organizing for workers’ rights in the Rio Grande Valley.