Friday, May 30, 2008

On Recruiting Migrant Farmworkers

The following is an excerpt from the previous posting.
Before examining the new and improved recruiting requirements, let us contemplate an instance of how the old and tried ones work, as I had the opportunity to experience first hand. Wanting to embrace the Simple Life, I assumed that given the chronic and permanently threatening shortage of harvest labor there must be a plethora of jobs in states such as Florida and as a prospective domestic worker I would be welcomed by all farmers who resort to the use of foreign labor only as a dire last resort. I expected an embarrassment of riches. Pondering whether picking tomatoes would be more or less rewarding than picking oranges, and unable to make up my mind, I decided to let the employers’ offers lure me to the most enticing job. At the Fort Lauderdale Public Library I asked about the resources for prospective harvesters. The starry-eyed reference librarian confessed ignorance. I was quite sure that somewhere there must be a thick binder, or even better, an endless online listing of jobs openings, and that this one information expert was simply uninformed. A second staff person, of a riper age, after giving me a long non-judgmental look from behind thick glasses, suggested that I consult the Work Force One web site. Work Force One has been contractually hired by the SWA to provide job placement services in the Fort Lauderdale area. Its web site was not very easy to navigate, but I used to be a seasoned researcher in my day and managed to find one (let me repeat with quiet force: ONE) job under the heading “farm labor”. It announced the opportunity of picking tomatoes in 33 positions at an undisclosed Private Sector establishment near Myakka City, FL US. This was also my first encounter with the as of yet mysterious “H2-A” program. The posting stipulated no minimum age, test, education or prior experience requirements, stating that

“workers must be physically able to work in hot, humid weather as well as cold weather in Winter [sic], with requisite physical strength and endurance to repeat the picking process rapidly, working skillfully [as in an unskilled job] with their hands, carrying a large number of sacks or tomato harvest buckets. General farm work will include lifting and moving plastic on rolls and other weighted [sic] items of 50 to 75 pounds or more frequently during the work day. Uneven footing in rows and soft soil will be encountered.”

I knew at once I was fully qualified. Point B of Job Description was somewhat less straightforward: “Adverse Effect Wage Rate of $8.56 per hour applies […] No Bonus. Many Piece Rates Apply: [a list of piece rates followed].” Was I supposed to be paid $8.56/hour just for showing up, and also, “$0.50 per 24 quart bucket and up”? For a prospective domestic unskilled worker, with no education requirements, the pubilshed formulation of this single most important aspect of a job is less than edifying. At the time I figured that if Mexicans are willing to leave their families for many months at a time for the prospect of this pay, it must be worth a try. The last line on the Work Force One site read: “To display more information including how to apply for this job, click the button below.” Upon clicking, I was informed that I must register with Work Force One before becoming worthy of further information. The registration pages contained the usual nine yards, education, previous employment, all utterly impertinent to the job order, which required little else beside the presence of four extremities in good working order, opposable thumbs and a dependable cardiovascular system. Next day I took two buses and within less than two hours I arrived at the Work Force One office in Fort Lauderdale. I failed to persuade the receptionist into just letting me apply for the job. If it says register, then register you must. So I did. Cowed by her staunchness, I took some license relating my education and work history, figured that some understatement is at least as pardonable, for the sake of obtaining gainful employment with the Anonymous Private Sector in Myakka City, FL US, as crossing the Rio Grande with a hired coyote. After having registered, I once again reached for the magic e-button: click to apply. But instead of an address, a phone number, or yet another form to fill out I got the stern injunction to go see a Placement Specialist, whatever that is. Why does a migrant farmworker need a specialist to place him, I didn’t know (now I do), but I went up to the same receptionist. She informed me that I am not yet fully qualified to see a placement specialist: I must be orientated first. This ritual of initiation is offered on certain days, and luckily tomorrow is one. And it was the third day. I showed up in a timely fashion (two buses, less than two hours one way). An affable lady gave us a slide show (Microsoft Powerpoint), from which I remember two resources we were informed of: a resumé writing wo rkshop (I did not need a resumé) and a dress-for-success workshop, with the availability of presentable clothing from charity (just how fancy ought a tomato picker to dress?). The other information was less useful. Having imbibed it qualified me to sign up for an interview with the much longed-for placement specialist who will presumably give me the name of the farm, its address and phone number. I signed up and waited. I sat for a half hour in the wrong row of chairs and had to be set straight. I moved to the right row, and waited some more. A kindly gentlemen sat next to me and tried to start a conversation. On the third day of my quest I was less genial than usual. Undaunted, Ed Rosario introduced himself as the Manager of the Work Force One Office, gave me his card and told me that he was concerned watching me wait for a long time. As if by magic, at this point my name was called. I moved to the cubicle of the kafkian placement specialist. I gave her the number (9270630) of the job order about which I came. Upon looking up my data in the computer she told me that she couldn’t help me, for my address was in Massachusetts, while Work Force One serves Florida. My protest summonned the supervisor, who reassured the specialist that even Yankees may be helped, or something to this effect. We were ready for phase two, to verify my eligibility for employment. She asked for my Social Security card. I avoid carrying that flimsy and minute document, but having foreseen that I shall be called upon to prove my lawful existence, I produced my passport. The specialist found this proof unacceptable. Again protests from my part, supervisor summonned again. Supervisor examines the whimsical document (cover portrait, pages landscape, then portrait), turns it this way and that, then asks: “How does this prove that you are an American citizen?” I point at the cover, then at the injunction of the Secretary of State printed on page one. Argument won. Supervisor departs, specialist turns to the screen, then dials a telephone number. No answer. She jots down a name, Chuck Hautot, just like this, no Job Title, no Farm Name, and a phone number, for me to try later. “Would you please print out for me the page from where you copied this?” “Not permitted.” I went to see Mr. Ed Rosario, the office manager, whom I was fortunate to have met earlier. He invited me into his office. I briefly mentioned the Specialist’s and the Supervisor’s conundrum with the US Passport and its virtues, and dwelled in more detail on the fruits of my three days’ labor: Chuck Hautot’s phone number, voicing my doubt that any job related information available at Work Force One should be classified. After a brief aparté with the Supervisor, Mr. Rosario gave me the requested printout and volunteered the following piece of further information. The sentence in the job order that read : “ALL QUALIFIED UNITED STATES DOMESTIC WORKERS (CITIZENS AND FOREIGN WORKERS WITH VALID WORK VISAS) INCLUDING MSFW AND NON-MSFW WORKERS MAY BE REFERRED”, by virtue of a confidential agreement, has the opposite meaning. Because it was typed ALL CAPS, this meant that the job SHOULD NOT be offered to domestic workers. “They [the employer, that is] are required to advertise the job, but they want to hire only H2-A foreign workers” (and this is how I first learned who H2-As are). If hitherto I genuinely wished to live the simple life, now I became positively keen on learning why there is no simple life on a Florida farm. My interest grew over time, lead me to read up on it and eventually write this.

If this narrative seems tedious it merely reflects the excruciating tediousness of my endeavor to find a job in a field where domestic workers are needed and missed. To resume.

This is where the narrative of my job search ends, and that of my employment with Grainger Farms, Inc. begins. I never picked a single tomato. On day four I spoke with Chuck Hautot, the Manager of the stilll unnamed farm. Rather than asking me anything, Mr. Hautot tried to dissuade me from the job his company was advertising. Having failed, he refused to help me getting to the farm. I purchased my own bus ticket and travelled hours across state to Bradenton. From there I had no means to continue my journey other than my own two feet. I walked several miles in the August heat and hitchhiked for another twenty (illegal in Florida). Once I arrived at the jobsite, Mr. Hautot flat-out refused to hire me. I spent the night until the return bus sitting at a picnic table at the Bradenton Greyhound station.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bună Ziua!
Eu sunt Vlad, unul dintre membrii Radio Whisper, un radio anti-manele dedicat bloggerilor şi nu numai.
Am vizionat cu atenţie blogul tău şi vreau să spun că am fost foarte fascinat de ceea ce am găsit. Am fost atras de subiectele interesante şi de originalitatea articolelor. Felicitări ! Încep să îl citesc cu drag.
Noi promovăm la radio diferite articole ale bloggerilor, iar azi am promovat un articol de-al tău ; am specificat sursa articolului şi am deschis şi un subiect pe baza acestuia. Dacă doreşti, poţi să ne recomanzi orice articol şi noi îl vom promova.
Cu scuzele de rigoare pentru acest mesaj de tip spam,acest mesaj este dedicat tie si la cei care merita care ii citim aproape zi de zi.
Ne-ar face plăcere, de asemenea, să ştim că ai dori să ne susţii în acest proiect de radio şi să accepţi o eventuală colaborare.
Pe Radio Whisper se difuzează toate genurile de muzică, exceptând manele şi piesele necenzurate, avem şi câteva emisiuni, ştiri etc. Ne-am propus să realizăm un proiect mare, iar pentru asta avem nevoie de susţinerea şi ajutorul tău şi al celorlalţi colegi bloggeri. Dorim să creăm o echipă numeroasă, de oameni cu un talent aparte şi m-am gândit că, poate, ai vrea să ni te alături şi să colaborăm, binenţeles, pe unul dintre domeniile care îţi place. Dorim, de asemenea,sa iti acordam un scurt interviu. Pentru noi sunt importante ideile şi modul de a gândi al bloggerilor şi al ascultătorilor noştri.
Îţi mulţumesc pentru timpul acordat, iar acum îţi propun să adaugi linkul sau bannerul nostru pe blogul tău şi să ne dai add la id-ul radiowhispercom sau un email pentru a discuta mai
Mulţumesc,Cu stimă Vlad!