A tough new law cracking down on illegal immigrants and those who hire or “harbor” them has created a severe shortage of agricultural labor in Georgia right at harvest time.
The head of a farmer’s group estimates that the state’s $1.1 billion fruit-and-vegetable industry could suffer a loss of $300 million.
Gary Paulk, a blackberry farmer interviewed by PRI’s the World, says he has lost $200,00-250,00 this season, as unpicked berries rot. “Having a fake ID, a first-time offense can be up to 10 years, and a $100,000 fine,” Paulk said. “I mean that’s, that’s like a felony. A felony to use a fake ID to get a job to support your family.”
To combat the shortage, Governor Nathan Deal has authorized using criminal offenders out on probation to replace the mostly Latino migrant workers. It’s not working out so well:
The first batch of probationers started work last week at a farm owned by Dick Minor…So far, the experiment at Minor’s farm is yielding mixed results. On the first two days, all the probationers quit by mid-afternoon, said Mendez, one of two crew leaders at Minor’s farm.
“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, ‘Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,'” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer. “They just left, took off across the field walking.”…
By law, each worker must earn minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour. But there’s an incentive system. Harvesters get a green ticket worth 50 cents every time they dump a bucket of cucumbers. If they collect more than 15 tickets an hour, they can beat minimum wage.
The Latino workers moved furiously Thursday for the extra pay.
Jose Ranye, 37, bragged he’s the best picker in Americus, the largest community near the farm. His whirling hands filled one bucket in 25 seconds. He said he dumped about 200 buckets of cucumbers before lunch, meaning he earned roughly $20 an hour. He expected to double his tickets before the end of the day.
None of the probationers could keep pace. Pay records showed the best filled only 134 buckets a day, and some as little as 20. They lingered at the water cooler behind the truck, sat on overturned red buckets for smoke breaks and stopped working to take cell phone calls.
In short, we have turned good workers into criminals and turned criminals into bad workers, losing on both ends of the deal. Incredible.