Would you like a job earning $17 an hour? That’s roughly the median income in Colquitt County, so about half the workers here would see that as an improvement — some of them a huge improvement.
But there’s a catch, several actually:
• You must pass a drug test, but that’s common for a lot of jobs.
• The days are long — maybe 10 or 12 hours at peak times — and a work week may be six or seven days.
• The work is almost all outdoors, whether it’s hot or cold. If the rain’s not too hard, you’ll work through it too. And it’s physical — lifting, pulling, carrying, loading.
• No health insurance or other benefits.
• Oh, and the job only lasts a couple of weeks. If you don’t have another one lined up behind it, you’re out of work.
And that’s a fairly accurate description of seasonal farm labor. If you want in, contact the Georgia Department of Labor because there are local farmers who want you.
But if you’re not interested, those farmers have to get their workers from somewhere, and usually it’s Mexico.
The federal H-2A program allows guest workers to come from various nearby countries to work on American farms for set periods of time. Farmers say it’s a complicated bureaucratic mess, but it beats the alternative: Watching their crops rot in the fields for lack of workers.
Some changes have been proposed to the program, as described in today’s SunLight Project story linked at left, and farmers have reacted as one would expect: Praising changes that will simplify the program and criticizing those that stand to increase the cost of it to growers.
It’s just one more branch of an immigration policy that’s too complicated by far. But it’s a branch that local farmers depend upon like they do the sunshine and rain to make their crops. And the success of those farmers is the foundation of whatever prosperity Colquitt County enjoys.
We depend on farmers. Farmers depend on H-2A, so we support any change to H-2A that benefits farmers — so long as those changes continue to protect the rights and wellbeing of the workers too.