The LA Times reports on the rise in farm worker costs in California. Here are some excerpts:
The flow of labor began drying up when President Obama tightened the border. Now President Trump is promising to deport more people, raid more companies and build a wall on the southern border.
That has made California farms a proving ground for the Trump team’s theory that by cutting off the flow of immigrants they will free up more jobs for American-born workers and push up their wages.
Wages approaching $20 in some vineyards
Today, farmworkers in the state earn about $30,000 a year if they work full time — about half the overall average pay in California. Most work fewer hours.
A year ago, Leobijildo Martinez the 31-year-old from Mexico, was earning $14.75 an hour doing the same work for a different Napa company. He joined Silverado in April and now he’s making $19.50 working vineyards that produce grapes for a winery whose bottles go for about $300.
“Everything in Napa is different. They treat you differently there, they don’t pressure you, and they respect the law,” he says. “If you work here, in Stockton, you don’t have enough money.”
Machinery to pick wine grapes
About five years ago, Brad Goehring changed the wiring holding up parts of his vines so that no metal stakes exceed the height of the wire. The setup allows for a grape harvesting machine to prune the top of the vine, as well as both sides.
“I think we can eliminate, I’m just guessing, 85% of the labor on these new vineyards,” he says, reducing pruning costs from $300 per acre, on average, to $80. He plans to keep spending more on machinery, like his $350,000 tractor-like vehicle that shakes grapes off the vine and catches them before they fall to the ground.
The job is seasonal, so laborers have to alternate between long stretches without any income and then months of 60-hour weeks. They work in extreme heat and cold, and spend all day bending over to reach vegetables or climbing up and down ladders to pluck fruit in trees. If farmers upped the average wage to, say, $25 an hour, people born here might think twice. But that’s a pipe dream, many argue. “Well before we got to $25, there would be machines out in the fields, doing pruning or harvesting, or we would lose crops,” Philip Martin of UC Davis says.