Ke it h Da n ne m il le r tance was available for impoverished farmworkers. Without hesitation, a Mr. Ligas answered, “None.” Unless a farmworker is aged, blind or disabled, the most he or she can qualify for is food stamps. Children can qualify for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, but ordinarily they must be from one-parent families. Labor contractors The main source of confusion is the labor contractor’s method of recruiting workers at the piece-rates set by packers, At the end of a day, there is no mention of the number of hours worked; the picker is interested only in being paid the agreed-upon amount for what he gathered. If the field or grove he’s just worked isn’t in good condition and the contractor sees that earnings are going to be below the minimum hourly wage, he simply fudges the payroll sheet to show a smaller number of working hours for the crew. Then it appears that the workers have earned at least the minimum wage. Even when wages legitimately meet the minimum standard,. irregular and unpredictable hours discourage pickers from seeking work. Picture this: Farmworkers get up before dawn to go out with a contractor. The crew arrives at a field to find that the packing shed, to meet its own schedule, has called in several crews to pick the crop as soon as possible. In two hours, the field is stripped clean. Then the farmworkers must wait for the contractor to take the truck to the packing shed for unloading because of poor scheduling, this is often a long waitbefore they can be either transported to another field or released for the day. Even at twice the minimum wage, farmworkers don’t earn much their earnings are barely worth the frustration. A popular and understandable assumption made about farmworkers is that they work for farmers. This, however, isn’t true in the Valley, where only a small percentage of permanent farm employees work directly for farm owners. Typically, when a grower is ready to harvest his crops, he calls a packing shed operator, who calls a labor contractor, who hires the workers. If a farmworker has a problem with wages or working conditions, the only recourse is to talk to the labor contractor. The worker and the farm owner are thus effectively insulated from one another. As a result, large farm owners and packers tend to be blissfully ignorant of the true situation of farmworkers. In turn, this state of affairs leads not only to an inefficient and unfair use of locally available labor, but to uncalled-for aspersions on the character of the workers. Every year, despite the glut of workers, the growers have difficulty getting crews to harvest their crops. For at least seven years now, they have blamed the scarcity of willing workers on the increased availability of welfare money. Both growers and packers are quick to haul out payroll rccords to prove to visitors that, by viorking piece-rate, a harvester can make at least the minimum wage, and that a good picker can earn much more. This line of thinking is so common among Valley growers that after I heard Chan Connoly, director of Texas A&M’s agricultural research service at Weslaco, explain that welfare cut the effective labor supply, I called the Department of Public Welfare in McAllen to ask what assis
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