turn, the overall decrease in the number of available jobs and the formalized system of entry into the job market would reduce the influx of illegal entrants from Mexico. Job seniority could probably be counted on to discourage Mexicans from crossing the Rio Grande surreptitiously in search of jobs that would now be increasingly difficult for them to find. A major advantage of unionization would be the prospect of greater enforcement of laws written to improve the lot of farmworkers. As things are now, legislation already passed on behalf of farmworkers has been difficult to enforce because the workers, unprotected by any sort of job security, are hesitant to demand rights or report.employers for illegal or unfair labor practices. Under a union contract, workers protected by job security and represented by union spokesmen would not hesitate to defend their interests. It is impossible to predict all the changes that, unionization would bring to Hidalgo County. It is reasonable, however, to think that families capable of selecting and buying their own food, housing and health services on the open Market would at least be healthier and better educated. Certainly, the tax burden would fall, not only because fully employed people need less public aid, but also because they are tax payers. Not that the range of services seen in the Valley over the last ten years would become suddenly unnecessarythere still would be people who needed assistance, especially those farmworkers who did not find jobs out of the fieldsbut the cost to taxpayers would drop dramatically. But perhaps the greatest change would be the lesson of self-determination that unions would teach and the concrete evidence that things can change. John Davidson, an Austin-based freelance writer, is at work on a book about illegal aliens in the Southwest. Thii is his first appearance in the Observer. The same department is supposed to regulate working conditions in Texas, but its purview does not include farmworkers. Dallas Sasser, head of the department’s labor complaints office, told the Observer that his investigators lack the statutory authority to go onto farms at will, and that the department doesn’t even keep statistics on accidents suffered by harvesters. “The state of Texas has provided no protection for the safety and welfare of farmworkers,” Sasser said. When Briscoe met with the Orendain delegation in the mansion, he tried to assure them that the state government was already doing a great deal for farmworkers by pointing to the performance of the Governor’s Office of Migrant Affairs, which he established in 1974. The governor cited GOMA’s $11 million budget as proof of his commitment. As it turns out, though, only about $175,000 of that amount comes from the state treasury. The rest is compliments of Uncle Samunder federal law, a state agency can be designated by the governor as the conduit for steering federal farmworker funds to local projects for manpower training, adult education and the like. So 98 percent of the outlay Briscoe took credit for comes from the feds; GOMA is merely a way station for money from Washington. \(Less than a year after puffing up GOMA as the cutting edge of his administration’s farmworker program, Briscoe has been embarrassed by disclosures that the migrant office has been mishandling job training funds. GOMA’s two top officials, Rogelio Perez and Joaquin Rodriguez, have been suspended, charged with forgery, and indicted for tampering with witnesses called to testify before a court of inquiry that was investigating the misuse of federal manThen there’s the Good Neighbor Commission, which has a legislative mandate to come up with programs to improve the lot of farmworkers. But it has no programs. About half of its cur rent budget of $158,000 goes to pay a staff of six that devotes most of its time “devising and employing methods by which inter-American understanding and good will may be promoted”the commission’s other chief task. This is a safer line of work than migrant problems, more in keeping with the wishes of the Legislature which, in 1977, passed a budget restriction on the GNC to prohibit it from spending any of its 1978 and 1979 appropriations on migrant projects. \(The GNC has asked the attorney general for an opinion on the legality of this The studies Texas farmworkers haven’t been completely ignored by Texas officialdom. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to study them. The GNC, for example, submits an annual report to the governor on the state’s migrant laborers. GOMA, Texas A&M, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Department of Community Affairs are among the state or state-related agencies that have issued special farmworker reports in the past six years, all of them concluding the same thingthat conditions are terrible and the only sensible response would be to take steps to increase farmworker wages. But nothing has been done. In at least one instance, a report on farmworker conditions has generated another report. In 1972, the TDCA drew up a report for the 62nd Legislature, which was then meeting in special session. The members did nothing with the study, but ordered a special interim committee to review the TDCA’s work and recommend to the 63rd Legislature remedial action it might take. The committee issued a report on the report, called “Poverty: A Time for State Policy.” But no policy or action of any kind was forthcoming from the 63rd. Nor the 64th. Nor the 65th. Now, of course, it’s time for another study. The 65th Legislature established a joint interim farmworker study committee, and charged it with making legislative recommendations to the 66th, which convenes next January. The committee is chaired by Rep. Tony Garcia \(Dwill hold a series of public hearings in the Rio Grande Valley and in West Texas over the next few months and have their report ready for Speaker Billy Clayton by the end of the year. The interim committee will have the services of the . House agriculture and livestock committee at its disposal. The first hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 24 in McAllen, but the committee has already made one false start, so interested parties should phone in advance of going. A hearing had been set for last Dec. 6 in Pharr, only to be cancelled at the last moment, with so little notice that one committee member didn’t get the word and traveled several hundred miles needlessly. Many wonder why the committee has been formed at all. Everyone of a mind to be is certainly aware of the predicament of farmworkersthe Texas Catholic Conference, for example, pointed out that “Some members of the interim legislative study [committee] could probably walk out their back doors and observe the plight of migrant farmworkers firsthand.” While Garcia is a supporter of collective bargaining rights for farmworkers \(he told the Observer that a bargaining bill was the only significant legislative recommendation that the will have the report in his hands’ and, if he remains speaker, will be able to smother any such proposal. So no one is the least bit optimistic about the likelihood of progress this time around, though it is generally agreed that an official committee recommendation for bargaining rights would be a step forward. Looking back over the responses to the needs of farmworkers issuing from state government leaders over the last ten years, it might well be that the best deal offered so far was the cookies-andpunch spread at the governmor’s mansion. At least the marchers could make a meal of it. immorimma. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11 iNIMMONOISVIONOMMUMMININSIMIIII1100111.114
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