Georgia Labor Slavery?

By: Daniel Nardini

Ahead of the State of Georgia’s new restrictive state immigration law, many farmers have discovered that their hired help is fast disappearing. Many of the hired help are undocumented workers who help pick the fruits and vegetables on the state’s farms as well as drive the trucks and transport the state’s milk and dairy products. Many of the workers are legally in the United States, but they fear being profiled and discriminated against. So now it is estimated that up to one-third of the state’s agricultural produce will be left to rot in the fields because a lot of the skilled labor that normally picks them will not be there.

Of course this concerns Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who has charged Georgia Secretary of Agriculture Gary Black to come up with solutions. One of these solutions is using people on legal probation to go and pick the produce in the fields. When you think about it, this is a form of 21st Century slavery. They may be put to work, but how much will they be paid? How will they deal with their working conditions? Will they have rights as American workers, or will they have no rights at all since they are still on legal punishment?

And something else we should keep in mind. These people are not skilled at picking fruit or vegetables. It takes skill and experience to pick the produce and know which fruits and vegetables are ready for market and which is spoiled. This is something learned by many of the undocumented and legal workers whose skills cannot be so easily replaced. And the use of people who could be felons is making many Georgia farmers very nervous. The farmers are not so much concerned with who is undocumented or not more than if a worker could be potentially dangerous. With the previous migrant workers, farmers pretty much knew what to expect.

What it all comes down to is that the politicians in Georgia, after putting in a very stringent state immigration law like that of Arizona, did not think about the consequences it might have for their agricultural sector. Now they are seeing how it will affect their food supply and they are becoming desperate to find solutions. If this state immigration law was not passed then none of this would be happening. Worse, it means a lot of food will be left to rot and this will drive up prices dramatically at the state level. People in Georgia will be forced to pay more to much more for the food they need even though many of them are unemployed and have little or no money.

Oh yes, the governor is also proposing using the unemployed to off-set the loss of skilled hired help. But there are two problems with this. First, the unemployed are not skilled at picking produce as I have mentioned. Second, the state has mandated that employers must go through the federal E-Verify program to make sure all of their new workers are legal. You can be sure that this can take time and will cost the taxpayers in not only lost revenue but also in trying to enforce this new law. It is a sad lesson when the people of one state let the politicians look for scapegoats and pass laws that will in the end cause economic ruin and make a bad situation like the Great Recession bite that much harder.

Comments are closed.