Ga.’s farm-labor crisis going exactly as planned

Gov. Nathan Deal signs a tough illegal-immigration bill on May 13.

Gov. Nathan Deal signs a tough illegal-immigration bill on May 13, with House Speaker David Ralston, left, and bill sponsor Rep. Matt Ramsey, right, looking on.

After enactment of House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.

It might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

The resulting manpower shortage has forced state farmers to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal was forced to order a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.

“The agriculture industry is the number one economic engine in Georgia and it is my sincere hope to find viable and law-abiding solutions to the current problem our farmers face,” Deal said in announcing the findings. In the meantime, Deal proposes that farmers try to hire the 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers estimated to live in southwest Georgia.

Somehow, I suspect that would not be a partnership made in heaven for either party.

According to the survey, more than 6,300 of the unclaimed jobs pay an hourly wage of $7.25 to $8.99, or an average of roughly $8 an hour. Over a 40-hour work week in the South Georgia sun, that’s $320 a week, before taxes, although most workers probably put in considerably longer hours. Another 3,200 jobs pay $9 to $11 an hour. And while our agriculture commissioner has been quoted as saying Georgia farms provide “$12, $13, $14, $16, $18-an-hour jobs,” the survey reported just 169 openings out of more than 11,000 that pay $16 or more.

In addition, few of the jobs include benefits — only 7.7 percent offer health insurance, and barely a third are even covered by workers compensation. And the truth is that even if all 2,000 probationers in the region agreed to work at those rates and stuck it out — a highly unlikely event, to put it mildly — it wouldn’t fix the problem.

Given all that, Deal’s pledge to find “viable and law-abiding solutions” to the problem that he helped create seems naively far-fetched. Again, if such solutions existed, they should have been put in place before the bill ever became law, because this impact was entirely predictable and in fact intended.

It’s hard to envision a way out of this. Georgia farmers could try to solve the manpower shortage by offering higher wages, but that would create an entirely different set of problems. If they raise wages by a third to a half, which is probably what it would take, they would drive up their operating costs and put themselves at a severe price disadvantage against competitors in states without such tough immigration laws. That’s one of the major disadvantages of trying to implement immigration reform state by state, rather than all at once.

The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.

In fact, with a federal court challenge filed last week, you have to wonder whether state officials aren’t secretly hoping to be rescued from this mess by the intervention of a judge. But given how the Georgia law is drafted and how the Supreme Court ruled in a recent case out of Arizona, I don’t think that’s likely.

We’re going to reap what we have sown, even if the farmers can’t.

– Jay Bookman

619 comments Add your comment

ANGEl_BHAM

June 15th, 2011
1:14 pm

By law the paid what they supposed. ITS CALLED MINUMUN WAGE.

You see the prices in blueberries 3.98 for 4oz…. what you think is gonna be on a few months….

ppl in america is spoil… work for the minumun wage and keep working so you can earn a better paid. And Companies paid what the supposed, if they paid more, products prices increse, then we complaint about something else…..

STOP COMPLAINING GET YOU ASS TO THE FIELDS… 8 dollars and hours is more paid that working for McDonalds…. But you preffer flip burges on the A/C than work on the 100 degrees sun.

Priscilla Padron

June 15th, 2011
2:59 pm

Probationers working on Georgia farms?

First, will they even apply? The law says probationers are required to seek “suitable” work.*

Work on South Georgia farms is not “unskilled.” It requires a lot of conditioning, able bodies, quick responses and endurance. It is back-breaking and skin-destructing. Many of the workers have pterygium (a benign, white growth on the cornea), due to sun exposure. Needless to say, skin cancers are a huge risk. Housing is usually abysmal.

Can farmers also provide emergency medical services for untrained workers, because they will surely need it.

Governor Deal’s solution is impractical.

Let’s stop messing with ill-conceived state laws and put pressure on our Senators and Representatives to implement immigration reform on a national level. It can be done.

*GA PROBATION
TERMS & CONDITIONS
(5) Work faithfully at suitable employment insofar as may be possible;

Daniel

June 15th, 2011
4:01 pm

stupid rednecks !

Viridian Ideals

June 15th, 2011
6:25 pm

Quick question for all the people harping on the fact that these workers are here illegally: Why are you so hell-bent at getting these people out of your state at (apparently) great cost to one of the largest economic drivers in your state? It seems rather un-American to punish people in such a way who are busting their butts doing honest miserable labor with the hope of providing a better life for themselves and their families.

Viridian Ideals

June 15th, 2011
7:00 pm

Viridian Ideals

June 15th, 2011
7:49 pm

Bueller…??

jgo

June 15th, 2011
8:29 pm

I don’t see any unintended consequences. It’s all playing out to plan… except for one thing. US citizens ARE willing to do farm labor. We have done farm labor. But we expect to be treated decently, too. We will continue to object to the flood of illegal aliens (and excessive legal guest-workers and immigrants), until the games are brought to an end, the borders secured, and sanity restored.

vuduchld

June 15th, 2011
8:49 pm

Me, I say let them crops rot because you bottom feedin Jawjians sure are not going out there to pick them veggies. Heck, Deal, needs to get out there and start pickin, he surely can use the extra cash seeing that he’s broke (lmao). He is one of many examples with your sorry state, too many dumb people running it, now you’ve shot yourselves in the foot. If I lived in this lowly state I sure wouldn’t want some grimy, slimy probationer coming on my farm picking fruit. I say get the average hillbilly Jawjian, the ones who want this law so bad to get out there in them fields and start pickin. That is what I want to see (LOL)

vuduchld

June 15th, 2011
8:50 pm

Hey jgo @ 8:29 PM

Get your sorry meth infused ass out there and start pickin boy!!

lynn everitt

June 15th, 2011
9:26 pm

Our laws are to protect the illegals and legal citizens. When farmers refuse to stop picking up their workers on the corner the day they need them, it shows a lack of planning. And we know they hate paper work.
So Jay, keep supporting the problem that encourages many to come here and put themseleves in danger of being robbed, raped, murdered, human trafficing etc as they try to get here. And keep supporting the criminals that are hurting georgia citizens. Very nice of you Jay.

jeong kim

June 15th, 2011
10:54 pm

So, In coming July who is going to arrest all of the school teacher who are harboring illeagl immigrant students.

My Thoughts

June 16th, 2011
5:27 pm

I read a handful of posts and “Finn McCool” is right on with all his posts. If you put prisoners to work in the fields, then you’ll have more people being arrested on BS charges just to get free labor for someone who’s making back door deals with the right people. To profit (free labor) from arresting people, is a no-no. We want less prisoners, not more. We have about 5% of the world population……and 25% of it’s prisoners……….because we already have a corrupt legal system. Don’t make it worse by telling them they can provide free labor for those who donate to their campains.

DadOThree

June 16th, 2011
5:31 pm

Our schools on July 1st are going to become more healthy due to a decrease in Tuberculosis. Our hospitals will be more profitable due to a down surge of illegals seeking free care. This is truly a needed bill for the health of Georgia’s Kids. Love it.

George Watson

June 16th, 2011
7:48 pm

There is a small irony in that Georgians will not be able to buy so many of those new cars from Alabama, where they enacted similar legislation. I would boycott their autos, but our own small minded leaders have done a much better job of penalizing them. What goes around…

[...] Ga.’s farm-labor crisis going exactly as planned | Jay Bookman. [...]

RICKY

June 18th, 2011
9:04 pm

ty webb

boy o’boy, how did we ever do anything without those illegals?

YOU HAVE NOT!

Realist

June 19th, 2011
4:01 pm

@DadOThree School children all must have physicals. TB does find it’s way into all kinds of places, sometimes from those born in the USA who travel abroad. Often “haters” and “talking heads” blame undocumented people much like bullies in a school yard. Repeating their rhetoric continues the myths and misinformation.

Now, if you want to complain about the lack of actual exams that sometimes pass as school physicals, that’s another issue and totally unrelated to undocumented people or farm labor.

Realist

June 19th, 2011
4:18 pm

Thankfully teachers and school bus driver’s, are part of the three groups who are exempt from HB87 in the course of their duties, but interestingly churches are NOT. “Privately funded social services” organization are generally different than religious organizations. So, if you help at church you might want to start asking all who attended or all who are helped to “show their papers” or you and/the church board might find yourselves looking for bail money AND an attorney to defend you. You might be found “not guilty” BUT you will still have to pay those attorney fees and spend countless hours/days dealing with the mess.

See section 16 of HB87 “shall not include a person providing services to infants, children, or victims of a crime; a person providing privately funded social services; a person providing emergency medical service; or an attorney or his or her employees for the purpose of representing a criminal defendant.”

Realist

June 19th, 2011
4:40 pm

No the farmers weren’t breaking the law by hiring migrant workers. Farmers completed whatever paperwork was needed. They aren’t ICE agents, trained to examine documents. They weren’t required to check immigration status.

REQUIRING all new hires – in CERTAIN situations (not all) – be run through E-Verify is PART of HB87. And in order to USE E-Verify, the person must have already BEEN hired – it can’t be used as a screening tool. Georgia will need to be certain all rural areas are covered by wi-fi so farmers can keep a laptop in the truck so they CAN use E-Verify in the field. But first the federal government needs to fix the system and ramp up capacity as it’s notoriously error prone and not designed for widespread use.

Taxes & FICA get deducted (assuming the employer does that) and were reported on whatever 9 digit number was provided. The government gets the money; but the undocumented worker does NOT get credit.

Social Security returns a “no match” when the name, sex, & SS # don’t match as they should. Undocumented workers are actually FUNDING Social Security for the rest of us, which is one reason I suspect that immigration reform is repeated blocked by special interest groups. By the time a “no match” is returned, the worker has usually moved on following the crops.