The Grapes of Wrath

A few years back I spent some time around Canal Point, right on Lake Okeechobee in south Florida.  I was with a company doing refractory work on some boilers at a sugar mill.  We'd get up on top of those boilers and take in the view.  For as far as the eye can see there is nothing but sugar cane, irrigation ditches, alligators and mosquitoes.  One day I went to lock out a circuit breaker.  There were so many cobwebs and spiders in the power room that I could not see across it.  The room was no bigger than a single car garage.

I talked with a local worker, he tells me his side of the story of how it all works, having done it all his life.  The illegals cross the border, hitch hiking some of the way, and taking a bus part of the way to get to the sugar fields.  It's a regular crop with regular timing.  They know when to come, they've been doing it for years, and everyone knows the routine.  

For six months these workers operate the tractors, mowing and hauling cane back to the mill for processing, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  There are hotel rooms, but not enough for all the workers.  Guys will cover the floor of a room for 40 bucks a night.  That's with the weekly rate.  These fellows earn 10 bucks an hour, so the 5 bucks a night for a room is affordable.  They live on beans, some meat, and tortillas.  At the mill the boilers run continuously and have boxes on the sides with doors.  Inside the box it gets nice and warn and stays steady all day.  The guys put a #10 can of dry beans with some water, cover it with foil, come back at the end of the day and the beans are done.  They take it back to the hotel, cook up the tortillas on the back of a truck they all chipped in on years ago.  The hotel lets them keep the truck in the back 6 months of the year because they know these guys will be back, and if they don't, the hotel owner will part it out.  

Friday they get paid, they head to walmart.  They cash their checks and the store has international money order right there at the service desk.  They keep about a hundred bucks to get them through the week and send the rest home.  They'll send home 500 bucks a week every week for 6 months.  This is a fortune in the Latin-American countries where a good wage for a months is less than $500.  In a season they can send home a few years pay.  They will do whatever the boss wants, show up every day, work all day without a break, and never complain. 

When the season is over, they head to walmart to cash that last check, stuff a steak in their pants and walk out the door.  The Sheriff picks them up for shoplifting, turns them over to the INS.  The INS gives them a free bus ride to the border in air conditioned comfort.  

This is how your sugar is made, your apples are harvested, and your lettuce is picked and packed.  These are jobs in America that could be held by American citizens if they were willing to do the work, not complain, and live in what I would call 'Nasty' hotel rooms (I stayed in one).  These workers are not worried about medical or dental insurance, 401k, days off, family leave or personal time.  Minimum wage laws mean squat to them when they send home 2 months pay every week.  The mill gets the labor it needs for a song and spends some money on the political campaigns to keep the same officials elected so nothing changes to gum up the works.  

This has been going on for decades.
This is why your food is cheap.
This is the workforce of Big Ag.