Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Asparagus growers in eastern Washington State are scrambling to find enough workers to cash in on their crop’s rising popularity without much success. “We have a labor shortage, pure and simple,” says Dan Fazio of the Washington Farm Labor Association. Farmers are being forced to leave 10 percent of this year’s crop uncut, which is costing them, according to the state’s asparagus commissioner a combined $200,000 a day. But one place growers are not looking for labor is the unemployment office — even though the jobless rate in Franklin County, where most of the asparagus is grown, is 10.7 percent. Check out the rest of today’s transcript for more…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: “Immigration issues at center of labor shortage for Washington State farmers.” This is the story I was just talking about a moment ago.
Asparagus growers in eastern Washington State are scrambling to find enough workers to cash in on their crop’s rising popularity without much success. “We have a labor shortage, pure and simple,” says Dan Fazio of the Washington Farm Labor Association. Farmers are being forced to leave 10 percent of this year’s crop uncut, which is costing them, according to the state’s asparagus commissioner [Mike: How do you have an asparagus commissioner, Washington, by the way?] a combined $200,000 a day. But one place growers are not looking for labor is the unemployment office — even though the jobless rate in Franklin County, where most of the asparagus is grown, is 10.7 percent. “I’m pretty confident that if the average unemployed citizen in Franklin County came out and cut asparagus, it would be an unmitigated disaster,” says Alan Schreiber. “It’s hard work and you’ve got to be productive.”
Mike: [mocking] “That’s right, hard work is something we don’t care too much over here. What is this hard work you speak of? I’m not getting out there and doing, no, no, no. I want part of that virtual economy work. I want to hang around in an office with a white shirt and a blue tie and a nice pair of Dockers slacks and hang around the water cooler and not actually do anything all day long, be in one of those wireless phone commercials where I pretend I’ve got an air guitar, when I have a guitar on my phone and I can hang out and update my Facebook and Twitter pages. I don’t want to be out there in the sun picking asparagus. Screw that and screw you.” Unbelievable, is it not?
Growers say the answer is immigration reform that would allow people who are in the country illegally to stay and work toward legal status.
Mike: So Washington State asparagus farmers are having to deal with having the asparagus picked that Americans won’t pick. Some of you remain convinced that all that is needed is for the election of a Republican president and a Republican senate and that’ll show those damn Chinese we mean business. Maybe if we picked our own asparagus we could show the Chinese and the Mexicans at the same time that we mean business. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
“For some reason agribusiness seems to think they’re exempt from paying a living wage or from providing suitable conditions for workers,” says Eric Ruark of FAIR, Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform. “And they think that because they’ve been able to get away with it.”
Mike: Sir, you obviously understand nothing about free markets and market-based economy. If I am unwilling to pay six dollars for a little one-pound bushel of asparagus, I would have to pay six dollars so that there could be air-conditioned break quarters, mandatory breaks once every two hours and long lunch hours with wireless access to Facebook and Twitter accounts, eight-hour workdays, all weekends and federal holidays off and all holidays paid, 401k plans and this, that and the other. Of course, I don’t do weekends and I don’t work beyond eight hours a day and if I do, it costs you overtime.
Of course, if you had those kind of conditions where asparagus or lettuce or peppers or anything else is picked, they would cost a lot more. The American consumer is not willing to pay that much. The market will bear what the market will bear. The market will not bear “no dirt under the fingernail” asparagus pickers who are pampered with union rules and a sedentary way of life. That’s just not going to happen. It’s not going to work. Either you have people that want the work — and it’s usually young people who can’t find any other jobs.
So you mean to tell me this 26 percent unemployment rate — if you dumbass occupiers want a job, go to Washington State and learn how to pick asparagus. [mocking] “Man, I’m not leaving my parents’ basement, like put a scythe or some blade in my hand and a bag, man, and drag it around and pick asparagus. Like, no way, man. That’s not why I went to like business college, man. That’s not what I had in mind, dude. Besides, I like hanging out in my parents’, like, basement.”
This is who the [r]epublicans out there have become. There is no desire to actually fix one’s lot in life by gainful employment even if it means hard labor. People just don’t want to do it. [mocking] “Mike, you’re just making a big deal out of one story.” No, I’m not. Remember the story I read on the air about six months ago about the Alaskan fish factory, the guy who runs the Alaskan fish factories? AG, remember that?
He used to go down to the University of Montana in the ‘70s and ‘80s and he said all he had to do was go to one college, just University of Montana, I believe it was, and he was able to recruit enough summer workers to populate all the fisheries in Alaska. The kids would go up there. They’d be put up for the summer. It was hard, smelly work in the fish factory. When they were done, though, they had earned enough dough for the entire year to live off of and pay their school and what have you. He stopped going to American universities because he couldn’t find any kids to go. Where did he go? He started going to Poland. He was able to fill his positions like that.
This isn’t just a one-off here with the asparagus pickers. This happens all over the place. Why is that? Is it because they haven’t been raised to do that kind of menial work? [mocking] “We’re an advanced country now. We don’t have laborers anymore.” Gee, I just wonder what could possibly go wrong with that theorem. Is it that it’s a lot easier to get paid not to work? Is it that because someone that’s actually working, like myself and many of you people out there, can have our property, our wealth and our productivity stolen from us at the point of the tax collector’s gun and transferred to some central building where it is then distributed to people who won’t take the asparagus picker job? I’m sorry, that’s offensive. Them’s fighting words there. The head of the asparagus association is saying the only way we’re going to get to pick any more asparagus is if we hire illegal aliens. Here’s some more details about asparagus jobs:
Still others say state lawmakers are partially responsible for the farm worker labor shortage. Washington has among the country’s most generous unemployment benefits. [Mike: Listen to this, AG. As a matter of fact, I think we ought to move to Washington State. You’re going to want to move there after I read this to you, too.] Out-of-work people can receive up to $583 a week for 73 weeks. [Mike: Why would you ever want to work again?] It’s an amount that covers, on average, 42.3 percent of the person’s weekly wage when employed. “The state has created a disincentive to work,” says Erin Shannon of the Washington Policy Center.”
Mike: You don’t need a Washington Policy Center analyst to tell you what ought to be jumping off the page, which is that if you’re paying that kind of an unemployment wage, which it basically is, or a wage to not work, why in God’s holy name — self-respect has gone out the window. [mocking] “Well, Mike, people don’t do that because of dignity.” Is there any dignity left?
Dan Fazio, who represents growers across the state, says farm owners have been trying to match the unemployed with jobs in the fields. “There’s over 2,000 ads under state employment listings for farm workers,” says Fazio, “the vast majority of those go unfilled.” Growers fear if they paid more for labor, they’d further lose market share to foreign competition in Peru and Mexico. The Washington crop, which ranks behind only California, is valued at $23 million. Last year imports from Peru and Mexico totaled $161 million and $146 million respectively.
Mike: You see, you’re again faced with the competition from people that don’t know what a weekend is, don’t know what a 401k is, don’t know what an eight-hour workday is, don’t know what overtime is, certainly don’t know what double time is. All they know is that if they want to eat or not die and perish from the face of the earth, they have to go cut asparagus down in Colombia, Peru or Mexico. That’s what they know. You have to compete with that. You have this thing called the global market here. How are you going to do that if you have propped-up wages and pampered, prissified citizens? Seriously. We’ll work all this out. Don’t worry. We’ll just elect Republicans and that’ll fix it. How are you going to repair the soul of the people that don’t see any benefit, none, in a hard day’s work?
End Mike Church Show Transcript