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  1. #1
    Senior Member butterbean's Avatar
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    Feb 2005

    N.C. Farmers Address Labor Shortage w/Guest Workers ... 093818.htm
    Posted on Sun, Nov. 06, 2005

    N.C. farmers address labor shortage with guest workers

    News & Record of Greensboro

    GREENSBORO, N.C. - Moises Torres Ramirez came to the United States looking more like an urban cowboy than a farmhand.

    He wore a leather jacket in the mid-July heat, a tight T-shirt and jeans, cowboy boots and sunglasses, a gold cross dangling off his neck. He joked around and smiled big.

    Like thousands of his Mexican countrymen, he had come north to work as many hours as he could fit in four months on a North Carolina farm.

    Time was money, and if enough hours fell his way, he could make enough to support his family for the year.

    But on this August day a month after arriving, he sits at the kitchen table, tired and disheveled in a T-shirt and wrinkled pants. He is waiting for a brew of green herbs to boil long enough to form a soothing tea.

    "I'm not working today," he says, pointing to an undiagnosed pain in his kidneys. "The same thing happened last year."

    He does not want to go to the doctor - I'll be fine tomorrow, he says.

    The monotony of getting up and pulling tobacco all day is wearing on him. On all of them in this 11-man group.

    "I'm bored," says Mario Elias Gervacio, the foreman of this group of migrant workers on Robert Lewis' Gibsonville farm. "And the heat - it's horrible."

    And yet, despite the beating sun and the monotony, for these men and the others spread out across North Carolina's farms, this daily life is their best job option.

    Every year, these men from Mexico legally come to work the fields in North Carolina through a temporary visa program. They come to plant, tend and harvest tobacco and other crops - labor that many Americans do not want to do - for $8.24 per hour.

    These jobs, lasting four to six months, are coveted south of the border. The work allows the men to sustain their families, homes and their own farms in rural Mexico.

    But it exacts a toll - the nausea and sometimes the vomiting caused by tobacco exposure, the heatstroke from extreme temperatures. And then there's the absolute drudgery of knowing that today will be like yesterday and that tomorrow will be like today.

    Each day stacks up in the same way: the quiet humid mornings, the arcing sun on their backs, the sweat running off their faces, the afternoon buildup of thunderheads, the trip back to their shared home at dark for a quick dinner and the escape of sleep.

    The evening meal is the sustaining daily goal: a hunk of meat from the Wal-Mart SuperCenter and a cold beer to wash it down.

    Silently, they get ready each morning in the thick air of their non-air-conditioned home, pulling on pants, boots, long-sleeved shirts and bandannas.

    The favorite choice of shirt is the old service station kind, with the names of past owners sewn on the breast.

    In the morning, when the fields are wet, rain suits are taken off the line in the front yard and put on. The tobacco they are to pull is wet. Without protection, the nicotine-saturated water droplets on each plant can seep into skin and cause nausea and vomiting.

    By 6:20 a.m. the men are in their van; Gervacio is in the driver's seat. He makes the sign of the cross, then starts the engine.

    No one talks.

    For 12 hours, they will pull the sticky tobacco leaves, hunched over, bundling armloads into a moving tractor. If they do not work quickly, they cannot keep up with it.

    By 7 a.m. the heat is already oppressive. As the men emerge from the rows of yellowing plants, they are sodden.

    The harvest begins in earnest in August. The men must pull as long as possible to ensure that all the fields of tobacco under their charge are harvested. Lewis farms a mix of land he owns and rents. He says asking him how many acres he owns "is like asking a woman her dress size - it shouldn't be done." But an estimate of how long it takes to harvest each field puts his holdings about 110 acres.

    The last round of harvesting - there are four stages - pulls the top leaves of the plant. Sometimes grabbing the last leaves is the easiest; on the tallest plants, some of the leaves are at shoulder or eye level.

    The men pick vegetables, too, but tobacco is the main focus of their work. Gervacio says they have worked half-days on Sundays, traditionally their day off, the past few weeks.

    Throughout the summer, these men have coaxed the tobacco plant to its mature state: propping up whole fields when wind blew plants over; plucking the flower on top of the plant to ready it for harvesting; pouring chemicals down stems to stave off disease. After it's dried, they haul armloads of the sticky leaves to be dried, baled and stacked in a tractor-trailer for sale.

    They work beside two of Lewis' sons or alone. Gervacio, who speaks some English, makes sure the work gets done, regardless. He does not appreciate those who work slowly or take time off, such as Moises Ramirez nursing a pain back at the house.

    "It was in his head," he said of Ramirez's illness.

    The men often do not talk to each other during their day in the field or on their time off. Neither do they read. No magazines or books are in their house, which has common areas they keep tidy. Food rests in containers; clothes hang neatly out to dry.

    Spanish-language variety shows fill the entertainment void and cut the humidity and the boredom. So does soccer. On Sundays, the men play games on the lawn beside their house with men from other farms.

    But what they don't do is share stories of themselves or life back home.

    In private, they are more open.

    Horacio Hernandez, a 24-year-old worker on Lewis' farm, said he needed money for his growing family. His wife was nearing the end of her pregnancy as Hernandez prepared to make his summer journey north. But he and his wife are used to the separation, he said.

    "The money," he said, "makes it worth it."

    But in September, he abruptly returned to Mexico.

    Family problems, the men said. They did not elaborate.

    During the summer, Lewis lends his men an old Ford 12-passenger van to use for trips to the field and errands.

    On Saturday evenings, Gervacio, who has a North Carolina driver's license, drives the clay-caked, light-blue van to a bodega in Reidsville to send money home, the reason they have come. Afterward, they head to Burlington for Mexican or Chinese food.

    On a good week, each man could send more than $500 to his family in Mexico. Each worker is guaranteed at least 30 hours per week, or $247, but everyone wants to work more.

    One of the biggest complaints to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the union representing the workers, is too few hours, organizers say.

    The workers' expenses are minimal while here; housing is free and transportation to and from the United States is supposed to be reimbursed by the N.C. Growers Association. The major expense is food - and calling cards to talk to family back home.

    Deduct those expenses, and the men find that, in the four to six months they're here, they can make up to 80 percent of their income for the year.

    The week before leaving, in early October, Gervacio says he made $8,000 to $10,000 this year, about the same as last year. He can't remember the exact amount because it varies each week.

    With some of the money, the men pick up gifts before going home.

    "I bought clothes for my wife and my son," said Edilberto Portugal Mendoza, whose duffel bag was packed full for the return trip the week before leaving. He went to Wal-Mart and Costco, where he has a membership.

    On this day in mid-October he was lighthearted. In a week he would be home with his wife and son in Tepoxtlan, a city in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City.

    But going home does not mean a break.

    The next week, Mendoza would start the farming routine again. Early mornings, arcing sun, afternoon rain, home at dark.

    But the fields, they would be his. He'd be working for himself.
    RIP Butterbean! We miss you and hope you are well in heaven.-- Your ALIPAC friends

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  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    North Carolina
    I'd subscribed to the G'boro N&R for many years until I began to read this front page story last Sunday.

    I emailed the reporter and editor to express my discuss with this FRONT PAGE STORY and to cancel my subscription. I never heard back from either one of them. It's bad enough farmers depend on migrants but to write the story so obviously slanted to solicit sympathy for migrants was more than I could take. Perhaps MARTA should go to Mexico to write her stories on why migrants go north every year.

    A couple of years ago when illegals were caught working on planes in G'boro, they did a bleeding heart story about the family of one of the illegals. I got no response from emails then either.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member butterbean's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    I know these people are here legally on visas for a certain length of time. But I wish that reporters would quit with the 'poor immigrant sob stories'. It makes me numb. Its hard to have empathy when they keep shoving it down our throats.
    RIP Butterbean! We miss you and hope you are well in heaven.-- Your ALIPAC friends

    Support our FIGHT AGAINST illegal immigration & Amnesty by joining our E-mail Alerts at

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    North Carolina
    Yes, I know they're legal. It's the poor little migrant worker that riles me. I know the work's hard, but come on, at $8.64 per hr with NO housing, utilities, insurance, car payments, fuel, etc, they're making pretty good money. I sure as heck don't have $300 per week of disposable income after paying for all the above PLUS TAXES.

    ps........I have another paper in my front yard this morning. If it happens next week, I think I'll report them to the Sheriff's Office for littering :P
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