My work as an advocate for poor and working class families is a labor of love but also one of necessity. Those of us out in the trenches, from the Coachella Valley and Santa Bárbara to the San Juaquin Valley, can share untold stories of the harassment, physical abuse, and many other forms of oppression from farmers and those who support their interests.
Even before Donald Trump, intimidation strategies had been the standard toward anyone doing farmworker advocacy. I always wondered why shedding light on the needs and concerns of those who harvest their crops would be a threat to a multibillion-dollar industry. The ag and dairy industry’s public face of a bright and caring smile has been an effective tool, and many of us bought it. Yet their newfound pride under a Trump presidency has unmasked them, their zeal, and their actions toward us. Perhaps they simply can’t get over the fact they lost to Cesar Chavez, a poor farm worker whose birthday the United States celebrates on March 31.
Rep. Devin Nunes’s weak congressional record is hardly what got him the attention of a newly elected president, but his relationship with Big Ag did. The industries and associations such as the Farm Bureau invested millions to ensure they had a seat at the White House table. Take note that one of only two places in California visited by Trump during his campaign was Tulare and its ag and dairy leaders.
The ag and dairy industries want to expand slave labor disguised as a guest worker program. In 1964, the federal government ended the bracero program due to the inhuman treatment the farmworkers had received from those who benefited from their exploitation. Today, those working under the H2A guest worker program usually don’t know their rights or the English language. There are no work safeguards or guarantees against incidents of abuse. This is, for them, how the administration will “Make America Great Again.”
Recently, I was in a meeting with several farm labor contractors who said that just this past year, they had lost contracts with the ranchers and packing houses. None of the contractors knew who had underbid them, but they all had crews of non-guest workers ready to work. “This is a violation of labor code,” said one of the contractors, when I pointed out that I had just came in contact with four large school buses, each full of H2A guest workers, on my way to the meeting.
The agricultural and dairy industries are now attempting to reset public opinion by fabricating that there is a labor shortage. I find it hard to prove that there is, in fact, a labor shortage. For example, in Tulare County the unemployment rate is 12.2 percent. An expansion of the H2A program will effectively prevent farmworkers from organizing and maintaining safe working conditions. California’s passage of a farmworker overtime bill only adds to the list of the financial benefits this industry gains by hiring guest workers.
In Tulare County, a group of activists has been reaching out to friends and allies around the state, including in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, for help. “The industry’s political influence in government is effective by electing their candidates to do their bidding” states Ruben Macareno, a 2016 candidate for Assembly District 26. This area has the worst air quality in the country due mainly to unimaginable amounts of pesticides used in and around communities. Those who are negatively affected by pesticide use are 91 percent Hispanic, states Pesticide Action Network. Tulare County is ground zero in water poisoned by carcinogens due to industry practices.
Many residents in Congressmember Devin Nunes’s district strongly believe the reason he has shamefully refused to investigate Trump’s Russian ties is because of his secret deal with Trump. As one dairyman stated, “Well, what he told us is that the wall is going to have a door.”