Business That Support Black Market Labor


In Monday’s State of the Union address, President Bush stated,

The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders — and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We’re increasing worksite enforcement, deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings. We’ve effectively ended the policy of “catch and release” at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.

An Associated Press story in Monday’s Register Guard noted that a group of businesses have united to oppose efforts to address the growing illegal immigration problem in Oregon and the United States. Not surprisingly, this group of businesses is dominated by those businesses benefiting the most from using illegals.
And finally, I recently received a response to my column of several weeks ago relating to the impact of illegal immigration on the working poor. The author noted that there was a recent article claiming that the crack down on illegal immigration might endanger harvest of the asparagus crop in Washington because of a lack of workers.

Therein lies the rub.

By turning our backs on the serious problem of illegal immigration for all of these years and allowing the population of illegals to grow to nearly twenty million people, we have effectively created a “black market” labor economy. Because the illegals are in no position to protest, organize, strike or make demands, they are forced to accept substandard wages and working conditions. I say that they are substandard because, apparently, those using illegal immigrant labor are unable to attract those legally here to perform that work based on the wages offered and the working conditions permitted. And because even these substandard wages and working conditions are better than they can find in their own countries, these illegals continue to enter the United States by the tens of thousands each month.

But the sheer number of illegals and the longevity of these practices by the businesses represented in this new coalition have created a seeming anomaly in the nation’s workforce. These businesses argue that there are insufficient workers without the illegals. I doubt that is true, particularly in Oregon where the state’s unemployment figures remain stubbornly above 5% – over half a point above the national average. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were 110,000 unemployed Oregonians last month and that those numbers hovered around 103,000 to 100,600 during the summer and early fall months of 2007 (the growing and harvesting seasons). There are more than sufficient bodies in Oregon receiving unemployment payments to staff these businesses’ needs.

These businesses also argue that those legally here won’t perform the work — that it is too hard. What that really suggests is that these businesses are unwilling to pay wages sufficient to attract the labor or that unemployment and welfare payments and rules are so generous that it is easier to loaf than to work with no significant economic difference between the choices, or both. The former is a problem for these businesses and they, like all other businesses must pay a wage that allows them to compete for legitimate labor. The latter is a problem for government. I don’t favor a reduction in unemployment benefits or welfare for those actually in need. I do, however, favor a tightening of the rules such that you must work when jobs are available or lose your benefits.

Having said that, I acknowledge that this “black market” labor economy has created an “economic expectation” for these businesses and that they believe that a change in the status quo will be detrimental to their ability to continue profitably. It is that sentiment that underlies President Bush’s comment that, “Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.”

I don’t disagree with the sentiment but I do disagree that such sentiment is justification for not moving forward with serious solutions to the burgeoning illegal immigration problem. We already know that over 150,000 driver’s licenses have been issued to illegals by the State of Oregon and even Gov. Kulongoski acknowledges that Oregon has become a haven for those wishing to falsely obtain identification, including terrorists. It is also reasonable to assume that with the acquisition of those driver’s licenses and the Secretary of State’s well known aversion to enforcing provisions regarding proof of citizenship, that our election system has been corrupted by illegals — usually at the urging of politicians who seek to benefit from such votes. We know that the illegal immigrants impose a significant burden on the welfare system, the education system, the healthcare system and the justice system. (Of course we don’t know the full extent of that impact because the governor, his administration and the legislature have steadfastly refused to investigate or document the size of the problem.)

Those Oregon businesses seeking to resist legitimate efforts to remove the incentives for the entry of illegals by imposing sanctions on employers and denying benefits to illegals (including driver’s licenses) are simply wrong. Forcing the rest of the state’s citizens to bear the burden of illegals so that their business practices are not interrupted is indefensible and immoral. Their efforts would be better spent lobbying Congress for an intelligent and manageable guest workers program as suggested by President Bush than fighting the efforts to stop illegal immigration. If these businesses are right and they cannot survive without foreign workers then a guest worker program will fulfill their needs without continuing the “black market” labor force and all of its attendant problems that currently exist.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 7 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Brian

    All I can say is Amen Larry!

    I’ve worked for 17 years in the nursery industry and it saddens me deeply to see many people that I used to respect and admire for many years take this ultimately self-defeating stand. It all boils down to profits vs wages. Nursery owners can protest to the contrary all day long but their arguments ring hollow. They argue that they can’t compete unless they pay substandard wages or that the market’s incapable of absorbing the prices increases of an all-legal above board workforce!! The dirty little secret is that plant prices have been creeping up substantially ( the last few years ) while wages remain relatively stagnant! So…..the price increases that the OAN complains about passing on are already being felt in the wholesale marketplace!

    I would like to see the industry remain healthy and profitable, but not on the backs of the workers who dig, plant, and load the trucking for the nursery barons. The business needs to clean up its act, pay more competitively and recognize that growing plants is a very technical, knowledge-driven craft ( not just back-breaking labor ) We don’t need illegal labor artificially suppressing wages for all of us who genuinely love this industry and want to do this work! Our industry deserves better that to be reduced to caring only about cheap land and cheap labor!!

  • Dave A.

    It is way past time for legal residents in Oregon to no longer patronize the construction, plant nursery, and lawn care businesses that make a practice of knowingly hiring ILLEGAL ALIENS. In fact, such businesses should be boycotted and their employment practices made known to the at large community.

  • dean

    Three small points. First, it doesn’t matter if Oregonians boycott our nursery industry. This is a “traded sector” that exports 95% of its products out of state.

    Second, I live on a small farm amidst several nurseries and other commercial farms. I would not lump them all together with respect to who they hire and how much they pay. Some have completely legal workforces, other probably not.

    Third, economists consider full employment to be 4%. When it drops below that wages start to go up and the FED raises interests rates to keep inflation down. Thus public policy deliberately seeks to hold wages low for business, so making it harder for those on welfare or unemployment is not a good strategy.

  • John Fairplay

    For some reason I don’t completely understand, the state’s agricultural interests seem to working hard to alienate themselves from their historic political base.

    • Anonymous

      Are they? or are they just so fed up with the lazy choices out there.

  • Rick Hickey

    Lars asked Jeff Stone a simple question that Jeff would NOT answer;

    Is one reason Americans do not apply to work for you is because you have to speak Spanish to work there?

    Interpreter? yes. Court assistant? yes. To work on a Nursery or Construction must speak Spanish? should be No.

    Fed Unemployment rate is a sad joke and NOT true. Millions do not file or have run out of benefits.

    English speaking guys at Les Schwab do dirty, hard work and are paid as Americans, hello? And they prosper.

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