Workers Claim Race Bias as Farms Rely on Immigrants

Ethan Bronner, New York Times, May 6, 2013

For years, labor unions and immigrant rights activists have accused large-scale farmers, like those harvesting sweet Vidalia onions here this month, of exploiting Mexican guest workers. Working for hours on end under a punishing sun, the pickers are said to be crowded into squalid camps, driven without a break and even cheated of wages.

But as Congress weighs immigration legislation expected to expand the guest worker program, another group is increasingly crying foul—Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability.

“They like the Mexicans because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, who worked for seven years in the fields here, then quit. Last month she and other local residents filed a federal lawsuit against a large grower of onions, Stanley Farms, alleging that it mistreated them and paid them less than it paid the Mexicans.

The suit is one of a number of legal actions containing similar complaints against farms, including a large one in Moultrie, Ga., where Americans said they had been fired because of their race and national origin, given less desirable jobs and provided with fewer work opportunities than Mexican guest workers. Under a consent decree with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the farm, Southern Valley, agreed to make certain changes.


“We have tried to fill our labor locally,” said Brian Stanley, an owner of Stanley Farms, which is being sued by Ms. Tomason and others. “But we couldn’t get enough workers, and that was hindering our growth. So we turned to the guest worker program.”

The vast majority of farm workers in the country are not in the guest worker program but are simply unauthorized immigrants. {snip}

Mr. Stanley, like other farmers, argues that Americans who say they want the work end up quitting because it is hard, leaving the crops to rot in the fields. But the situation is filled with cultural and racial tensions.

Even many of the Americans who feel mistreated acknowledge that the Mexicans who arrive on buses for a limited period are incredibly efficient, often working into the night seven days a week to increase their pay.

“We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired—unfairly, he says—from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.”

Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, made a similar point.

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

Such generalizations lead lawyers—and residents—to say there are racist undertones to the farms’ policies.

“I am not arguing that agricultural work is a good job,” said Dawson Morton, a lawyer who focuses on farm workers’ rights at the Georgia Legal Services Program, a nonprofit law firm. “I am arguing that it could be a better job. If you want experienced people, train them. Just because people are easier to supervise, agricultural employers shouldn’t be able to import them. It is not true that Americans don’t want the work. What the farmers are really saying is that blacks just don’t want to work.”


Jim Knoepp of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that has campaigned against the guest worker program, said that farm work, like other difficult labor, could be made attractive to Americans at reasonable cost, and that farmers should not be excused from doing so.


Cindy Hahamovitch, an expert on guest worker programs at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, said that in the 1970s about two-thirds of farm workers were Americans and a third were foreign, and that a decade later the proportion was reversed. Today, she said, the vast majority of farm workers around the country are immigrants, although not in the guest worker program.


For the past few months, Southern Valley has been required to provide daily bus transportation to the farm and demonstrate that it was training and retaining Americans. But a recent inspection of those efforts left federal officials unimpressed.

Southern Valley officials make no secret of their belief that the consent decree—the free bus, the orientation program they now run and the training—is a waste of their time and money. They assert that there is no discrimination and that they would prefer to hire locals if they could.


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  • Bill

    I find it VERY hard to believe blacks are waiting in line to do farm work. That would be, to them, awful close to the “slavery days”. Moreover, it’s hard work. Up early, MUST be done as weather allows or long hours to beat bad weather coming. Blacks have had every opportunity to do farm work, and there are all kinds of government programs crying to give farm loans to blacks. Blacks don’t want to work like that. What they WANT is to win the ghetto lottery refusing to DO the work, then suing saying they were not allowed to do the work. That’s their game. I wish to GOD we could eject every Mexican and put the blacks in to the fields. I’d even pay more for my lettuce and fruit. But blacks simply do NOT want to do hard work. Or any work for that matter, unless it is some government job where they can sit on their butts, hit on women, and chatter all do with no real work done.

    • 48224

      You are right on the money. Blacks want cushy gub-ment jobs with a generous affirmative action policy. Not manual labor. Drive by any construction site, it is 99,9% white and Hispanic. White contractors cannot maintain enough blacks to meet government quotas for government contracts. I know this for a fact.

      • …. from which they can’t be fired.

      • Triarius

        48224, iirc you are in the Detroit area (also your name gives it away since it is a zip code).

        Remember when Kwame tried that “local employee enforcement” a few years back in Detroit? How all the govt contracting jobs in Detroit had to have a certain percentage of Detroit residents? Remember how bad that crashed and burned? All the confirmations that the blacks stole equipment, came to work high (if at all), and many were illiterate and convicted felons. Most did not even want the work.

        I still remember the headlines in the Detroit News “Get Off Your Porch!” In regards what Kwame was saying to the Detroit residents. Funny how they always complain about jobs, but when there are some, they never want to do it,

    • Blacks don’t want to work like that. What they WANT is to win the ghetto lottery refusing to DO the work, then suing saying they were not allowed to do the work.

      When I picked up the paper this morning and saw this article, I just started laughing.
      And so it begins …… They’ve shaken down every majority white institution for every dollar they can get, so now the pets start battling it out over who gets the worst jobs in the world. This could get interesting.

      • The__Bobster

        A old shine once applied for a job at my company. He was rejected because we weren’t hiring. He came back and sued us two years later when he found out the we had just hired two new employees. The local skinny AA enforcer Nubian princess with a chip on her shoulder forced us to give this loser two years back pay and a job. He worked four hours and quit, as he didn’t like working, just suing.
        Now for the rest of the story: The new new employees were also Bantus.

        • brengunn

          There is something wrong with your justice system. How can he get a payout if the two new employees were black?The judiciary or politicians or whoever has brought about this situation has done a terrible injustice to the world.

          • GeneticsareDestiny

            How can he get a payout if the two new employees were black?

            Whenever whitey does something a black person doesn’t like, it’s racist discrimination that entitles blacks to a payout.

            The laws may not be written this way, but they sure are enforced this way.

    • cali

      Bill, you are right. If you call them out, you often find they really was not going to do the job, anyway. As so often, they simply like to play the “poor poor me” routine and cause controversy. Again, this only affects the farmers negatively.

    • See my comment on “The Sea Island Experiment” below. They don’t want to do farm work and do associate it with slavery. I wish I could find a better example to link.

    • me

      Well said, sir!

  • jennymad

    This story reminds me of a bad joke:
    Q: What do you call a group of Mexicans in a field?
    A: Farm equipment.
    Q: What do you call a group of Blacks in a field?
    A: Obsolete farm equipment.

  • jay11

    So farmers want basically slave labor, i.e. Mexicans they can pay almost nothing who will work all hours of the day and night and upon whom they have so much leverage because they are ‘undocumented”?
    Imagine, even if just for a moment, that our conservative leaders called out the farmers on this, and in these stark terms, and held to that line. Imagine how hypocritical libs would be sent running. Blacks are dead-on on this one. They are being discriminated against for real, and I hope to see Al Sharpton et al on picket lines with signs that say, “Scab Mexicans Go Home!”
    I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath.

    • Scott894398

      Sharpton would never tell them to go home. Where would he get his 4 cheese burritos?

    • tickyul

      From what I have read, most of the pay is piece-work. And the Mexicans bust their asses and make quite a bit of money.

  • APaige

    Mexicans work much harder, for less pay, longer hours, and less trouble than Blacks. It looks like an easy call for farmers, but let the farmers pay for the health care, insurance rate increase, education and other social costs. In the end, we need to import cheap, third-world brown people because the descendants of black slaves are lazy.

    • brengunn

      But if they can take black jobs they will take white jobs too. Everyone should be concerned by situations like this. It seems that there will be two countries in the US – an upper tech professional yuppie one and a lower majority payed a pittance for back breaking physical work. I don’t think such a country could survive.

    • jackryanvb

      Mexican immigrants are supposedly happy, hard workers, the same way Blacks were once happy slaves, doing the work that free White Americans just wouldn’t do.

      Non White sub minimum wage slaves don’t remain happy slaves for too long.

      These traitorous Agribusiness Neo slave owners must be outed and punished.

    • NM156

      Get rid of birthright citizenship as well, and the public may be willing to listen.

  • HamletsGhost

    Blacks and farm work: The one thing they’re good for, they’re no good at.

    • They were only “okay” at it even when they were forced.

      The Sea Island Experiment:
      After the War of Northern Aggression, choice cropland was redistributed to former slave. What this article fails to note though is that the blacks could have made a good living, but rather than work the land properly and grow the crops their former masters grew, they grew dinky vegetable gardens. The former landholders were not just livid that their land was stolen, they were livid because it wasn’t even being used properly by those to who it was redistributed.
      Sounds a lot like an EBT when I put it into words.

      • Martel

        Would like to know the name of the book, shame you dont have it laying around

        • Me too. Most texts on it make the “freedmen” out to successful farmers, which is a blatant lie.

  • bigone4u

    All of my ancestors were share croppers or small landholders. Are there no whites who will do farm work? As to blacks, one of them admits in the story that they don’t like to work hard: “We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired—unfairly, he says—from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.” If a white had said this, he would be called racist.

    The root of the problem is that the government killed the small white family farm in order to get whites into big city factories, starting 100 years or so ago. If there were small farms, there would be need for massive numbers of Mexicans to pick crops. And if the Mexicans were to be sent home, machinery could do a lot of the work.

    • Luca

      Ask yourself this: what do they do in Canada? I visited an Apple Orchard in the Okanagon region a few years ago and asked the owner that question. Answer; Oh, we get the college kids in here for the harvest and they have a good time, make some money and then go back to school.

      Unemployed people should be out there picking instead sitting on their arses collecting yet another form of redistributed wealth.

      • Unperson

        From what I understand, Canada also has a guest-worker program, and does bring in Mexicans — except that when the harvest’s done, Canada’s program actually forces them to GO HOME… rather than hang around, put down roots, start dropping anchor-babies, etc.

        I have heard the Canadian system also makes the foreign farmhands live in barracks that are strictly alcohol-free. Since we all know what Mexicans are like with booze, this policy too prevents a lot of problems.

        But you’re right, within living memory, at least some white Canadians have still done farm work. And, contra Senator Juan McAmnesty, they’ll pick crops for a lot less than $50/hr. Here’s one old Hoser’s wry recollections of tobacco-picking in Ontario:

        I asked him where to find the cigarette trees,
        When he said ‘Bend over’ I was ready to leave

  • The__Bobster

    Mr. Stanley, like other farmers, argues that Americans who say they want the work end up quitting because it is hard, leaving the crops to rot in the fields.

    Without a willing slave class, farmers would have to invest in mechanization. Poor babies.

  • Scott894398

    Why would blacks work picking onions when they can lay in wait for the Mexicans on Friday evening and take their earnings?

  • RHG

    I am guessing a run up to another “black farmer” class action scam,er lawsuit.

  • Be still my beating heart. Did I read it right that the Southern Poverty Pimp Center is coming out against a guest worker program? I guess the SPLC now fits its own definition of a hate group. Because we know from the Corkins affair that they also fit their own definition of inspiring extremist violence.

    • Nathanwartooth

      They are against the guest worker program probably because they think they should all be made citizens instead.

  • cali

    I know several southern farmers. If you have seen black labor you would understand why they are being picked over. They are generally slow, complain, often miss work or leave early and often threaten lawsuits. Who the hell has time to deal with that? They are often picked over by 14,15,16 year old white locals that want a little weekend pocket change. Given their age and lack of experience they can be a hand full but still less drama than blacks. Sorry,but this is what really happens in many farming communities.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Yeah, cry me a river, NY Times, gotta be a tough call as to who to side with — “oppressed” blacks OR illegal immigrants “only wanting a better life” — I’m sure you’ll find SOME way to blame White Americans.

    Don’t look at me, I didn’t help vote that commie bastard back into office twice.


  • IstvanIN

    If we didn’t have welfare for the able-bodied and didn’t allow our borders to go unguarded blacks would have to work these jobs and they would have to do a good job to make a decent wage. It isn’t just the farmers, or the blacks, it is the entire system, the government and us as Americans, who have allowed this situation to spiral out of control.

  • James

    The Mexicans work their asses off, not because they are hard workers, but because they are making a disproportionate amount of money for the work in real terms. Wouldn’t you work like the devil picking produce if you were making a month’s pay in one day? And getting subsidized with welfare, food stamps, free cell phones via your forged stolen ID, and free health care to boot? Not to mention what you might make peddling dope on the side.

  • GeneticsareDestiny

    I am getting so sick and tired of hearing the ‘Americans won’t do these jobs’ lie. I would personally be happy to pick crops for 8 hours a day, with a ten minute break after every hour and a half or so, for $15 or more per hour.

    Americans are happy to do these jobs. Just not for the $4 dollars an hour they want to pay Jose for his 18 hour day.

  • itdoesnotmatter

    Remember when Bubba Clinton [I think it was he] instituted a program requiring a paltry number of hours per week to be on welfare? Blacks were heard to complain, “this be jes like the ebbel slabbery.”

    • IstvanIN

      Sotero eliminated that requirement.

  • rebellisMMXII

    I saw a program about what farmers in Canada do…they import the temporary workers, provide dormitory type living facilities…once the harvest/whatever is complete the workers go home with their cash. Seemed like a win/win mission based operation. Of course wouldn’t work with blacks.

    • Greg Thomas

      We have a “temporary, guest” worker progam in this country as well. Problem is, the word guest and temporary have quite a different meaning in this country. The word “temporary” means indefinetly and the word “guest” means all the social benefits you can muster.

  • StillModerated

    Look at all the farms in Africa as a shining example. Blacks were not even profitable at picking cotton; they consumed 90% of what they’d earned.

  • exLibtard

    Jim Knoepp of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that has campaigned against the guest worker program, said that farm work, like other difficult labor, could be made attractive to Americans at reasonable cost, and that farmers should not be excused from doing so.

    The SPLC is opposed to a guest worker program? I guess when push comes to shove, they favor blacks over Mexicans. Interesting.

  • AugustusAlexander

    I have farmers on both sides of my family, one generation off on both sides. I was on my mothers uncles farm one time and he basically went on about how blacks are lazy and are not worth the money.

    That bieng said i wish i could find a job and it would be nice if they stopped illegal immigration and raised the wage a bit then illegals wouldn’t be hired and More Americans could find a job. Yes, this stuff is hard especially agricultural work but like anything you can get conditioned to it. Hiring Mexicans with cash who work all day like the devil and have no family or taxes to pay is never fair when matched to even a white American who has to pay taxes and doesn’t live with 30 people in a trailer. Blacks just do not know how to work hard and for whites the amount of pay is not really worth it with the Mexicans there.

    • Luca

      This is all propaganda anyway. Maybe 4% of the Mexicans coming here will work on farms. The rest are here for cash jobs with Governement benefits.

      • AugustusAlexander

        Imagine once they are citizens? Most will stop doing farm work all together and what is next…. Somalians?Brazilians? Ecuador?

  • Perhaps these blacks who’re pretending they want to do farm labor should find work as stand-up comedians. They’re certainly good at telling jokes.

  • Jefferson

    Black farmers would make for a great Hollywood science fiction film.

  • mike

    Ha ha. Hired blacks and got sued. Some people just never learn.

  • Howard W. Campbell

    Right now, North Dakota has 3.5% unemployment, and western North Dakota has less than 1% unemployment. If you have a pulse and a social security number, you can probably find a job. The Wal-Mart in WIlliston is paying $17 an hour and still has multiple openings. Over here in eastern Montana, while not as robust, business owners are crying poverty because skilled help can make a lot more money in the oil fields. The six figure salaries come from 80 – 100 hour weeks, not necessarily fantastic starting wages. You still have a lot of Indians on welfare, however. (At least they don’t demand to be glued to the white folks!)

    There are not a lot of blacks or Indians working in the oil field. You will see a few gang banger wannabees floating around and that was not something that one would see in western ND even just a few years ago. Most of the people in the (few) retail establishments and grocery stores are white however.

    There are a lot of white (and some hispanic) men who are out in this part of the country to try to support their families. Yes there are some derelicts in the crowd and Western ND/Eastern MT are experiencing big city problems. The undertow will not show up here in great numbers because they actually have to work (swinging hammers in the oil field and toting a 200 lb pipe with another man is work. Collecting welfare checks or going to an AA job is not as strenuous).

    • Jefferson

      North Dakota’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average because they have not been “blessed” with having a lot of rich vibrant diversity.

      Meanwhile Mexifornia is the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Many cities in this state have filed for bankruptcy because of out of control spending.

      • Puggg

        Because of North Dakota’s oil boom, a lot of Somalians are being imported into various ND towns.

        • Jefferson

          North Dakota’s oil boom towns like Williston for example are still less than 1 percent Black according to the U.S census.

          So there can not be that many Somalians there, unless the census is racially classifying Somalians into the category of “Some Other Race” and not as Black.

          But I doubt it, because the vast majority of people who are lumped into the “Some Other Race” category in the census are Hispanics.

          • Puggg

            “According to the U.S. Census”

            Which was done in 2010.

            A lot can change in three years.

            I’ve read articles about Hispanics heading to North Dakota to look for work.

          • Jefferson

            Doesn’t change the fact that Blacks still make up a miniscule percentage of North Dakota’s population.

            I remember reading a thread on City-Data discussion forum started by a Black teenage male who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.

            He was complaining about feeling racially isolated and lonely because there are very people there who look like him.

            He talked about how he wished his parents would quit their jobs, pack their bags and move back to Houston, Texas where there are a lot more people who racially look like him.

            If North Dakota had such a high percentage of Blacks, Obama’s son would not be feeling so homesick.

  • Felix The Cat

    I say “Offer blacks these jobs at $$25.00 an hour then see out of the 1000 you offered it to how many want to do it. If you think more than one you need to spend more time reading AmRen,

    • Greg Thomas

      Why would a black pick onions for $25.00 an hour, when they can go sit behind some government desk for $40.00 an hour?

  • Felix The Cat

    I go to the Car Wash everyday.
    98% of the workers are Latino, most are there Everyday doing a good job.
    I always know a black coming on will last 3 days or less and a White might go a full week before he quits.

  • sarah stein

    You can’t, like Al and Jesse, call whitey a racist when he protests against legal or illegal immigration, then turn around and get mad when immigrants are taking jobs. LOL, idiots, pick a team.

  • Paleoconn

    ‘SPLC a non-profit group’. Gimme a minute while I recover from these fits of laughter.

    OK, I’m back.

    It seems the only time anything negative is published about immigration or foreign workers is when a minoriy group (in this case, blacks) feel the adverse effects.