In the recent past, the focus was on workers from China replacing American factory workers. Currently, it is black Americans being replaced by Mexican migrant guest workers and undocumented laborers.
In the onion fields of Vidalia, Georgia 40 years ago, black workers picked most of the crops. Today, most pickers are Latino workers. Although there are still plenty of black farm workers, they claim they are being discriminated against and have filed a lawsuit charging discrimination.
The growers deny discriminating. They say they will hire workers who are skilled and anxious to work. They say Hispanics fit that description. Most of the pickers are undocumented, but many are here on H-2A visas.
Farmers note it is not easy for them to bring workers in on the H-2A visa. They do it because “the crops have to be picked.” Mexican workers, leaving families behind, have only one goal. That is to make money. They work quickly and into the night.
A consent decree created training programs, transportation services and outreach efforts to increase the number of black workers.
There is general agreement about the nature of the dispute. Black Americans want the jobs, but will not work under the conditions that immigrant workers will. Advocates for the American workers say growers must improve working conditions and increase pay.
Advocates on both sides say the immigrants are being exploited. An increase in the the federally supervised guest worker program will reduce the abuse. Observers say the work is so hard that conditions must change before American workers will be able to compete with the foreign workers.
No solution is in sight.