Respecting Workers Means Better Business

This article from the Portland Business Journal says the greatest number of undocumented workers are employed in leisure and hospitality, followed by the construction sector and professional/business services, but the biggest hit on the overall economy by deporting undocumented workers would be in manufacturing.

The article states, “How could these sectors move forward following mass deportations? It’s difficult to say, but employers may be left in the lurch as native-born American workers increasingly turn away from low-skill, labor-intensive jobs.” A farm industry study released in 2013 indicated American workers were not compelled to take up farm labor positions even during high unemployment.

Let’s break that down.

Most farms are not inside a big city, where most workers reside. So if a farm wants to hire workers, they need to hire local, or provide enough money for workers to move to the area and pay for housing and relocation costs.

Labeling farm, manufacturing, and hospitality work ‘low skill’ by pundits shows disrespect for the work. For example farm work needs to be taught and learned, just like any other job. Cherries need to be picked with the stem intact because they stay fresher longer thus can be sold for more money. There are techniques how to effectively and efficiently pick fruit – it is a skill. So job training of workers is important. When is the last time you saw a class on how to pick fruit? How about the physics and science safety of ladder placement?

“Americans turn away from labor-intensive jobs” is also a half-truth. Some people LIKE the idea of getting paid to work out. Some people LIKE to work outside and not be trapped in a stuffy office. But they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn, and have been told that this type of work is beneath them. (So – eating good food, being outside in the fresh air, and being paid to exercise is beneath you?  Some people would LOVE to do those things and get paid!)

Americans have also been led to believe that physical labor, farm labor, manufacturing, and hospitality labor is paid at a starvation wage. Business and industry can change this image by advertising and paying living wages, as well as providing benefits, training and/or mentoring to make these jobs attractive to quality workers of all ages.

So how do you get Americans to apply for jobs in agriculture, construction, hospitality, professional, business, and manufacturing?

  1. Respect the job
  2. Provide training
  3. Pay a living wage (where the worker can afford a home, food, transportation, etc.).
  4. Offer to relocate city workers if your job site is out in the middle of nowhere.

Business: you can’t get something for nothing. Pay your employees a living wage and respect them and the job they were hired to do.

Educators: we need food and plumbers, as well as teachers and doctors. Encourage kids to explore.

Everyone: don’t talk down a job and treat workers badly… and then expect people to seek out that job.

And finally, ponder this:  What does it say about all of us when we label certain necessary jobs only fit for “undocumented” workers? Why do we disrespect these necessary jobs AND the people who do them gratefully and well?  How can we take responsibility and provide leadership?

By Barb Hughes

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