Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Pineros

Looking for something else I stumbled across a series done a year ago (and recently updated) by California’s Sacramento Bee, on Latino guest workers known as Pineros. The decades-old program (this will sound familiar I'm sure) matches willing workers with companies looking for people to do the jobs American's won't, this one specifically in the pine forests across the country.

From cutting timber to reforestation, the hours are long and the work is dangerous. The hourly rate isn't bad for unskilled labor but from each paycheck the employee must reimburse the employer for the cost of their recruitment, plus ongoing expenses such as tools, lodging, food and transportation to and from the specific job site.

Indentured servitude? Slavery? I'd like to think those days are behind us but that's what the program is. The expansion of it into other areas to provide more companies with the cheapest (to them) labor is wrong.

Period.

Reading through the series I ended up with a major earworm. I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember Tennessee Ernie Ford much less one hit of his, Sixteen Tons. To me, one verse in particular typifies the way those promoting the guest-worker program view people in it.

Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

I recognize how slanted the Bee's series is. Hourly rates reported are derived from take-home after deductions including reimbursements and if they are being paid "on the books," Social Security, Medicare and other standard deductions. This leaves the worker with little especially if they send money back to family still in their country of origin.

What quickly becomes apparent, too, is the job sites are filled with illegal aliens. (Heck, one of the "employers" mentioned — a real entrepreneur — was himself "undocumented," hiring others who were likewise "undocumented.") The government agency in charge of the program says it's the responsibility of the employers they've contracted with to verify that their employees are working in the United States legally. The employers, on the other hand, say they have (or maybe they have) or blame the government for not weeding out the contractors who don't. It's often impossible to tell the difference, though, because of the widespread use of fraudulent identification.

And we are paying for this guest-worker program with our tax dollars, while those participating in it are also paying their employers for the privilege of working in it. Then, because the guest worker can't afford shelter, food or medical services, the taxpayer gets to pay again for the public services the guest worker consumes.

Now, Congress is considering whether to duplicate this wonderful, decades-old program in other areas.

A better way would be to secure the borders to stop the flow of illegal aliens into this country, and then begin enforcing the laws under which the Pineros guest-worker program is supposed to be operating.

Think of it as a test case. Call it a pilot program. I don't care.

If we truly need guest workers, lets clean up this program first. If it can be made to work and work properly, the practices can be duplicated for any future guest worker programs planned.

If it can't, then we most certainly don't need any new ones.

Please read the series.

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