I am not going to claim to know much about this subject, let me make this clear. I am not a politician and I do not desire to write laws, but what I do offer is personal experience from an employer’s perspective in agriculture who has employed a vast variety of different types of employees. In the US we have a long list of “Dirty Jobs” that most of our citizens believe they are “above”. Like it or not, but many believe that once we head off to college we are “above” menial tasks like cleaning, construction, food service, and agriculture. I am so blessed that my parents taught us that we were never “above” any of these jobs or tasks. My father told me “I don’t care what you do in life, you can be a garbage woman for all I care, I just want you to be happy and do it honestly”. Wise advice from a wise man. When operating my own dairy farm I led by example, I never sent an employee into a job that I wasn’t willing to do myself. In fact, most times I was alongside them, working in the heat, cold and mess. I’m not complaining, I enjoy hard work and getting dirty, I find it very rewarding and so did many of our employees. This is where my experience as an employer comes into perspective.
My best employees, the ones that really cared about their jobs were the ones that I took the time to talk to and let them know that their job mattered. What they thought was a menial task such as cleaning the parlor walls, was so much more important than “just cleaning”. They were a critical part of producing safe and clean milk for consumers. I’m not inflating their positions either, they were very important to making our farm successful and producing a food we could all be proud of. Unfortunately these amazing employees were sometimes immigrants with false documents (which we found out after they left) or children of undocumented workers born in the US. We followed the law when we hired these employees, collected all the paper work, checked social security numbers, and everything checked out. We paid taxes and FICA on their behalf, dollars that they will never be able to claim in a tax refund because they used a false social security number. As employers we followed the law and as employees they were just happy to have a job, especially one where they were valued as a part of our team. My heart aches for these families as they work hard to provide for their children. Not all immigrant workers are like this, but my personal experience has been nothing but positive. They are here, just like my ancestors, trying to make a better life for their children.
As employers we worked hard to make sure that our employees had time with their families. We encouraged them to take time off to be at their children’s events at school. Over time I have seen these families become important contributors to our area communities and schools. I know of several dairy owners that even provide translators to help non English speaking employees get their kids into school and communicate with the teachers and administration. As employers I know many dairy farmers that struggle to provide a wage for their employees that is not only competitive but also can sustain a family. That is an incredibly difficult task! Milk prices ebb and flow so dramatically, it is hard for farmers to even pay themselves a wage that can sustain their own families, but I know for a fact that most will pay their employees well before they pay themselves. As farmers we are indebted to the valuable people who work for us. Believe me, finding good people is an almost impossible task. I have definitely seen my fair share of poor employees; people who didn’t care no matter how much we paid them or how much we respected them, and unfortunately those were mostly non-Hispanic employees. Those bad apples definitely tested our faith and trust in others.
Regardless, there was still a certain amount of joy that came from being am employer. It was very rewarding to know that our business was also helping to support other local families. When we paid them, they were able to buy homes locally, shop downtown and give back to their other family members. We were able to share culture with each other: language, food and customs. It was awesome to spend a little time educating our employees and watching them take that education and grow. Working for us was an opportunity which some used to better themselves and get higher paying jobs in other local businesses, and we were so happy for them. As a Catholic, we are called to help the less fortunate, and as an employer I saw that role as an opportunity to help those that just needed a lift. I don’t know what the legal solution is for immigration reform, but we should do whatever we can to help those that want to stay here and work legally, be able to do that. This isn’t as simple as “sending them all back” and “building a wall”. We need these people, they are pursuing the American dream, no different than our ancestors. “Help the less fortunate” ~ it is the right thing to do.