Jerry Spencer had an idea after Alabama’s tough new law against illegal immigration scared Hispanic workers out of the tomato fields northeast of Birmingham: Recruit unemployed U.S. citizens to do the work, give them free transportation and pay them to pick the fruit and clean the fields.
After two weeks, Spencer said Monday, the experiment is a failure. Jobless resident Americans lack the physical stamina and the mental toughness to see the job through, he said, and there’s not much of a chance a new state program to fill the jobs will fare better.
Remember when the discussion centered around the idea that American workers wouldn’t work for such low wages (or the corollary, that if we paid Americans what is considered a decent wage in America to pick produce, consumers simply wouldn’t pay the increased costs of fresh produce)? That may or may not be true, but apparently, most Americans – or at least Alabamians – are too physically and mentally unfit to handle the rigors of actual manual labor.
I can’t say I’m surprised. Anyone who’s spent an afternoon picking weeds in a garden knows it’s hard physical labor. You’re stooped over virtually the entire time, which can be hell on even a healthy back, and it’s often (during growing and harvest season) quite hot and sunny. And that’s just casual Sunday puttering in the garden, which is not even close to the same as picking fruit or vegetables for a commercial enterprise where someone else is the boss and they’ve got a per-hour (or per-day) quota to fill. You want to talk HARD work? There aren’t many harder jobs, frankly.
Somewhere tonight, Cesar Chavez is chuckling.