Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do You Want This Job?

Workers in the fields earn about 50 cents for picking a bucket containing 32 pounds of tomatoes. These workers make only $10,000 to $12,000 a year, much of which they send home. The $10,000-$12,000 range, because it includes the higher pay of supervisors, means the real wages of the pickers are usually less than $10,000 a year. Wages have remained stagnant since 1980. A worker must pick 2.25 tons of tomatoes to make minimum wage during one of the grueling 10-hour workdays. This is twice what they had to pick 30 years ago for the same amount of money. (emphasis added)
~ from The Tomatoes of Wrath by Chris Hedges ~
I ask you to focus on the portion of the above snippet I have emphasized. As a reminder, one ton equals 2,000 pounds. So, Hedges is saying that, in order to claim a minimum wage rate of pay, each worker must pick 4,500 pounds PER DAY.

When was the last time you had to lift 4,500 pounds in one day?

Since most farmworkers work 6 days per week -- if they are "lucky" -- that's 27,000 pounds per week just to earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. That makes working at a burger joint or nursing home seem like a dream job!

Next time I hear some conservative politico wail about all these illegal immigrants stealing jobs from red-blooded Americans, I'm going to think about 4,500 pounds of tomatoes per day. How many red-blooded Americans do you know who would jump at the chance of picking 2.25 tons of tomatoes for no more than $75 per day?

I certainly wouldn't be very interested and I know few others that would be as well.


  1. My wife was a lucky one in her country. She worked 10 hours a day 6 days a week and was expected to work the 7th day free as either training or to supervise. She was a school teacher and earned $8 a day at the peak of her career.

    On this wage she looked after her family, supported all the non working elderly and young and saved enough to free herself, enough to get her a visa and a years study overseas.

    It always blows me away how she did it but she often sites a far worse story as contrast. An 8 year old girl for example who after school took a bicycle out for most of the night (risking all the night has to offer) and she collected plastic bottles and other waste, she'd carry it in huge lots tied to herself and her bike to a place where she could sell it for, well, nearly nothing. This money she'd take home and freeloading relatives would take it from her. She then slept under the stairs before school again.

    There are so many terrible tales we are oblivious to. 2/3 of people on earth I think have a life that most of us could not bare.

    What a world eh? As long as a few have an OK time then it's fine for the majority to be in poverty.

    The tomato job sounds rubbish, have you seen the litter pickers in India, South America and so on? These kids were born on landfill sites to parents who lived there and they make shelters from rubbish and spend the day, bare foot, picking for valuables in our waste.

    Tomatoes for thought for us all.

  2. You're right. Everything is relative. I bet for many of the world's most impoverished the job of a tomato picker sounds humane and well paid!! I'm sure there are even those who are jealous of the litter pickers!


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