Today, I go to Merced to give a presentation on immigration law and I-9 compliance to a bunch of small farmers, mostly dairies.
Sometimes, people get mad at me when I do these presentations. One time, an insurance broker grumbled, “I never heard a lawyer try to teach people how to get away with it.” I teach farmers how to keep hiring the labor that is available to them, while at the same time avoiding the risk of both immigration violations and discrimination claims by actually complying with the letter of the law. You would be stunned, and perhaps horrified, at the amount of thought I have given to this process for the sole purpose of keeping people who want to work employed by the people who want to hire them. And yes, I am very, very cynical about the motives, intention, and understanding of both sides of our present immigration debate.
I am not an expert, but I do know one thing that is an immutable fact. Americans will not do farm labor. It is a simple fact, and it is not because of low pay. It is because our culture views these jobs as beneath us. A typical milker on a California dairy farm makes over $40,000 per year, gets a free house, and at least a side of beef a year. This is a better deal than working in a restaurant, retail, or many other lower wage jobs in our economy. I see able bodied people begging on corners every day who would be hired in a minute to work on farms.
In all commodities in California, wages are up in agriculture due to labor shortages, but the workforce remains one made up of primarily recent immigrants. The more time that passes, the less interest I have in the D vs. R, left vs. right fistfight that is going on in this country. It is a major problem that we simply have not enforced our immigration laws, and that problem lies at the feet of both parties, particularly long term representatives like McCain, Feinstein, Sanders, McConnell, et al., who are complicit in the failure to address the current system decades ago. It is also a major problem that we have to figure out what to do with those we welcomed here to work in our economy while winking at our own laws- a humane solution is needed. I think there is a discussion to be had about to regulate the border, but we aren’t having it as long as we are calling each other racists and communists.
I think of myself as a practical person, and there are cows to be milked and crops to be harvested. It isn’t just money that needs to be made - people have to eat, and these commodities feed the world. So I have developed a way to approach the I-9 where if everybody is smart enough to walk a fine line, workers can work, farms can operate, and the business remains in compliance. Honestly, given the regulatory environment in California, it is one of the few areas where I can give advice that goes beyond just risk management.
Anyway, I am grumpy because I am losing one of my best employees to a big LA law firm that can pay her way more than I can pay her. But it is a third more money in salary, and she gets to move home to LA. Her parents are elderly and their health is not good, and she doesn’t want to live here. She cried when she told me (this is a tough lady who did not cry even when union attorneys bullied her at her first court appearance), thanked me for what I have done for her career, and apologized. I am sad to lose her, but I am not mad. How can I be mad at a person who leaves to do what is best for her? I’m not happy about it, but it is part of this business, particularly for a small firm in Fresno. I train them well, and they get poached. It comes with the territory. Anybody know young lawyers looking for work in California? The last one I hired drives a manual...