Sunday, November 13, 2011

A CASE in re ALABAMA’s H.B. 56: “What if I am a Small American Farmer?”

WHAT if I am a small American farmer? I may have inherited my apple orchard and potato farm, as well as my current Mexican farm-helps, from my dad or grandparents. The Garcias from Juarez, Mexico have been working for the Smiths of Somewhereville, Alabama for 50 years now…
     I am paying $4 an hour—plus free rent and some food—to my Mexican workers and they seem to be fine with the arrangement. My wife, who’s an accountant, pre-calculated that if I pay my workers $8 an hour, I won’t be able to spend or invest more on other farm implements and expenses, including internet marketing. I am always scared that the giant retail store, or stores that seem to be all over these days, will easily gobble my business up.  
     And because I only pay $4 an hour to my amigos and amigas, I am able to lower my apple’s cost that I haul off to the farmers’ market with Luis, my able helper, each weekend. We also drive cross-state to Georgia and elsewhere to deliver some more of my produce. Definitely, my apple is less expensive than what these huge retail stores are selling. With that, I am able to keep my business… I can “compete.”
    Now, my Mexicans/$4-hr workers are gone. They are scared and furious. But then, I can’t miss Luis and the Garcias although I love Luz’s burritos and enchiladas. I have a business and farm to run.
     Most Americans want jobs, like my college buddy and golfing partner, Dantley Cooper, who just lost his job as supervisor in a frisbee plant next town because his job—and the plant—have been shipped to Guangzhou province in China. Darn, he’s been there since graduation—like, 30 years! Hell, I don’t think Coop is cool with $8 an hour though.
     But my other neighbors is fine with it, of course… $8/hr at least, and 40hr workweek. To be able to pay their salaries, I need to cut down on operational expenses, as well. Besides that, my $8/hr workforce only wants to work 40 hours: I won’t be able to meet my week’s and month’s delivery quotas. My current American workers may oblige to $4/hr but, that’d be insane—that money isn’t going to pay their bills, mortgage, car loan, college loan, health insurance, and other credit card acquisitions (computers, cellphones etc). They may get some orchard/farm job but only for a time until they get “real” employment…
     Meantime, my fear has evolved into paranoia. As a small farmer, how’d I be able to keep my business? The store space that I am renting has also jacked up lease cost because it has been bought by a real estate owner who also runs a bank in town. Also, I need to raise the price of my apples to at least recoup the extra $4 than I am paying my current American workers. And I also need to pay my own bills.
     Holy mackerel! A longtime customer exclaimed, “What? Your apple costs $5 now?!? What’s wrong with you, Junior? The apple that my wife bought is only $2! But, hell, it’s imported from Taiwan!” Lordy, I am losing business! I heard, my stall may be taken in by someone who just moved in from Florida, who pays better. I heard he also put up a café beside his store, and has some unemployed kids providing free music. Hell, my son even plays music in there…
     Listen, last week, a dude on Brooks Bros suit, approached me and offered to buy my farm (that I inherited from dad and his ancestors). Tough! My son and daughter are about to enter college… My son said he’ll go to war so he could continue college. Hell, no! I am also behind my mortgage payment on my 7-room house. I only wanted a better life for my kids, you know… life that I didn’t experience growing up.
     Another lady who looks like Dolly Parton, sans the big hair but equally huge breasts, talked to me about simply marketing or distributing apples imported from China. She certainly doesn’t look like Chinese to me yet she seemed more concerned with China than Alabama… Kidding aside though, her deal seems doable. If I cut her a deal, I don’t need to go out there under the sun and cold and supervise my farm anymore… And I won’t be able to hire workers—Mexicans or Americans anymore—and worry about accounting and taxes and stuff. I will also have some front-office help from a calling center in Manila and Hongkong. My wife and daughter don’t have to do that: they have all the time in the world to Facebook and Tweet, whatever.
     Meanwhile, I sit down and contemplate: Do I need my Mexican farm-helps back, really? Or should I just do away with my farm, sit in front of my iMac, text buddies who left their family behind—like Coop—who’s now working in China, advising Chinese workers how to make awesome Frisbees.
     I don’t know. I gotta get going though… The wife wants me to buy her some new shirt at Target. I just hope that it’s not made in China. Ah, I miss Luis—he should be driving me to the mall, my back starts to ache and my insurance says it doesn’t pay for bad back that emanated from working a farm with Mexican workers.
     Hell, I’m just kidding.

--Pasckie Pascua
Just a dude--not Chinese, Mexican, or Alabaman--just a dude like you and him…

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