Michigan's Upgraded Migrant Housing Inspections are Limited

The goal of this blog is to boost awareness on social justice issues (or the lack thereof). One area that I'm very concerned about is migrant labor. Bottom line--living conditions in migrant camps are abominable. Across this "land of opportunity" itinerants are being relegated to these unsafe, unhealthy camps.

It's easy to turn a blind eye or, worse yet, to pontificate on how migrant laborers are stealing our jobs. If they are, whose fault is that? Not the laborers. They're only looking to care for their families like every other worker.

The problem lies with corporate growers who keep them in deplorable conditions. Some actually condone and lobby for racial profiling and deportation while at the same time bringing in migrant workers illegally to run their farms. Worst of all, many growers, at least in my pocket of the world, proclaim to be Christians and tout their businesses as being run on Christian principles. I don't know what Bible they read but the mine commands followers to regard and care for each other, not abuse each other for financial gain.

Think this is a conspiracy theory? It's exactly that. Corporate farms are conspiring to the most work for the least investment. The fact that camp conditions are so bad shows that owners lack scruples, accountability and respect for human rights. I'm not talking about lack of health insurance or fringe benefits, either. I'm talking basic problems--inadequate sanitation, little or no clean water, damaged facilities and worker abuse.
I'm talking about companies who don't supply water for pickers and force them to buy water (from the company) at inflated prices.

Reminds me of mining company-run stores where workers had to pay with company-issued scrip. No wonder there was so much poverty in those communities. It was a vicious cycle of work, pay, owe and work. History has provided us with countless examples--Harlan County, Matewan, Dust Bowl work camps. And these things didn't just happen years ago.

Right now, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is asking for one penny more per pound on the price of tomatoes they pick. One cent--on tomatoes that are sold for $2-$3 a pound. Look at company-owned vending machines and company cafeterias. In some shops, employees can't bring in their own food or if they can, it has to be eaten in tiny, dirty break rooms far from the work floor. Companies set ridiculous policies and then rakes in revenue from the low-quality junk served in their facilities.

I wrote an article recently on some changes being made in Michigan. Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder would like to set aside $400,000 in his 2013 budget to hire more inspectors for migrant farm worker housing. The state employs many migrant laborers for its agricultural industries. More than 90,000 itinerant workers come Michigan each year. Here's the link-- Michigan Considers Funding More Migrant Housing Inspections.

As is the case with so many government-run social initiatives, this may be too little, too  late. It's based on findings in a report from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission which looked at migrant camp conditions. That report is over two years old. There's the too late part.

As for the doing too little part, the initiative would only hire a few more inspectors. If the government allowed conditions to get so bad, how will hiring government-level employees this help? I suspect these jobs may be more sinecure.

In the MCRC report, some abuses (sexual harassment, health and child labor violations) were only worker-reported. I'm sure the corporate farmers have their own version. If 1/10th of the worker-reported abuse actually happened, it would still be unconscionable. Study authors, (an unbiased group) also observed many abuses first-hand.

I've witnessed sanitation issues myself taking the kids blueberry picking. And whose version are we going to trust--those living in the migrant camps or the wealthy farmers living in their lavish, $400K homes? Why has so little been done about this situation? Because we turned that blind eye. It wasn't happening to "one of us." Migrant laborers fall through the cracks. We who call ourselves "residents,""citizens" and "taxpayers" also blame migrants for unemployment and economic hardships. We scapegoat them for our self-caused problems.

What we need to be looking at is who owns (and should fix) the problem. It's the same people who own the farms, the businesses and the wealth. The same ones who won't be paying the Michigan Business Tax this year thanks to a generous tax cut from Gov. Snyder. I don't need to point out the obvious (but I will underscore it)--we taxpayers won't see any of those tax savings. Michigan's unemployed won't see any jobs created (unless you count unsustainable low-paying jobs that have to be patchworked together to make enough to survive).

These abuses aren't just happening to "outsiders." They're at our doorsteps and in our work places.  Just because we're U.S citizens doesn't mean our rights are protected. Egregious violations of health, safety, pay and working conditions occur every day in every sector.Working in a union helps, but it's no guarantee especially when workers don't stick together.This is class warfare. The corporate mindset is to divide and conquer workers over superficial non-essentials like skin color, gender, country of origin, residency status and lifestyle choices. We have to stop buying into this. We have to realize that an injury to one, will, at some point, be an injury to all.


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Freelance writer, Top 100 Yahoo! Voices, Yahoo! News, Shine, Michigan, Detroit), blogger, teacher, mom of 4, happily married 25 years. Graduated GVSU 1986, psychology/general education and special education. continuing ed up to present. Certified MI teacher. Writing Michigan history mystery, children's Gothic fantasy. Areas of expertise: education, relationships, mental health, nutrition, history, world cultures. Passions: faith, Catholic church, sustainable living, interfaith initiatives, living simply that others might simply live. Working on MA in EI education. 

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