Tuesday, August 27, 2013

But Mexicans are cheaper...

"We just don't have no work force.  We're going to be out of business if we don't have no pickers."

You're probably shaking your head and thinking that the Eastern Shore has some really dumb rednecks.  Or maybe you're thinking that people who talk like that are a good example of our failing public school system.  If you were asked to describe the person who uttered that quote, how would you describe them as far as their socio-economic status and education level?  Maybe a high school dropout?  Poverty level worker?  Beer drinking redneck who reaches his highest point in life after his last puff of a joint?  A menial-task laborer whose job is to shovel crap against the tide?

If any of those thoughts ran through your mind, you'd be wrong.  The man who uttered that statement is a successful businessman and...get this...a county commissioner for Dorchester County.  Jay Newcomb made the quote in an article by the Baltimore Sun back in 2009 when the federal government placed a cap on work visas for migrant workers. 

That same year, Mr. Newcomb defended the Mexican visa worker program by stating that it is cheaper to train Mexicans to peel crabs than it is to train local people.  Now think about that.  A Mexican living in the middle of the desert most likely has never seen a blue crab in her life much less peeled one.  Mr. Newcomb wants us to believe that it is cheaper to train her (in Spanish since, most likely, she doesn't understand English) than it is to train a local person, who most likely has been peeling her own crabs her entire life.

Yes, Mr. Newcomb, the local people can read between the lines.  What you really said is that you would rather bring in foreigners to do the work because you can pay them a lot less than a local person.  Since you can't move your seafood house to Mexico to take advantage of the low wages there, you choose to defend the H-2B visa program to bring Mexico's cheap labor here.  

Mr. Newcomb also explained that, traditionally, picking crabs was done by the watermen's wives.  In no uncertain terms, he claimed that local men would never consider doing the job, regardless of pay, because picking crabs is "women's work".  

Just when one thinks sexist views of the job market are gone, along comes the highly educated, double-negative talking Mr. Newcomb to remind us that there is such a thing as "women's work". 

"Crab pickers are generally women; men are hired for heavier work."  That statement by The Baltimore Sun is the very definition, by example, of sexism.  One only needs to look at any seafood house, note that most, if not all, crab pickers are women, and conclude that the seafood industry on the Eastern Shore is a sexist industry.  If one is complaining about the lack of local workers to do a job, why would one eliminate half the potential workers simply because one believes the job is "women's work"?

The Eastern Shore seafood industry has faced some serious obstacles over the last few decades ranging from a dying Bay, stricter harvest limits, reduced catches, and a disappearing labor force.  Our watermen's communities need a local leader (preferably one who can speak English intelligently and not Newcomb-speak) to overcome the obstacles, preserve a proud industry on the Shore, and raise the standard of living of everyone, particularly of those who work the Bay.

Sadly, one of the local leaders we have, Mr. Jay Newcomb, was the first to implement his solution to the disappearing labor force that other seafood houses followed in later years.  He was the first to bring in Mexican workers to pick crabs back in 1991.  Yes, Mr. Newcomb, locals can read between the lines.  Your bank account is more important than preserving a proud, Eastern Shore industry that could provide well for the watermen, who fish the Bay, and their families, who could work in your seafood houses if you didn't find, and decide to use, the cheaper labor outside of the country.

A good leader would look at the struggling families in the watermen's communities and work with the federal and state agencies to devise a plan that would tie the struggling families' government assistance to the stipulation that qualified family members must work the seasonal jobs at the seafood houses (or farmer fields, landscaping businesses, or hotel industries) to continue receiving the assistance.  Anyone who declined a job offer would lose their assistance. 

A good business and political leader might take the effort one step further to protect the integrity of the Eastern Shore fishing industry.  That option will be covered in a future article, tentatively titled Maryland's Seafood Industry's Dirty Little Secret.

Editor's note added 04/18/14: related articles
The seafood industry's dark side
The branding of the Bay

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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