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Based on myth, Lungren guest worker idea would ‘cripple’ Latino farm workers

For Release:
October 17, 1997, 1997,

Based on myth, Lungren guest worker idea
would ‘cripple’ Latino farm workers

Attorney General Dan Lungren’s bid to appeal for support among Latino voters by proposing a guest worker program would ‘deal a crippling blow" to Latino farm workers in California whose employers would use such a plan to further depress pay and resist unionization, according to United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.

"Lungren’s quest worker scheme is based on the agribusiness myth that there is a shortage of farm workers," Rodriguez said in a statement from the UFW’s Keene, Calif. headquarters. "Yet unemployment figures consistently show the state’s major agricultural counties enjoy large surpluses of labor even during harvest seasons. These statistics are very conservative since many farm workers do not go to state offices to file for unemployment benefits.’

State Employment Development Department data reveals that harvest-time unemployment rates in important farming counties are much higher than state averages. (See attached.) It is a phenomenon that has remained constant for decades.

In a Friday story in the Sacramento Bee, the GOP candidate for governor argued a guest worker program would appeal to Latino voters who would find it common-sensical."

"The only thing common-sensical about Lungren’s idea is the effect simple economics tells us it would have on California farm workers," Rodriguez said. "A surplus labor supply lets growers depress wages, benefits and field conditions. Today, when farm workers dare to complain about poor pay or abusive treatment, foremen and labor contractors remind them there are plenty of others lined up to take their places. In most farming regions there are two or more farm workers for every job.

"Cesar Chavez reminded us agribusinesses’ chief farm labor strategy over the years has been maintaining a surplus supply of labor. It has succeeded in keeping down pay and fighting union organizing. Now Dan Lungren wants to worsen the already miserable conditions plaguing most farm workers."

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Examples of 1997 Harvest-time Unemployment
Rates in Some Key Rural California Counties 1

County Months Unemployment rates:County Unemployment rates:State
Kern August 2 9.8 6.1
July 10.7 6.7
June 11.4 6.3
Tulare August 13.2 6.1
July 14.3 6.7
June 13.9 6.3
Kings August 10.3 6.1
July 11.8 6.7
June 13.0 6.3
Fresno August 10.2 6.1
July 11.8 6.7
June 12.4 6.3
Stanislaus August 9.7 6.1
July 12.3 6.7
June 13.4 6.3
Madera August 10.3 6.1
July 14.1 6.7
June 13.3 6.3
Merced August 10.4 6.1
July 13.3 6.7
June 14.1 6.3
Imperial February 22.7 7.1
January 25.7 7.4


1. from CA Employment Development Department

2. August is the latest month for which data is available as of this morning, Oct. 17, 1997. EDD is supposed to issue September figures later today.