On May 28, California's Governor Schwarzenegger attended the funeral of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old farmworker who died of heatstroke. The pregnant girl collapsed in a vineyard and died two days later in a Lodi hospital. She was an illegal alien from Mexico.
The governor agreed with the Mexican government (meddling as usual) that the tragedy was avoidable: "Maria's death should have been prevented", he said. [Must make sure this never happens again' Governor, By Ross Farrow, Lodi News-Sentinel May 29, 2008]
Sure—if immigration law had been enforced, she would still be alive in Mexico.
Needless to say, no one should die at work in America for the lack of some water and shade.
But Jimenez' tragic death was another reminder of how workplace standards have cratered under the post-1965 onslaught of millions of illegal workers. They not only labor for lower wages, but also accept abysmal conditions that Americans thought had been eradicated by law and custom years ago.
In fact, Jimenez' tragic death is not a one-off event. It is part of a growing pattern of abuse. A June 5 AP article announced a new study: Hispanics dying on job at higher rates than others, and the text noted that among that group, the foreign born unsurprisingly did the worst:
"The researchers calculated an annual death rate of 5 per 100,000 Hispanic workers in 2006. But the rate for foreign-born Hispanics, roughly 6 per 100,000, was far higher than the 3.5 for those born in the United States.
"The rate for non-Hispanic white workers was 4. For blacks, it was 3.7.
"'The burden of risk is primarily on foreign-born workers,' said Scott Richardson, a Bureau of Labor Statistics program director, in a Thursday telephone press conference about the new report. "
(The original government study can be read at the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): Work-Related Injury Deaths Among Hispanics—United States, 1992—2006.)
Hiring expendable foreigners is all about the money, not doing a top-notch or even adequate job. So increased deaths and injury are accepted by managements as a regrettable but normal part of doing business today. Immigrants too often don't get around to learning English, which makes it easier for managers to avoid normal safety training, or to assume that the alien worker knows how to do things properly.
Well, you may say, illegal aliens asked to be ripped off by working unlawfully, so the heck with them. However, as workplace standards decline for the illegals, so do they also for American workers. Those "willing" foreign workers have made it easier for employers to lower workplace norms. For example, a 2005 GAO report, Safety in the Meat and Poultry Industry, stated, "The meat and poultry workforce tends to be ... Hispanic (42 percent)."
That study also noted:
"Declining rates of unionization coincided with increases in the use of immigrant workers, higher worker turnover, and reductions in wages. Immigrants make up large and growing shares of the workforces at many plants. Labor turnover in meat and poultry plants is quite high, and in some worksites can exceed 100 percent in a year as workers move to other employers or return to their native countries. "
Meatpacking has been called "the most dangerous factory job in America," The injury rate of slaughterhouses is more than three times that of U.S. private industry overall. (See the New York Times story, Rights Group Condemns Meatpackers on Job Safety, January 26, 2005, by Steven Greenhouse.)
As I have blogged (American Miners Now Targeted) speaking English is a vital safety issue in mining. But coal companies wanted Hispanic workers nevertheless. The 2007 mine disaster at Huntington, Utah, revealed how successful they have been: three of the six men trapped and killed in the cave-in were Hispanics.
Such power to affect life, death and sovereignty does not occur by accident: it is actively sought. On June 4, Lou Dobbs Tonight reported that in 2007, the total amount of special interest money spent in lobbying Washington was nearly $3 billion, a doubling from the previous decade. The top spender was open-borders powerhouse, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
The American workplace has become far more cutthroat in recent decades. More and more, employers hold all the cards. Advances in information technology like the internet have made it easy to outsource jobs to places like India. Unions, paralyzed by political correctness, have even stupidly embraced illegal scabs as a group to be organized —a craven betrayal of labor's history of protecting the American worker.
The illegal workers are part of that broader trend where Davos-style elites have quietly abandoned the nation-state and have morphed into One-Worlders with a bent toward commerce. A more malleable workforce just makes the world function more smoothly, business elites conveniently believe as they accumulate record profits.
The result is a resurgence of the Bad Old Days of hazardous working conditions from a century ago.
When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906 (read the book online), he aimed to shine a light on the safety issue by writing a novel about immigrants working in a slaughterhouse. Although the book is more remembered as propelling a movement for food safety, leading to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, it is also seen as a benchmark about exploited workers in a dangerous environment. "The Jungle" is still referenced today by writers from Clarence Page to Jonah Goldberg.
PBS' Newshour reported in 2006 on the book's centenary (Sinclair's 'The Jungle' Turns 100), and noted "the book examines issues about immigrant workers and the meat industry that remain relevant today." Apparently the lack of progress between then and now was not a source of alarm for the diversity devotees at PBS. But there is a direct correlation between an oversupply of readily exploitable workers (immigrants, particularly illegal) and the institutionalization of wretched working conditions.
Absolutely, business must be compelled to stop the abusive work conditions that led to the death of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez—and her unborn child.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She recommends the Academy-Award-winning documentary American Dream as a reminder of when citizens fought to keep their meatpacking jobs which then provided families with middle-class livings—before foreigners were brought in as strikebreakers.