Black Workers Claim Racial Bias at Farms

African-African farm workers say they've been fired because of race and national origin

black farmersAs Congress toils away on a historic immigration reform measure, we should expect the long-brewing dispute between underemployed African-Americans and Mexican immigrant workers in the south to be part of debate.

A group of mostly black workers in Georgia tells the New York Times it wants work in the Vidalia onion fields. But the group alleges farm owners routinely mistreat them, pay them less and give more desirable jobs to Mexican guest workers.

“(Farm owners) like the Mexican because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, an experience field worker among the group that alleges they’d been fired because of their race and national origin. Tomason told the Times she quit Stanley Farms, one of several operations facing lawsuits by unemployed American workers.

Georgia farm owners tell the Times they would love to fill jobs with American workers, particularly the local African-Americans who have launched legal complaints, while also acknowledging a not-so-hidden racial bias against black workers.

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” said John Schwalls, a farm owner. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

Sounds like Schwalls is all but confirming the racist undertones that civil and workers’ rights groups are decrying. It’s no surprise that conservative Republican lawmakers from southern states are dragging their feet on paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while they champion the expansion of the guest worker program.

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