Add the treatment of agricultural workers from Mexico to the growing list of the foreign policy items on the agenda for the Biden administration.
In the latest dust-up, the Mexican ambassador, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, has written Labor Secretary Marty Walsh invoking the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to protest treatment of farmworkers in the United States.
Issues raised in the Barragan letter range from overtime and rest period rules to COVID-19 protection and technical questions about wash stations and the pay for food processing workers versus packing workers.
“The Department of Labor received the letter from Ambassador Barragán, and we are reviewing the information provided. We enjoy a close and open relationship with the government of Mexico and are always open to constructive discussions on labor issues,” a Department of Labor spokesman told the Business Times via email.
Agribusiness in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties has a value of more than $3.5 billion, and most of the labor supply comes from both documented and undocumented workers from Mexico.
In a note to the Business Times and other community leaders, the consul general of Mexico in Oxnard, Euclides Del Moral, stated that “while the greatest majority of agricultural employers in the U.S. provide decent, fair and adequate working conditions, there is always room for improvement in terms of oversight from the government.”
With a major reset under way on immigration policy and farmers leaving fields fallow due to a dire labor shortage, we expect Walsh to have a more forceful answer. Our Central Coast farmers, most of whom are doing the right thing, should expect that the Department of Labor and the secretary have their back and so should their employees.
And the Biden Administration must do a lot more to make sure Central Coast farmers have the labor they need to meet growing global demand. With China opening up for Central Coast lemons and innovators like Apeel Sciences extending the shelf life of avocados, there should be plenty of room for growth in the agribusiness sector if there is an adequate supply of labor.
Barragán is correct in recognizing that labor supply is a key ingredient in the agribusiness production chain, but he should not be too quick to judge those agribusinesses that abide by the rules.
REMEMBERING CHARLES GRODIN
What makes a man funny? In an era of #MeToo and brawling political tribalism, we can turn to the late Charles Grodin for at least part of the answer to that question.
There’s no doubt that Grodin was one of the great comic actors of his generation, and his deadpan performance opposite Robert DeNiro in “Midnight Run” influenced a generation of wise guys and wannabes. In one of his more memorable ad libs in that 1988 film, he turned to tough-guy DeNiro and asked, “You ever had sex with an animal, Jack?” That line came as part of an improvised effort to make De Niro laugh.
Grodin, 86, died after a battle with cancer on May 18, at his home in Wilton, Connecticut. His memorable roles and his ability to make people laugh with just a blank stare will stand as signature events in the history of the motion picture arts and comedy.