We all buy cheap goods made in China, Mexico and various third world countries, but most of us never stop to think of the real cost of these goods. Unfotunately, companies like Walmart, who regularly violate local laws to protect employees in this country, profit considerably from deplorable working conditions arounds the world.
Recently the Los Angeles Times has been shedding some light on the conditions workers face in Mexico’s mega-farms. In their four-part series, Product of Mexico, reporter Richard Marosi and photojournalist Don Bartletti have been detailing the deplorable and inhumane treatment of those responsible for ensuring that the tomatoes at your wholesale grocer arrive in pristine condition. Child labor, indentured servitude, exploitation, concrete bedding, insufficient water and extreme hardship are the price these workers pay for the soaring profits of agribusinesses, distributors and retailers and the convenience and low prices for American consumers. It is an exceptional story and a heartbreaking tale. But most of this story takes place in the far-away land of Mexico – why should American workers care?
There are of course, many, many reasons to care. But putting aside all of those pesky moral issues (and even, for the moment, the opinions of some hippie industrialists and economic theorists who would have you believe that treating the workforce a level above absolutely awful might actually make good business sense) and focusing only on employment law allows for a more manageable analysis. In this realm, the Los Angeles Times piece can be seen as highlighting the absolute necessity of strong labor laws in America.
As much as we may like to believe otherwise, unfettered capitalism has the risk of inducing businesses, in an incessant and desperate attempt to increase short-term profits, to adopt policies and practices very much like those seen at the Mexican mega-farms. A crucial barrier against this, in America as a whole, and California in particular, are our various employment laws and regulations. Even with these protections, we still see behavior by employers that, while not as objectively evil, still has a debilitating and dehumanizing effect on the American worker. Take for example two recent stories in the New York Times, “Working Anything but 9 to 5” by Jodi Kantor (photography by Sam Hodgson) and “Unsteady Incomes Keep Millions Behind on Bills” by Patricia Cohen. These stories deal with the financial, personal, and emotional tolls that result from uncertainty in work and hours. The first article discusses the impact of the increasing reliance that companies have on scheduling software. The optimization of efficiency comes at the expense of workers who no longer know if, when, and for how long they may be asked to work. The second article explores the effect of temporary-only work on the family unit. Companies that used to have full-time employees now hire only temporary and seasonal workers, discarding employees when their profitability quotient shows even the slightest sign of stagnation.
All of this leads to massive destabilization and hardship in the lives of an ever increasing number of Americans. And while it may not receive the attention of the atrocities in Mexico – the pattern and behavior is similar. Corporations will go up to and over whatever line is drawn in order to increase profits for themselves and their shareholders. Workers are viewed not as human beings but as a variable, an expense – a figure that can be used and manipulated as necessary. What separates American workers from the fate of those at the Mexican mega-farms, are our labor laws. But these laws, and the rights and remedies they provide, are useless unless properly asserted. At The Rutten Law Firm, APC we have experience successfully representing individuals who have been victimized by their current or former employer, whether by harassment, discrimination or wrongful termination. It can be a daunting task, going up against big businesses, but we have the experience, passion and resources necessary to take on this challenge.