Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weary of waiting for Washington, US farm union recruits laborers in Mexico

HURON, California: Weary of waiting for Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, the United Farm Workers union is marching forward with a plan to recruit Mexican laborers to pick crops on U.S. farms.

The union's efforts to import temporary workers under an existing government program follows similar moves by lawmakers in Arizona and Colorado, who are also trying to create new pathways to bring in foreign field hands without approval from Washington.

This month, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez signed an agreement with the governor of the Mexican state of Michoacan to help recruit local residents to apply for temporary jobs on U.S. farms, all of which would be covered under union contracts.

Thousands of people from the central Mexican state already harvest strawberries, oranges and other crops in the U.S.

Under the new pact, government field staff in Michoacan will distribute information on U.S. labor protections, especially in rural towns known for sending a large number of their residents north. In exchange, the union will negotiate contracts with U.S. growers willing to guarantee that legal workers' rights will be respected on both sides of the border, UFW International Director Erik Nicholson said.

The UFW got involved after hearing that Mexican recruiters were charging people as much as $5,000 (€3,200) for short-term contracts under the existing, but rarely used federal guest worker program, Nicholson said.

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