Farm Workers and NAFTA

* Supporters and opponents of NAFTA agree on one thing: Some Americans will be hurt by the new agreement. We must immediately take steps to make sure that America’s farm workers, among the poorest of the working poor, have an opportunity to learn new skills before their jobs are eliminated. There is already a surplus of agricultural workers, with new immigrants arriving daily looking for field work; so the loss of harvesting jobs due to NAFTA will have a devastating impact. The new jobs in agriculture that NAFTA will create--in areas such as marketing and inspection--require a retraining effort that is long-term and comprehensive.

While President Clinton does have a worker retraining program in the works, farm workers may find themselves once again left out. With the unsteady employment they face, they will probably not qualify for enough income support to provide sufficient time for adequate job retraining. Congress has already exempted farm workers from the federal minimum wage, overtime, child labor and collective bargaining laws. The Assn. of Farmworker Opportunity Programs has worked with farm workers for over 22 years providing employment and training assistance. The needs of farm workers are different and more profound than those of other workers. A new retraining program cannot ignore these special needs.

DIANE MULL, Executive Director

Assn. of Farmworker Opportunity


Programs, Arlington, Va.

* I think the NAFTA deal is probably OK for the Mexican people in the short run, and OK for the American people in the long run. I feel a strong Mexican economy in the long run will provide us with a great market for our products. NAFTA will also help American shareholders of companies producing goods in Mexico due to the lower cost of labor there. I’m sure no one knows for certain the overall impact of NAFTA. We’ll have to wait and see if this works, and if it doesn’t, there’s always NAFTA II.

I think it’s OK to help the Mexican people. They’re human beings just like all Americans. I find the people who come here from Mexico are in general pretty hard workers. Recently at a stoplight in Los Angeles I noticed a white man with a sign stating he was homeless and would work for food. Right next to him was a Mexican national selling oranges. Pretty ironic.

I can’t blame people for wanting to come to the U.S. We live in the greatest country in the world. No one ever says, “If I could only get to Cuba my troubles would be over.”