Friday, April 21, 2006

immigration and the living wage

i spent most of the night on the phone with my lil brother, a very smart, wonderful man. he is a general contractor in Iowa, owns his own business with 4 guys working for him. he does excellent work and looks out for his guys, no one would argue that, but he hasn't worked in 5 weeks.

now, that isn't to say he hasn't been working. he has been working his butt off trying to land a contract but to no avail.he has called everyone he knows, but no luck. the funny thing is there are $300,000 condos going up all over the area, yet no one has anything corporate to offer.

just last week, he had this bid on a big project that he thought was really going to bail things out. insulation work at 65 ft for a big facility. his bid came in at $28,000. that comes out to $115/sq ft plus soffit cost, or $25 over market cost. the next lowest bid was 35K and the one above that 52K. at the last minute, a bid came in at 17K and he lost the contract. here is what my brother says:

almost half. that is almost half our bid. at 65 feet mind you. there is no way anyone could do that unless there ain't a guy on the project that speaks a lick of English. i'm not passing judgment or nothin'-i mean everyone has got to eat-but there is just no way to beat that.

besides breaking my heart, because he is after all my baby brother and i cannot protect him, two things stood out.
1. my brother may not be able to hold his business together much longer given the unfair market pressures of an illegal workforce, but he has the sense not to blame the immigrants for also just trying to put food on the table.
2. no one should be risking their lives/welfare working for so little.

these to me are the talking points of immigration reform:
1. we need to crack down and hard on employers to give US workers a fighting chance and decrease the incentive for illegal immigration.
2. if we don't make a living wage a priority for all workers, there will always be someone more desperate for food and more willing to sacrifice safety and quality.

1 comment:

ab said...

NAFTA is a large part of the problem.

"Despite promises of increased economic development throughout Mexico, only the border region has seen intensified industrial activity. In border maquiladora factories, over one million more Mexicans work for less than the minimum wage of $5 per day today than before NAFTA. Meanwhile, NAFTA’s agricultural terms have devastated small farmers, with one million peasant farm families estimated to have been forced out of farming. The displaced campesinos are forced either into immigrating to the US or into Mexico’s overcrowded cities where unemployment runs rampant. During the NAFTA period, eight million Mexicans have fallen from the middle class into poverty."