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This blog is the brainchild of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is intended as a forum for people to discuss their personal views concerning topical issues. Posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Board or the Student Writers as a whole. We encourage well-rounded debates and discussions.
- Jude Pannell, JGRJ Student Writer 2008-09
Every year on Thanksgiving, newspapers across the country print editorials and columns appropriate for the occasion. Some mark the passage of the seasons. Some wax eloquent on the importance of family. Others encourage generosity towards those less fortunate than readers. Most make an obligatory mention of the food most Americans eat on Thanksgiving, and then proceed quickly to the formulaic “More Important Message About Gratitude,” or the “Clever and Witty Observation About Traditions.”
There is nothing terribly wrong with that approach. But just as a Thanksgiving dinner comprised solely of stuffing would leave most diners unsatisfied, those pieces fail to address the real substance of Americans’ Thanksgiving traditions. The food we eat is not just the result of a day in the kitchen. On the fourth Thursday of each November we are the beneficiaries of a year’s labor by hardworking Americans who don’t always get the recognition they should.
Consider the turkey. Every year six hundred seventy-five million pounds of turkey are eaten on Thanksgiving. In 2003 American turkey farmers produced two hundred seventy million turkeys. Three quarters of those turkeys came from Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. On each of the approximately 8000 turkey farms in America, men and women worked long and hard to provide us with the traditional center of Thanksgiving dinner. For your dedication, thank you.
Through autumn, while other Americans go about their lives, potato farmers watch the weather. A successful potato harvest is a delicate balancing act. Harvesting when the soil is too cold results in cracked and bruised potatoes. The potatoes must then be cured at around 60 degrees and then stored at a slightly lower temperature. The mashed potatoes on the table next to the turkey are the result of potato farmers’ work and worry. Many potato farmers’ livelihoods depend on a single crop. For your risks and hard work, thank you.
There would be no stuffing without wheat. In Kansas, the leading wheat producer in the United States, one third of the state’s 63,000 farms grow wheat. Together they annually produce approximately 400 million bushels of wheat. They do so at the mercy of the weather, plant disease, and market fluctuations that can make even a bountiful harvest worthless. For providing stuffing today and bread for the world every day, thank you.
Of course, there is not enough room on this page to thank everyone whose labor makes Thanksgiving possible. In addition to the farmers who grow all the other products we need for green bean casserole, gravy, pies, cranberry sauce, corn, sweet potatoes, and so on, other workers help get the food from field to table.
Most Thanksgiving dinners include pumpkin pie. Each slice of pie represents the labors of farmers, produce pickers, produce wholesalers, truck drivers, produce canners, grocery warehouse workers, supermarket stockers and cashiers. It’s not glamorous or lucrative work, but without it Thanksgiving would not be the same. For your long hours behind the scenes helping make our holiday complete, thank you.
It is appropriate to take this day to express gratitude for friends, family, and other more tangible things. At the same time, however, a true display of gratitude must include those upon whose efforts this holiday depends. Consider the developing situation in Postville, Iowa. Less than a year ago, Postville was held up as example of a symbiotic small town in which most of the residents worked for one employer, Agriprocessors. Agriprocessors depended on the residents and claimed to value them. Today, it is clear that was not the case.
Federal immigration officials have detained hundreds of workers. Families face the prospect of being torn apart by deportation proceedings. Many members of Agriprocessors’ upper management now face criminal charges for exploiting the workers—encouraging violation of immigration laws, violating child labor laws, and disregarding workplace safety laws. The workers in Postville were treated like chattel, and now the town’s social and economic structure has been crippled. A recent article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted that many families in Postville are coping with food insecurity. There will be hungry families in Postville this Thanksgiving.
None of the workers in Postville were looking for a free ride. They came to Postville so they could provide a better life for themselves and their families. They did exhausting, dangerous, dirty, low-paying work in a meatpacking plant so the rest of us could eat. Giving thanks for our good fortune without acknowledging and addressing their plight would render this Thanksgiving meaningless.
Check out this news article about a newly filed class action. (link & text below)
Forestry firms sued over pay, conditions of Mexican workersAssociated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Three class-action lawsuits have been against forestry companies for allegedly taking unlawful advantage of Mexicans and Guatemalans who do seasonal work in the Southeast.
The lawsuits claim the workers, who are in the United States on temporary work visas, often make less than minimum wage, do not receive overtime pay and work upward of 70 hours a week planting trees.
“The workers are essentially being cheated in fairly dramatic ways and pretty systematically,” Mary Bauer, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Wednesday.
The lawsuits, filed by the SPLC in federal court, list as defendants Eller & Sons Trees Inc. in Franklin, Ga., Idaho-based Alpha Services LLC and Arkansas-based Express Forestry. The companies, responding in court filings, have denied the accusations.
Larry Stine, an attorney representing Eller & Sons, said the claims are ludicrous.
Stine said the workers make at least $8.29 an hour planting trees, but they have complained of not being paid for the time they are traveling from where they stay to where they work.
Bauer said the lawsuits represent about 2,000 workers in a major Southern industry. They seek repayment of lost wages for the forestry workers. Bauer said the litigation may be expanded.