A Day Without Latino Labor Can Be a Very Bad Day
Feb 19, 2016
The February 18 political rally, “A Day Without Latinos” in and around the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., drove home the point that Latino/Hispanic labor is a critical, integral part of the dairy industry.
By most accounts, dairy farms in the state had worked out agreements with their Hispanic crews that allowed some to attend the rally while ensuring a skeleton crew remained on the farm to milk and feed cows. Some larger dairies had even provided transportation to Madison and continued to pay workers while they protested.
“It’s not a big versus small farm issue,” says Tim Trotter, executive director of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association. “If you’re a small farm and have two Hispanic employees, you might really need them.”
The rally was caused by two bills being driven through the legislative process along party lines. One bill prohibits local governments from issuing photo IDs to immigrants in the country illegally. It awaits Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.
The second bill would prohibit local governments from establishing jurisdictional sanctuaries where local police would not be allowed to question a person’s immigration status if charged with another crime. The bill has passed the Assembly but has not been put to a vote in the state Senate. It’s a potential issue for Dane County (which includes Madison), the city of Madison, Milwaukee and Racine Counties.
“Dane County is the only jurisdiction with any number of dairy farms,” says Trotter. But the bills have been publicized over Spanish speaking radio, and heightened awareness and concern among Latinos.
“It’s more fear factor than reality,” he says. Even if the bill does become law, most local sheriff and police forces will simply look the other way. They have far better things to do than hunt down the immigration status of local residents.
But both bills show what happens when there’s no action on immigration reform in Washington. “Without good reforms at the federal level, states will start to flex their muscle,” says Trotter. “And when they try to solve one problem, they can create others.”
What’s bizarre is that agriculture in general, and dairy in particular, are huge economic drivers in Wisconsin. Based on 2012 data, the latest available, Wisconsin agriculture generates $88 billion annually and dairy generates nearly half of that, $43 billion. In other words, agriculture is driving 30% of the state’s economy; dairy, 15%.
And yet the Wisconsin Legislature, driven by partisan politics, is enacting legislation that could disrupt nearly a third of the state’s economic activity. In a more rational, less hyper-politicized world, you’d think state legislators would be all over their U.S. Congressional delegation to get immigration fixed.
Unfortunately, particularly in an election year, we don’t live in rationale world where common sense trumps political gain (pun intended). Just hope this insanity doesn’t come to a state legislature near you.