To the Editors of The Crimson:
In his reply to my letter on the United Farmworkers in Tuesday's Crimson, Peter Ferrare makes a number of factual errors and distortions which should be corrected:
1. Mr. Ferrara disputes my statement that 25 per cent of all full-time farmworkers earn less than $5 a day, claiming that the actual figure is 11 per cent. Here he has read the wrong line of a table in the Agriculture Department's "The Hired Farm Working Force of 1970." 11 per cent of all "farmworkers"--including those who work only a few days a year in the fields--earn under $5 a day. But of full-time farmworkers--those working over 150 days a year--the figure is 25 per cent.
2. Mr. Ferrara asks his readers to compare the figure of $400 a year I cite as median family income of farmworkers with "the figure of $1400...given by the UFW." But the $1400 figure refers to an individual worker's earnings. If Mr. Ferrara's point is that a farmworker family needs more than two people working full-time in the fields to earn even 40 per cent of the national median income, he is absolutely correct.
3. Mr. Ferrare objects that the definition of full-time farmworkers as those who work over 150 days a year in the fields is "somewhat short of full-time." Unfortunately, many workers simply cannot find a full year's work. But Mr. Ferrar will find that, according to the Department of Agriculture, the median family income for families whose head works over 250 days a year in the fields is hardly any higher--$4500 a year instead of slightly over $4000.
4. Mr. Ferrara complains that the statistics I use refer to the whole country, not just California. He is correct; incomes in California are slightly higher (as is the cost of living). But according to the 1970 U.S. Census, the median family income for experienced California farmworkers (including foremen and skilled machine operators) is only $6200 a year, or 52 per cent of the state median. For Chicano farmworkers, the median is $600 lower. According to the Census data, over 20 per cent of all California farmworker families live below the poverty line. For Chicanos, the figure is 28 per cent. Even among those families whose head was able to find work for over 50 weeks a year, 13 per cent (and 19 per cent of the Chicanos) make less than the poverty level.
5. In his quote from the Washington Post, Mr. Ferrara omits a key qualifying sentence. The sentence before the one he quotes states, "The lettuce workers--because of the gruelling stoop labor and specialized techniques involved--is in the economic elite among agricultural laborers." The article goes on to say that a lettuce worker can earn up to $12,000 in a good year. A more typical average income is the $6800 median family income in the Salinas Valley, the center of the lettuce industry. This is higher than most farmworkers' incomes, but it is still only 62 per cent of the state median.
But even more serious, Mr. Ferrara neglects to mention that the lettuce workers referred to are under union contract. The Teamsters have been forced by pressure from the UFW to negotiate contracts with higher wage rates. If Mr. Ferrara's point is that the main issue between the UFW and the Teamsters is not wages, he is correct (although wages are one issue, and the UFW contracts do provide higher wages). The main issues are health and safety (according to the national Safety Council, farmworkers' lethal injury rates are 300 per cent higher than the national average); pesticide control; child labor (which the UFW contract bars); working conditions (e.g., the right to have toilets in the fields); enforcement of contract provisions (which are repeatedly violated under Teamsters contracts, a fact which has led to a number of recent wildcat strikes by workers covered by the Teamsters); the labor contractor system (which the UFW contract abolishes); and, above all, union democracy. The Teamsters' attitude towards democracy was best expressed by Einar Mohn, President of the West Coast Conference of Teamsters, who told the LA Times (4/28/73), "It will be a couple of years before they can start having membership meetings...I'm not sure how effective a union can be when it is composed of Mexican-Americans...As jobs become more attractive to whites, then we can build a union that can have structure and membership participation."
6. In citing the figure of $7785 a year as the earnings of full-time Gallo workers, Mr. Ferrara once again neglects to mention that these workers are under Teamsters contract. He also fails to mention that when that contract was first signed, the Gallo workers walked out because of their support of the UFW, and that this September the scabs who were brought in to replace them walked out on the grounds that the Teamsters were not enforcing the provisions of their contract. The wage figures Mr. Ferrara cites are only meaningful as long as the Teamsters are willing to enforce them, and so far their record has been absysmal.
In all the argument back and forth about statistics, it is important to keep a few basic facts about the condition of farmworkers in California in sight. Farmworkers earn only about 50 per cent of the median state income; over 20 per cent live below the poverty line (1970 U.S. Census). They suffer lethal accident rates 300 per cent above the national average (National Safety Council). They often have dangerous pesticides sprayed on them while working (U.S. Labor Department, Special Review Staff), and 80 per cent suffer at least one symptom of pesticide poisoning (California state study, reported in Fresno Bee, 9/26/69). Few have sanitary toilets or safe drinking water at work (Congressional Record, 7/20/70). Their life expectancy is only 49 years, 23 less than the national average (U.S. Public Health Service). And except for those workers covered by UFW contracts, they have no method to change these conditions except for the strike and the boycott. Steven Carlip