Leg­is­la­tion threat­ens la­bor sup­ply for dairies

posted Aug. 21, 2017 7:50 a.m. (CDT)
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by / W. Michael Slattery

The Wisconsin Assembly is circulating a bill, AB 190, that threatens primarily a large section of dairy farms in the state. The bill proposes principally both to deputize local and state police to act as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents and to penalize local governments who declare themselves and their police as sanctuary polities.

Megadairies (CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations) and dairies milking more than 400 cows employ many undocumented laborers who with their employer are paying taxes required for social security and FICA. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find reliable, hardworking documented workers or citizens to come and milk cows all hours of the day and experience the hazards of working with these animals, no matter what the pay level is.

Many smaller Wisconsin dairies, estimated to number around 8,500, and farmers throughout the state may hesitate to indirectly support their larger neighboring dairies when their own smaller operations find it difficult to compete on the economy of scale, to have the ability to milk thrice daily, and to get the deep pockets or borrowing power to expand.

The largest dairy operations until recently have mostly been silent and in the shadows, not wishing to rile smaller dairies and not to seem to be engaging in illegal activity. They are concerned about losing their economic benefits accruing from their undocumented employees while the Trump administration, some Republican federal legislators, and the state legislators pursue their race-based immigration policies and foment forced deportation of law-abiding, family-oriented laborers who have a work ethic lost among the Wisconsin rural and urban populace.

It is time for morally upright people to stand up and demand that our local legislators desist from their self-righteous attitude and look at the human side of this issue. As farm owners and managers, we should be focusing on the status of our laborers more so than on our economic profits and business viability. We are faced with a problem affecting our neighbors who may be less fortunate than ourselves.

Most, if not all, undocumented laborers are working here because they are either political or economic refugees. U.S. foreign and trade policy is responsible for their working here. The North American Free Trade Agreement undermined the Mexican rural economy from which many fled in need to support their families. U.S. illegal military and covert intervention undermined democratically elected governments in Central America, induced the destabilization of those societies and made them ripe for criminal activity which threatened citizens’ lives.

It is particularly galling to see our state legislators glad-handing and serving at the various dairy breakfasts on farms, that survive because we have employed lower-paid, undocumented labor. These same legislators return to Madison to hypocritically sponsor bills that they know will engage in racial profiling, stimulate deportation and worsen our farming operations.

If we as farmers are ethically conscientious, we need to have our legislators withdraw this immoral legislative bill, AB 190.

W. Michael Slattery farms near Maribel in northwest Manitowoc County, where he raises Holstein steers, grows cash-crop grain, custom raises sheep and hogs, and markets vegetables and fruit from his family’s garden and orchards.

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