At Threemile Canyon Farms 63 hour weeks at $10 an hour for tough, dirty, demanding jobs
Posted by Christopher Coen on October 16, 2012
In Boardman, Oreg. refugees are working 63 hours each week at $10 an hour for tough, dirty, demanding dairy jobs at Threemile Canyon Farms. The International Rescue Committee is in partnership with the R.D. Offutt Company, the dairy’s operator and the largest producer of potatoes in the world, supplying the frozen french fries industry. While paying its workers $10 and hour, the company’s owner lives in affluent splendor. (An older article also examines the environmental hazards of growing irrigated potatoes.) An article in The Oregonian has the details about the refugees’ lives:
Expectations? The Africans have little in the way of expectations. They left those behind when they fled Eritrea, Congo or the Sudan, and the emotional baggage never caught up to them in the refugee camps of Ethiopia or Rwanda…
When they are finally pulled from the wasteland by the International Rescue Committee, when they are ticketed for resettlement in America, you can understand the dizzying temptation to dream big.
“Most of us think we’re going to see a miracle,” Thierry Gasasu admits. “Paradise.
“And then we get to Boise.”
The Wilson Road apartments.
And those 12-hour shifts — six days running — at Threemile Canyon Farms.
Given their memories and humility, it never occurs to these African refugees to complain…
…the word of the Lord has a far better chance of sustaining them than the workload and take-home pay at the Threemile Canyon dairy.
Wolday and Hailu are two of the stalwarts among the 30-some refugees who work at the dairy and bunk at the Maple Crest Apartments in Boardman. As Wolday prepared dinner in early October — beef, onions and peppers on Injera bread — Hailu framed the daily routine:
“We only have time,” he said, “to go to work and sleep.”
An Ethiopian video is playing on the TV in the living room. At least two dozen flies float through the small kitchen or cling to the ceiling tiles. The four refugees who share the apartment will be in bed by 9 p.m. and up again at 4 a.m., girding for another 12-hour run with the cows…
Threemile Canyon Farms is owned by the R.D. Offutt Company, based in Fargo, N.D. Parked on 93,000 acres in the Columbia River basin, the farm produces 200,000 tons of potatoes annually. Its dairy operation features 16,000 milking cows, or one-seventh of the cows in Oregon…
“Almost no native-born Americans apply for these jobs,” Guterbock said. “It’s a tough, dirty, demanding job.”
Hailu and Wolday move through pens containing up to 900 cows, separating out the animals that are too sick to produce good milk.
And Hailu and Wolday have it relatively easy, compared, at least to Thierry Gasasu, an Eritrean who has been milking the suckers for the last eight months.
Or Katanga Janvier, who works “maternity.” In each 12-hour shift, he gets two breaks, totaling 50 minutes. The other 670 minutes, he’s in pregnant cows up to his elbows, delivering calves.
He’s paid $10 an hour, Janvier says, and not a dime of overtime, even though he’s on the clock an average of 63 hours each week…
…By federal law, agriculture workers are exempt from overtime pay provisions… Read more here