Vidalia farmers turn to prison system for harvest help after immigration crackdown
July 9th, 2012
03:30 PM ET
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Relinda Walker still can't believe what she heard. Incredulity seeps into in her slow Southern drawl as she repeats the price – only 60 cents for a pound of organic Vidalia onions. Incredible.

Walker, an organic farmer in south Georgia has seen great change in her industry, but this price, about 40 cents cheaper than she could ever conceivably charge, really gives her pause. She wants to pay fair wages to her American workers, and she's unwilling to take on the compromise made by some other Georgia farmers, using inmates to process her crop.

This time of year, Vidalias are on the minds and in the mouths of many food fanatics in and around the Southeast. These golden orbs inspire the kind of passion normally reserved for fine wines and cheese. Devotees feature the sweet beauties in recipes handed down from grandmothers, and pricey restaurants put them front and center on their menus during the scant months they are in season. Like Champagne is to France, Vidalias are to parts of south Georgia.

The affection for this crop isn't lost on Walker. "It's a labor of love," she sighs. The onions take up a lot of land and labor, and are prone to disease. Since she grows organically, there's also the matter of hand weeding, rather than relying on chemicals.

In a good year, she says, the crop makes her some money. But despite the low margin for profit and the backbreaking labor every September, Walker plants the onion seeds. She just plain likes doing it, she says. "In the winter when there's not a lot going on, you've still got those green shoots."

This year, those green shoots produced a good crop but she still can't get over those low prices she's hearing about. Like many farmers, Walker has a lot on her mind in addition to weather, weeds and water. While it’s great to have beautiful onions lined up row after row, they’re useless if you can’t get them out of the ground. Unlike other farmers, Walker says she never finds herself short of labor. The hard part is finding the money to pay fair wages for the hands that pick her crop.

For the past few months, the issue of farm labor has been front and center in Georgia. That's because last year, the state passed HB 87 - a tough immigration law modeled after Arizona's HB 1070. As a result, many farmers complained they had issues finding the farm labor they needed after HB 87 passed. It seemed that migrant workers didn’t even bother looking for jobs in the Peach State, and farmers were already having a difficult time filling positions with laborers on guest worker visas because of their cost and paperwork.

The farmers commissioned a study from the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development to determine the extent of damage the shortage had done. The study examined seven staple Georgia crops, Vidalia onions included. The findings were shocking: 18 Vidalia-producing farms lost an estimated $16,312,345 and 835 jobs. In total, the seven crops studied lost almost $75 million and more than 5,200 jobs because of the labor shortage.

The state stepped in, with the suggestion of using probationers to do the work. The plan has helped. Farmers were able to save some of their crops, and a section of society that often struggles to find work was given the opportunity to play a small role in solving a statewide problem.

This season, one onion farmer has turned to the state again - only this time, current prisoners are being allowed to help with the harvest. The program is small: just one farm using nine transitional center prisoners to help harvest and pack onions. The farmer initially granted media access to his farm but later declined CNN's request.

Stephen Everett, one of the men participating in the program did speak with CNN by phone. Everett, who is serving a multiple year sentence for burglary, volunteered to work on the farm and said he enjoyed "being in a work environment with other people."

The 42-year-old Georgia native is no stranger to farm labor; his family runs a cattle farm and he plans on working there should he be granted parole later this year. Everett and eight other inmates will have a few more weeks working with the onions, pulling down a minimum wage paycheck. The farmers get a subsidy from the government to cover part of the cost. They harvest, sort and ship the onions. Once the harvest is done, prison officials say they have no plans to work out similar arrangements with other farms or crops. So in Georgia, it's a small and temporary patch for what many farmers say is a larger problem with labor supply.

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling over Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Georgia’s law was modeled after; it’s clear that the issue will remain a prominent one. Relinda Walker is just happy there’s a cost-effective, albeit temporary solution. She regularly gets calls from local folks, American citizens, she says, looking for farm work. The problem is, she says, they’re too expensive to pay. She could hire laborers on a guest worker visa, but there are additional costs like transportation and housing that make that option an expensive one.

Then there’s the issue of verification. As of July 1, employers in Georgia with between 100 and 500 employees are required to use the E-Verify system for new hires. This system compares an employee’s information to Social Security and Immigration records and verifies citizenship. Though E-Verify is voluntary is some states, it is required for most employers in Georgia

While the politics of the matters are worked out hundreds of miles away in Washington, all Walker can do is look forward to next Vidalia onion season and hope she can afford the hands that harvest her labor of love.

Previously - Vidalia onions – accept no impostors and Peanut butter and Vidalia onions and other strange sandwich delights

Also - Chefs with Issues: Immigrants in the kitchen and Comments: the cost of immigrant kitchen labor and How the modern day tomato came to be



soundoff (694 Responses)
  1. RON REAGAN'S ROTTEN CORPSE

    We have half the linemen we had 15 years ago," says IBEW Local 1900 Business Agent Jim Griffin, whose union represents 1,150 Pepco workers. "We have been complaining for a very long time. They have relied for a long time on contractors. They are transients, they don't know our system, and we typically have to go behind them to fix their mistakes. It's very frustrating. We take ownership in our work, we make careers out of this."

    Griffin says that starting 15 years ago, Pepco stopped hiring workers to replace retiring electrical workers and offered incentive-laden buyout deals to get electricians to retire. In order to address understaffing problems, Pepco has at times hired non-union temporary contractors, instead of hiring new workers. Griffin estimates that Pepco currently employs 1,150 union workers and approximately 400 non-union contractors. The understaffing has led to problems that the IBEW warned about years ago.

    "Everything is keyed on dollars and cents profit," warned IBEW Utility Director Jim Hunter back in 2005. "Storm outages are longer, and utilities are asking for more and more help from other utilities. The problem is that other companies are in the same boat. And they are still not hiring."

    Despite having a negative -57% tax rate from 2008 to 2010 and making nearly $822 million in profits during that period, Pepco has not hired a sufficient number of electricians to properly maintain the system. Griffin claims the insufficient number of linemen causes Pepco's system to go out more often not just during storms, but on hot summer days when electrical grids are maxed out from air conditioners and fans. When big storms do hit and knock down the system, PEPCO hires outside contractors from far-away states to help in repairs.

    "When we have a major storm like this we rely heavily on assistance from other utilities. We have crews coming from Quebec and Oklahoma," says Griffin. "If we had more linemen we wouldn't have to wait three days for some of these crews to arrive. These extended power outages have to do with number of workers Pepco has on their payroll."

    Griffin says the understaffing is a "philosophical move" by the company. "It was easier to deal with the contractors than the employees. They can fire them at a moment's notice. Contractors don't get paid very well and they come and they go," says Griffin. "The problem becomes the quality of work. We have story after story of us coming out after contractors and fixing their work."

    July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  2. ElmerGantry

    Close the borders, close the borders, build a double walled electric fence, the sky is falling, the sky is falling, fear, fear, listen to FAUX, listen to FAUX.
    They are taking jobs from Americans.

    Now migrants are vanishing, we should have more Americans employed right?

    NO!

    Farmers put out a challenge for people to work the jobs of the migrant works and what did they get? The sound of crickets chirping, aka no applicants!

    Now farmers are appealing for prison workers.

    So where are these people who were complaining that immigrants were taking THEIR jobs.
    Of course sitting at home, watching FOX, believing everything FAUX talking heads say as only the credulous can and complaining that the migrants are taking the jobs that they want (but do not really want, shhhh).

    Todays tea party driven GOP is so ridiculous that it would be funny if not for the fact that this GOP = Greedy Obstructionist Party aka the Party of NO, is deliberately blocking any chance of progress in this country. All for the openly stated purpose of making Obama fail and be a one term president.

    This is not compassionate conservatism nor is it patriotic. It is simply conservatism.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  3. REPUGS NOT HAPPY UNTIL WE ALL VIRTUAL SLAVES

    Although this story is about Pepco, these union-busting practices are common in the public utilities. Seems like it would make sense to demand better service in light of the tax exemptions and hefty rebates these companies make, doesn't it?

    On Thursday, 15,091 Washington, D.C.-area residents were without power for the sixth day in a row, according to utility company Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal. As D.C. residents face record heat waves, many are upset and attribute the lack of power to incompetence on Pepco's end. However, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1900 members claim the failure to restore power outages is due to chronic understaffing and Pepco's shift from hiring union utility workers to non-union temporary contractors.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  4. IBEW Local: Pepco Power Outages Due To Chronic Understaffing, Hiring Of Temp Workers

    IBEW Local: Pepco Power Outages Due To Chronic Understaffing, Hiring Of Temp Workers

    July 9, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  5. WhatNow

    It looks like a lot of jobs are now available for all those hard-working US citizens looking for work. You have your wish, the illegals no longer have your jobs. Go now and work!

    July 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
    • MarileeBob

      Right? I'm waiting for all the people who were loudly complaining about how the migrant workers were stealing all the good jobs to start lining up!

      July 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • reason

      Illegals bring down wages illegally.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  6. Sergex

    Sure... they're taking our jobs... Well now the inmates are taking "OUR" jobs too?

    July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  7. billmosby

    Farmers and slave labor have always gone together well. Looks like they have found another source of slaves.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      No. They don't compel anyone to work, It's strictly voluntary, and in fact there are a lot of things you can do to screw up your chances of being able to participate in the first place.

      Nice try, though.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
      • TrueGrissel

        Send me to prison 2-5 years I'll do it for 8-10 hours a day out of the cage and cash for the canteen count me in, though I'm not in prison.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
      • billmosby

        I was really getting at the fact that the pay and working conditions are too poor to induce anyone to do the work who has a choice in the matter. Desperate illegal immigrants have limited options; even prisoners have more, it seems. Two hundred years ago a lot of farmers paid good money up front and bought a lifetime of work from the unfortunate, and bred more of them to increase their fortunes. "We can't grow cotton any other way" they lied. Descendants of those farmers and like-minded farmers in other parts of the country still pine for ways to get the work done at minimal cost, no matter what it costs their unfortunate workers. Some day perhaps they will grow a heart. They have none now.

        July 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
        • GJ

          So you think the farmer should pay top wage for someone to come out and harvest the crop or cut weeds out of the fields. I am from the farm belt originally, i did this in the summer during high school. The job requires no skills at all, except to have a strong back and be able to tell the difference between ripe and not ripe (or weed and non weed). That is it.

          July 12, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  8. hubert39

    This is one reason politicans from the borders statea never wanted a strict immigration laws. Goes all the way back to the 1940's.
    Reagan, Goldwater, the Bush's, LBJ, etc never wanted laws passed. The comes Obama,and messes everything up.
    He got strict with the immigrates.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  9. Fed Up

    I found someone who was convicted of serial rape working at a Border's bookstore.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  10. Solo

    Convicts are already working cooking and serving food in chain restaurants.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  11. Leeland007

    This is an idea that is not only long over due, it has been uesd for years prior before we got to be such nice people and treated our inmates as honured guests of the state. Screw them. They want cable TV? I want a 40 hour week at labor. Want to make a little money for expences in the prison shop? Work for it. Want to use the librairy? Fine! Pay to keep the thing open! Donations required! Nothing is free for a person in the real world, no prisoner shoud have it free. Work a 40 hour week, get cable. Work a second week, get somthing else considered a luxery. Make the prisoners harvest the foods that the ileagals did. Do the jobs no one wants. If they want time off for good behavior? Sure! Sive them a point system, make them earn a higher rate at time for work! Just my two pennies...

    July 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      ...Two pennies that are worth nothing.

      Sorry if you don't like it, but you can't make someone pay for their imprisonment.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
      • Leeland007

        Why not? thier very existance in jail costs the taxpayers money. I don't want to pay for thier comfort. The are the ones that choose not to live by the laws of the majority. in this country that means incarsaration. Why should i pay for them to lay on thier ars, watch cable tv and do nothing to contribute to the society in general. The other side of that, is we can excicute the criminals. The middle east doesn't have much trouble with theft, the punishment in many countries over there is still to loose a hand. Hence, no theft. adultry? kill the woman. Now i know you won't hold with that, and neither would I. Make Prison a place to fear, make it unpleasant, very much so, and criminals won't want to go back.

        July 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Reply
      • thatbalddude

        Yes, you can. It's a little thing called restitution. FindLaw can help you figure out the details. I might also point out a little thing called the 13th Amendment.

        Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

        So yeah, you can. Sorry about that.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply
    • Taxed

      Someone who cannot spell "library" should try and visit one – to check out a dictionary.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
      • christianc

        or luxury.....

        July 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • writingmomma

      Before you jump on this band wagon too soon, read the book "Parchment Farms". This would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a fair and just society. We have imbalance in the judicial system today just as they did 200 years ago. Sentences for non-whites in this country are double what they are for whites. There are people sitting in jail, innocent until proven guilty, that are serving unjust sentences, that would have to labor like slaves did. Would the farmers pay a just wage for the work they are receiving? Would the prisoner receive a just wage? Come on, this is taking us back to the age of slavery and we all know this.
      Yes, it is wrong to commit crimes. Yes, a person must pay their debt to society when they have committed a crime. But, working for some farmer, being sold out for work you will never be paid a fair wage for, brings corruption on the highest scale. There has already been an article on CNN about the warden underfeeding prisoners, so that he could pocket the savings.
      This country has enough corruption in it as it is. Who would police this program?
      No, I don't like my tax dollars going to house drug dealers and pedophiles. Will I get the chance to pay less taxes because the farmer is paying a proper wage for the inmates labor? How many inmates would run, as they did from the labor farms of 50 years ago; only to harm families living near by for shelter?
      No dice, send those that want to be gangbangers to fight in the military. Those that have fines to pay to the states, should receive a reasonable wage from these farmers, so they can pay what they owe.
      I DO NOT feel comfortable having hardened criminals in a field picking nothing to earn his/her prison rent.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  12. Tyrone, Schenectady NY

    Another way to expoit a certain segment of our population. Rehabilitation has been thrown away all we want is free under paid labor. for a country that is to be so EXCEPTIONAL I find it funny we are always looking to capitalize off of the next mans demise. Are they there to serve their sentences or to help stimulate a company that does not want to pay NORMAL wages. When the federal government increases COCAINE mandatory sentencing to EQUAL crack then I can believe the system wants to work for society Until then this is just another form of modern day slavery towards minorities. No different than Unicor in the Feds or Corcraft in NY state prisons. TAXPAYERS fund inmates and jails not private coompanies so they shoud not be able to profit from our costs.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • WHAT?

      Wow – are you ever uninformed and naive – most prisons are privately run by companies as profit centers.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
      • writingmomma

        Tax dollars of 35-45 thousand dollars a year, per inmate is being paid, by American working people each day, to house criminals.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – offering paying jobs to inmates is a form of rehabilitation.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  13. Wow

    You know why we turned to illegal aliens??? because America's are too lazy to do the hard working jobs... If we are turning to the prison inmates, It means they didn't have enough people apply that weren't aliens. We have such a high unemployment rate and we are turning to prison inmates... This is exactly what America Exceptionalism means... We (Americans) think we are the exception, we don't need to put in the work, we are above working in a field, we are too good for the jobs illegal aliens do for us... All we need to fix the problems in America is some hard work...

    July 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      So, you missed the part where it says that they can't afford to hire Americans?

      Your post is so far off the mark, it's ludicrous.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • Jason

      It's not the hard work people take issue with. It's the low pay.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
      • Solo

        Many figure "why work?" – we make it so easy for them to collect free rent, free cable, welfare checks, food stamps, free daycare and free hot lunches for their many children. Their "pay" suits them just fine – they sit around and collect.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • zaxxonzz

      Well that's certainly one way to look at it. The other way you can look at it is that citizens are protected by labor laws, will not work this job for a non-living wage, and aren't as easy to exploit. So basically what your saying is "Americans are too lazy to be exploited by farmers". Fact is the farmers don't want to pay a reasonable wage to people, so they get people they can exploit; prisoners, illegal aliens; what's next? Children? Then will it be "jobs that adults are too lazy to do"?

      It's not that Americans can't or won't do these jobs, it's that the employers don't want to pay realistic wages, they want people they can exploit, if they can't even speak the language, EVEN BETTER!

      July 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • Scary

      You are not quite correct here. The problem is that as a consumer we wont pay a fair price for the product. This article points that out. $0.60 per lb of onions is not enough to pay minimum wage to harvest them. Since the price for food has skyrocketed in the past year, and the price the farmer gets is falling, that means that the middle men are getting the money. But again there is another catch. Fuel costs at $3.50 for diesel fuel to transport them to the store takes its toll as well. So once again, the large corporations (oil in this case) are taking the money from the farmers and working class.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
      • SixDegrees

        Most of these problems can be overcome, at least seasonally, by buying produce at local farmer's markets. Cut out the middleman, buy direct from the farmer, and minimize transportation costs.

        Not so workable in the northern tier of states during the winter, but even a partial solution only accomplishes good.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
      • zaxxonzz

        The only reason it's 0.60 LBS is because some farmers use cheap/free labor. If everyone was on a level playing field, as the woman in the article says the price is more like $1 LBS. The consumer will always buy the lowest price, therefore the $1 cannot compete. But what your saying is that if the price goes to $1 LBS, the consumer will stop buying this product? I don't think so, they may buy less, but they will have to pay more. They won't be happy, but do you really think consumers will never eat onions again?

        July 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  14. Juan

    WE TOLD YOU !!

    July 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
    • TrueGrissel

      Juan<< what you said is not well thought out like when japan bombed pearl harbor, by that I mean an illegal will work for pennies but our farmers are making dollars and they cost the states millions. This will limit the illegals, inmates by choice will make at least a buck or two more which can off set the cost to house an inmate and limit the funds illegals bleed out of the system.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • kiki

      Go home Juan You are needed there.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
    • zaxxonzz

      So you support having illegal aliens on the job, so that they can be exploited? Rather then having the farms pay a living wage. I bet your a Cesar Chavez fan, read about him sometime, you'll find he didn't like immigration either because it drives down wages, breaks unions and exploits workers! It's funny how the same crowd that celebrates Chavez also encourages the one thing he was against, EXPLOITING LABOR. Do you support the old south plantation slave owners too? Or do you draw the line at indentured servents?

      July 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  15. Calidip

    LOL! So wait. First we were hollerin' that illegals were stealin' jobs, so they passed laws to drive them away. Then we start cheerin' because now these jobs can had by Americans and lower the employment rate.... only to find out that we are shoving one group of low paid workers for another group of low paid workers, and the job openings still aren;t there for the LAWFUL American citizens. How...incredibly.... IRONIC.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • Harry

      Which is the EXACT prediction given when the Republicans started their witch hunt. Gee what a shocker the GOP were WRONG AGAIN!

      July 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
      • kiki

        Even the illegals don't want to pick vegetables when they can work construction under tha table or other occupations under false pretenses for twice the amount that is a fact.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Leeland007

      Aparently you don't remember history folks, the term was chain gang. Remember the song? We got soft on inmates and quit giving them hard labor for thier crimes, and in came the ilegals to fill the bill. So lets see, criminals repeat because they ain't afraid of the system, the system can't punish efectivly due to the liberal government and no one wants criminals to be exploited. Umm.. Thier criminals, they for what ever reason have gone outside the laws of our society and are now banished to the penitentary for whatever time that so fits. Make them afraid to go back, make them work for it, no countryclub rules and when they get back on the street, they are less likley to bounce back.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  16. jinx

    So, it's still the "illegals" that help the farming. Just that they are not immigrants but inmates, I guess people forgive. Good idea though. s

    July 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  17. mikem58

    Good, inmates need jobs if they would have had jobs in the beginning they may not have gotten into jail to the first place.
    there are 3 million people in this country that need a job so they can stop living off the work of others.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • MarileeBob

      I've been unemployed before, and have never even thought about stealing or doing anything that would land me in prison. You are either the type of person who will commit a crime or you're not-just because they're out of work, then it's ok that they chose to be criminals? "The poor guy had no choice but to shoot that lady and take her purse, he couldn't find a job!"

      July 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  18. Harry

    F*** the inmates give the homeless jobs and get them off the street!

    July 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  19. LouAZ

    End ALL Farm Subsidies, including free prison labor.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      I agree that subsidies should be ended or drastically reduced, but prison labor, under the right circumstances, has at least some rehabilitative value.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  20. TrueGrissel

    That is a fantastic Idea, use the convicts to pick, pay a wage and bill them a monthly charge for incarceration. States will save millions and convicts will love, really, getting out of their cells and off grounds a few hours a day.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  21. Peter

    That's funny, I thought all these illegals were taking our jobs. Now that they're gone, it's only exposed that NO ONE WANTED THOSE JOBS IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    July 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • Tammy

      NOT TRUE! People are willing to do the jobs, for fair pay.....

      July 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
      • Brigman

        Fair Pay is the what the market offers. Take an Economics class and tell your neighbor to do so, as well.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
        • Miyuki

          Fair pay is what the MARKET offers, not what the employer offers. If they have to resort to state subsidized prison labor then obviously they aren't playing a fair market rate.

          July 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
      • Jason

        Economics also dictate that when the value of the labor does not exceed the wage people are actually willing to accept to work the job, the position will remain unfilled.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
      • Margaret

        Yes, but if the farmers pay what legal Americans feel is a fair wage, Americans will be paying $5. a piece for tomatoes. Americans don't want to pay $5 a piece for tomatoes. Hmmm, Low income people can hardly afford fresh fruit and veggies now, what happens when the prices go up.

        July 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
      • GJ

        Tammy define fair pay. This job does not require a skill, it requires a strong back.

        July 12, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
    • jinx

      So, it's still the "illegals" that help the farming. Just that they are not immigrants but inmates, I guess people forgive. Good idea though.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  22. 4sanity

    What are people complaining about ? Can't hire undocumented immigrants, then hire Americans. And if Americans aren't interested in back breaking work for minimum wage then farmers will have to offer more in wages to attract workers. That's capitalism of labor supply and demand. It will of course mean that staple food prices go up. But anti-immigrant Teabagger tax anarchists shouldn't have a problem with that, right ? It is their fantasy policies and choices that are pushing the country down this path, instead of addressing the problem in the real world.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • zaxxonzz

      I'm fine paying more for my food if this reduces the exploitation of workers. If illegal aliens are all made citizens tomorrow, guess what? The price of onions will go up! Just like if you give the job to citizens. When you take the "illegal" out of the equation, people won't be so easily exploited. Therefore, prices will adjust to the fair market value. And folks will get to work an 8-hour day and be protected by OSHA standards.

      July 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  23. drod

    Georgia farmers and Republican Politicians can choke on their Vidalias.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  24. Everyman

    I'm glad we are getting rid of those illegal aliens that are stealing our jobs so that those farm fields are being populated by American workers again! Oh wait, they aren't. Typical American conservative BS.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  25. lolita from rhode island

    prisoners cannot be as productive as the undocumented people working for farmers. Even if they are, they will not last too long. I've worked at the cotton fields in Arizona, and the work was extremely hard. Many people would rather get unemployment checks than working under these poor conditions. I'm sure some of the prisoners working at the farm will file a lawsuit against the state for making them hard. We'll have to see how this ends.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  26. MontanaTrace

    Could this be an income source that would partially help offset prison costs?

    July 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • Willie

      Sure can, even though part of that income comes from the government, which also pays for the prison.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • Walker

      I would think so too. Prisoners might get time towards good behavior and prisons take their salaries. Makes sense to me.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      Didn't you see in the article that the farmers are actually getting subsidies? GA government? US government? Taxpayers are actually paying for the opportunity for the inmates to be there.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  27. bam

    Typical....
    WAH WAH WAH Unemployment is high, I blame the Illegals....
    Ok u scared them away go grab that job!
    WAH WAH WAH that job is too hard I rather sit home and cry.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Cherries

      Pulling weeds can wreck a $60 manicure in 5 minutes!

      July 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  28. Prometheus

    Pay a fair wage to workers and raise the cost of your produce accordingly. Let the free market balance this equation. Government should then tax/tariff foreign foods that compete with US produced foods.

    I would gladly pay $7-9 USD for a standard 3lb bag of Vidalia onions.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Tammy

      Yer crazy! Ain't no way Americans will pay that for onions.... You must be among the 1%, aren't you? That being said, I find it hilarious that farmers are now hurting b/c for sooooo many years, and probably generations, they've used CHEAP, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

      July 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Willie

      how about $7-$9 of a standard Lb of tomatoes, or carrots or maybe even lettuce???

      July 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Tammy

      Yer crazy! Ain't no way Americans will pay that for onions.... You must be among the 1%, aren't you? That being said, I find it hilarious that farmers are now hurting b/c for sooooo many years, and probably generations, they've used CHEAP, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS to do their farming, now that we as a nation are tired of the ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, farmers profits aren't going to be so high. Let the inmates work on farms and get paid what they would get paid what they would should they have a job within prison walls. If they get paid like free ppl, then let them start to pay for their health care, food, room etc etc in order to off set what tax payers have to pay if they're just existing in prison living off our money.....

      July 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
      • Think

        I'm defenityl not in the 1% ( I make 25,000 year)and I would pay the money (less than $10) for a bag of onions that would last me for a while, its a better buy than 2 fast food meals, or crappy pre-made freezer food.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
        • MarileeBob

          I also have a very small garden that suppliments my veggies, so I don't have to buy onions, tomatoes or potatoes. I grow my own herbs. And this is in a small apartment patch, not some huge back yard garden. I'm a working lady, and I know how to stretch my food dollar.

          I don't ever buy fast food, I buy the fresh fruit and veggies that I don't grow from the farmers market, and use a lot of dried beans and legumes which are super cheap if you buy them dry and cook them from scratch. I made a veggie and bean soup this weekend, it cost me about $7 and will last me all week for dinner, and I'll even freeze half to keep for later. You just have to know how to spend your money and cook things from scratch.

          July 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Farmer from WI

      The free market will balance itself by closing your farm down in foreclosure!

      July 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • Jim Stevens

      Prometheus, the fact that you mention the free market and then go on to talk about tarrifs makes my head want to explode. There is nothing free market about tarrifs. Tarrifs are the antithesis of free trade and if anything are protectionist. Also there us nothing free market about creating an artificially inflated living wage. If you really want free market, leave the industry alone and let the market determine the cost of goods and labor based on supply and demand.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  29. Ween K

    I would think there would be a THIRD OPTION... what about unemployed corporate America?

    July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Walker

      Not an option in the real world Skippy. With the lack of labor some farms are going unpicked (I knwo a farmer going through this). Prices might be low on onions but they are going up on so many other products. And Americans in general don't show up for these jobs. They just don't. Too hard work for little pay. They can do nothing and make almost as much on welfare for a time.
      The idea that you'll see jobless Amricans going for these jobs is delusional.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • Jim Hahn

      it was mentioned. She can't afford to pay for what the workers will work for. Americans also will not pay more money for fruits and vegetables. All you idiots who think having illegal immigration is a problem. Its an even BIGGER problem if you don't have it. $5 tomatoes anyone? Apparently $75 million in lost revenue and 5200 lost jobs isn't enough for those of you who have no idea what it takes to run a farm.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Jim Hahn

      In addition to requiring more pay, most Americans have no clue how to do the work. Farmers in Alabama found out that it takes three Americans to do the work of just one Mexican.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
      • Jason

        Right. What's sad is that these hard working Mexican agricultural workers can't even apply for permanent residence in the US because they aren't considered "skilled."

        July 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  30. nick

    The solution is right under our noses. With so many unemployed Americans working on a farm could be a "condition" to receiving unemployment benefits. The farmer could pay what they could afford, and uncle sam could kick in the rest. This would;
    1. Lower unemployment insurnace payouts
    2. Give the unemployed something to do, and give them good healthy work.
    3. Lower unemployment insurance premiums on employers which will inevitably put more money in the pockets of the average american.

    This is so simple it would never fly.

    July 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • Entitleman

      Add those on welfare and food stamps ... even part time work is better than nothing.
      You're tooo right ... it would never fly.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • Iwantmine

      Add those on welfare and food stamps ... heck, even part time work is better than nothing.
      You're tooo right though ... it would never fly!!

      July 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • Willie

      If you read this story correctly that is already a given solution, albeit a costly one.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • cacique

      Or just let the migrant, undocumented workers come back to do what they are excellent at, farm work. The rest is just another bong dream. Especially, wanting Uncle Sam to continue pitching in..

      July 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • huwie

      i'll give you some credit...your idea is not a bad one, but it does overlook the real problem. the solution to our high unemployment and shrinking middle class isn't to provide low-wage, service-type jobs. i'd rather the unemployed person continue to collect their UI while searching for a job that pays them what they're qualified to do rather than spend 8-10 hours a day picking crops while their education goes to complete and utter waste.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Dan

      @nick: The reason we are not using the unemployed to work on onion fields is because we do not have compulsory soviet style concentration work camps in this country. The unemployment benefits are part of the fiber of a civilized society and can hardly can be considerate a luxury. Working on Georgia fields in 100F heat is hard work and only few people are physically capable to perform under such conditions. I would like to see the insurance company willing to insure a farm where middle-age and older unemployed with all kind of medical conditions are being forced to harvest from sunup to sundown onions all summer long as a condition of receiving unimplemented benefits.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  31. TruthHurts

    I don't like the fact that child molesters, rapists, murderers help to procure the food that I eat.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      I think Cheech and Chong would make excellent farmers.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • Cherries

      How do you know that your food doesn't come from people like that already? Not everyone who has comitted a crime has been caught. Just give your produce an extra wash.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Cris

      Well you know where it is, put on a hat ,get a bucket and go pick it yourself.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • Romas

      Rather ignorant statement you make. I doubt that the jails are full of just those type of criminals. The one inmate interviewed is in for burglary, far cry from what you state. Instead of rumor and fear mongering why don't you get some facts. Better than that why don't you think of ways to help people turn their lives around instead of assuming the worst.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Tammy

      I don't like the fact that an ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT is touching my food and me not knowing if they raped, murdered, kidnapped, molested in a country that doesn't keep records that can follow them here b/c they are ILLEGAL. At least with the prison inmates we KNOW what they did! There's a bunch of I. D. 10 T's in this world, don't be one yourself

      July 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • Jim Hahn

        Amazing. You have no idea how hard these illegal immigrants work for the little pay they receive. You wouldn't last 10 minutes trying to do what they do. They are hard working and don't ask for much if anything. I'll eat their pickings any day of the week because they are willing to do work I won't. They take pride in their work and they do it well. If Americans keep picking up your attitude, you can expect your produce bill to double in the next few years.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
      • MarileeBob

        I love it. An idiot telling people not to be idiots.

        July 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      What the heck are they going to do to your produce, rape it first? Trust me, food safety issues in our country do not come from people picking produce. E. Coli outbreaks are linked to manure fertilizer. Salmonella outbreaks are linked to processing facilities. There really isn't too much a picker could do to your food that isn't being done everywhere else in the process of getting it to your precious mouth.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  32. cacique

    Decent wages mean paying minimum wages at least, or if you want to have high performing onion-toppers, you pay them by the bucket. Soon your field will be all picked out and ready for the next cycle..
    If you want to make $100.00 a day for picking up one bucket of onions you are delusional...Those state legislators and city fathers really shot themselves and the farmers in the foot by voting to harden things on migrant workers.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • infinitetruth

      They pay by the bucket, but you don't make much if it they pay 8 dollars a basket, and it take you 8 hours for 5 only to make 40 dollars. That's why a lot of people who try farm labor quit after the first week

      July 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  33. woodie

    The American agriculture labor market has be damaged. I'm glad they are working to fix it finally.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  34. Hmmmmm

    So let me get this straight. If we need these people to work in menial low paying jobs they are called migrants, and if we are ready to get rid of them, they are illegal aliens . . . . .

    July 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
    • Border Patrol

      That would depend on whether they migrate back to their home or stay past their visas.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        The cost of that process needs to be adjusted.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      BINGO

      July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
      • Ween K

        BINGO TIMES TWO!!!!

        July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  35. Brian

    The Wall Street Journal says employers should pay more if they can't find employees. On the other hand maybe these "farmers" should do some of their own work.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • HZD

      Spoken like someone who has never spent a day of their life outdoors on a farm. Don't parade your ignorance on CNN. It's embarrassing.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
      • Benny

        Well Said!

        July 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • Farmer from WI

        Exactly!!

        July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
      • GJ

        Agree. I worked in the fields in high school to earn college money. Do not want to do it again.

        July 12, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
  36. Willie12345

    Good. Now the crooks can start paying for their food and medical care. With Eric Holder as AG, the fields will soon be filled with Wall Street crooks all pick onions.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
    • Zig

      Fat chance of that happening. Too many of the Wall Street people that need to be imprisoned, own private prison stock and they are being protected by congress, which of number of those inept employees also own private prison stock.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  37. Cooper

    Sounds like a plan.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  38. Time Bandit

    About time these convicts start paying for their crimes, we need to bring back "chain gangs". Use them at farms, this way freaking illegals can go back across the border and stop sucking our tax dollars for their anchor babies. Start using prisoners to clean up trash on the road side, use them any way you can.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • SillyCrap

      BWAHAHAHAHA

      Welcome to cnn mr fox viewer. With comments like that, It's easy to tell which villiage is missing their id iot. It's the Fox villiage

      July 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
    • mack

      I don't eat onions, but I do have a pool that needs cleaned when I'm out of town. Maybe I could get some of that cut rate prison labor for that?

      July 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • Ween K

      Great article about prisoners working... AND....learning job skills

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-dimond/can-prisoners-help-us-sav_b_848051.html

      July 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  39. dedangelo

    Why don't we just bring back slavery and be done with it? In other news, Texas is challenging the Voting Rights Act....

    July 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • Willie12345

      With all of the Wall Street crooks that Holder has convicted, the onion fields will be awash with bankers and the like. The price of onions will drop and the bankers will all lose a lot of weight. Thank goodness for Eric Holder, Crime Fighter !!

      July 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  40. poopfactory

    Excellent, we are moving backwards into antebellum.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • Carol

      You right on the mark. I'm of an age where I came from the fifties. Those years were far less barbaric than times are now.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
      • SillyCrap

        The 50's were great... unless you were a woman or black.

        July 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
        • peter

          or gay or Asian or Latino or of any faith beside Christian really

          July 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
      • poopfactory

        the 1850s?

        July 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  41. j

    traded cheap labor for cheap labor.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • SillyCrap

      With the amount we pay to house prisoners... it's not cheap labor.

      How many immigrants are making 45,000 per year to pick vegetables? That's what it costs on average to house a prisoner for a year.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
      • mack

        That's a very disingenuous argument. You're going to pay that cost whether they're picking onions or playing hoops in the yard. The real issue is we're trading one cheap labor issue for another. People scream they want a good wage, but lack the understanding that it will show up expensive product in the store. If consumers will pay that added cost, great, then all is well. Chances are they won't, or we'll start importing cheaper product from somewhere else. If you need to see this in action, look to Walmart.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
        • Fonzie

          Exactamundo!!

          July 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
      • Daniel

        The real cost of prison comes from the insane wages earned by prison guards and prison staff. They are among the highest if not the highest paid civil servants in the country. I understand they have a dangerous job but you can't have a huge pension and receive 100k+ a year, it is not sustainable. Give them a choice, high pension or high salary.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  42. PoBoy

    Where are all the out of work Americans whose jobs, the illegals were supposedly taking? There's work in GA, go get it!

    July 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • WillRadar

      They must be "over qualified" for the job.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  43. CJ

    We should change our immigration laws to make it easier for farm workers to come to our nation legally to work.
    If it was easier to come legally we would not have to crack down on illegal immigration in the states.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  44. Republicans

    OOPS

    July 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • naggingmoose

      I'd like to see those rich young boys cut their teeth on harvesting crops. Ain't gonna happen but don't let those illegals do the job. The great GOP???

      July 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  45. Chris Honry

    PAY SOME DAMNED DECENT WAGES AND YOU'LL GET SOME WORKERS DAMNED GREEDY GOVT SUBSIDIZED FARMERS it's all because of greed.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
    • mack

      @Chris. You do realize to do what you're suggesting, we would all pay more for onions. Greedy farmers. That's a good one.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
    • HZD

      Don't be stupid. I've been around farms my entire life, and the guys work very hard and make good money, especially considering the fact that they often have very little formal education. Why do you think they come here?! But Americans on the other hand are lazy and don't want to break a sweat to earn their money. And more than that, they definitely don't want to move from farm to farm starting in February through October, following the work season from South to North. Don't oversimplify the problem just because you are ignorant about it.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  46. Cherries

    I'm all in favor of this. In fact, I think istead of just feeding inmates, they should learn how to cultivate and harvest their own food.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • SillyCrap

      Shuddup... you are an id iot.

      Apparently no jobs were being 'stolen' from Americans. I don't remember the last time I saw an american begging to pick onions and potato's from a farm.

      Nothing but a bunch of racists.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
    • Cherries

      I am not an idiot, just practical. There is no reason why an inmates can't earn their keep. As an added bonuses, not only will they learn the value of a hard day's work, but violence will be reduced because they will have spent all that pent up energy pulling weeds.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  47. Citizen

    It's about time.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  48. Jan

    About time a sensible approach !

    July 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  49. Poor baby

    "She just plain likes doing it, she says." So what's the problem? Get over yourself, use the cons and quit complaining.

    July 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  50. JustLikeStealing

    Q: What's cheaper than migrant or illegal labor?
    A: Free prison labor!
    and it should be illegal

    Using free prison labor drives the price of onions down and makes it hard for those using legit "paid" help to compete.
    It's the same principal as American labor trying to compete with cheap Chinese labor and it's a blatant example of the term "uneven playing field"...

    July 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • bob

      "Everett and eight other inmates will have a few more weeks working with the onions, pulling down a minimum wage paycheck."

      Reading the article helps.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
      • onion head

        Yes it does, "The farmers get a subsidy from the government to cover part of the cost. "

        July 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • ME

        but if the goverment pays you back a portion of what you pay out (in the article), you are going to do exactly what "JustLikeStealing" says.

        July 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • SillyCrap

      Why should it be illegal to use prisoners to work? It shouldn't go to private companies though. They should only be able to work on government land. I see no problems with prisoners farming their own food.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
      • LegitPrisonLabor

        I agree that prisoners should be used for labor by private enterprises. The positive benefit exhibited with Jim Crow chain gangs and Nazi Germany is undeniable. There should be a sign above all U.S. prisons that say “Work Sets You Free.” Wisconsin has taken true step in this direction by considering the use of county and state prisoners as replacement for paying government employees. If I mayor needs a secretary, simply arrest a highly skilled administrative assistant for an infraction and sentence the person to 180 days or as needed. While we are at it, we could also have the administrative assistant serve 2 years probation and hire the person out to a private company for minimum wages. Both the government and private business will benefit. And society will also benefit with the reduced cost. Using prison labor creates a win for government, private businesses, and the consumer. Lets us enable all echelons of the penal system to use prison labor for government and private business pursuits. In all seriousness, this is a dangerously slippery slope.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
        • Mike

          No No No. Is this where we headed?? Using prisoners for private industry. Sounds a bit like slavery. Now all we have to do is put more people in prison and we can have plenty of labor. Most of them are in prison for these crazy drug laws we have instigated since Reagan was president. Whats next? Don't forget it started with the drug laws, went to smoking, tried guns, now its obesity, and to top it off local government wants to tell what and how much you can eat and drink. Soon they may be telling when you can go to the bathroom, go to sleep or push other personal desires on you.

          July 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
        • GJ

          From what I heard while stationed in Greece they had a policy that allowed non-violent criminals to work on the prison farm. It is hard work, but by working on the farm they cut their sentence in half.

          July 12, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • SillyCrap

      Yeah, because we have all those americans breaking down the doors to farm.

      Think about what your going to say before you actually start hunting and pecking.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • Cherries

        I agree. Almost nobody even has a vegetable garden anymore.

        July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • bam

      y are inmates doing this? I thoguht unemployement was high...
      If u want to collect then get out their picking..... get fired and lose your check. after a reviews shows its your fault not a farmer abusing the privilege....

      July 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
      • Pebbles

        please go back to school.

        July 10, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
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