UFCW 5 Agricultural Director Pete Maturino on NBC News

UFCW 5 Agricultural Director Pete Maturino was recently quoted on a news article on NBC news. This article really demonstrates the need immigration reform now. The current system, and lack thereof, does not protect workers who do the work.


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MEXICALI, Mexico — Norma Cortez, 59, a farmworker for 35 years, limps into her simple kitchen at 12:30 a.m. to make a cup of coffee. She is getting ready for work after only a few hours of sleep, a routine she does five to six days a week through the six-month winter vegetable harvest. She is one of tens of thousands who work the rich agricultural fields of Yuma, Ariz., packaging heads of lettuce for shipment across the United States for such brands as Dole Foods, Church Brothers and Tanimura & Antle. The work is tedious and rough — she still feels yesterday’s eight-hour shift in her swollen hands and aching back as she prepares bag lunches for her and her husband Roberto, 60, then washes the dishes from last night’s meal.

The day’s work ahead is tough and low-paid, but the worst part is the commute. From Mexicali, just south of the California border, the morning trip to the Arizona fields typically takes seven hours, including a mind-numbing wait to cross the border, plus two more hours coming home. “The life of a farm worker is hard enough,” Norma says, “but the waiting time to get to work is worse.”

California’s Imperial Valley and neighboring Yuma County in Arizona provide 90 percent of the winter vegetables consumed in the United States — from lettuce and spinach to broccoli and cauliflower. Only a handful of the harvesters, farmworker advocates say, are hired by means of guest worker visas. The vast majority, like the Cortezes, are so-called “alien commuters” — they have green cards granting residency in the United States, but because they make poverty wages or have undocumented family members, they live in Mexico.

The rest of the extended Cortez family are still asleep when Roberto emerges from the darkened hallway. Outside, a cab waits on the pitch-black street. The quick ride to the border costs 20 pesos, about $1.50, and the pair spend it leaning against each other with their eyes closed. When they arrive at the Calexico port of entry this February morning at 1 a.m., the scene is bedlam.


Once in line, you stay put. If you step out, you lose your place. There are no toilets.


Some 1,000 people have already lined up to cross the border for work in the fields, and soon another 8,000 to 10,000 join the line behind them. At the height of the morning rush, at 4:30 a.m., the line extends through an underground tunnel lined with vendors selling burritos, sandwiches and soda, and back out onto the city streets. As people inch their way closer to the port of entry, the line grows more densely packed, swelling at points to 15 people wide. People are jammed shoulder to shoulder, some shouting and shoving. Farm workers say fights break out regularly; there are no security personnel to keep the peace.

 

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Once in line, you stay put. If you step out, you lose your place. There are no toilets. So before entering the crush, people often relieve themselves right there, at the entrance to the tunnel. The whole area reeks of urine. And this is how it goes for three to four hours as the line slowly heaves to the Customs agents up front. Norma describes it as “a stampede.”

 

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