MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir, welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we are talking about power. We just heard about the globetrotting Fairfax County is doing to try and lure powerful corporations to our region. And now we're gonna focus on a very different story about economic power. The story of laborers who come here from other countries to work at our nation's farms.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently ranks farm work among the three most dangerous industries. Right now, it has the highest fatality rate of any job in the United States, any job. Despite the perils, though, we have more than 3 million farm workers in the United States. Most of them will stay in the fields their entire working lives. But, as Emily Friedman tells us, each year, a small group of these workers finds its way onto a new career path.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
I'm standing at Garner's Produce in Warsaw, Va. It's a roadside market stocked with nearly every fruit and vegetable on Earth.
MS. SARA LOPEZ
Roma beans, butter beans, nectarines.
Onions, tomatoes, watermelon, honeydew, garlic. This place is packed with produce. Produce that was planted, cultivated, and picked by farm workers.
I think most of us don't really realize where it's coming from, or, you know, that someone had to actually do all the physical work to be out there in this heat and pick those things.
Sara Lopez grew up in the area, and now works with Telamon. Telamon is an organization that helps legally residing farm workers do things like learn English and enroll in GED classes. Fewer than half of the U.S.'s 3 million farm workers are here illegally, but for those she can help, Sara's job is to go out into the fields, speak with workers, and explain that by getting more training, they can completely change their lives.
Telamon Corporation, Sara Lopez speaking.
We're in Sara's office, where she fields calls and fills out paperwork, as she chats with Vanessa. Vanessa is 20, and has just started studying to become a phlebotomist.
The people that draw blood and do the blood work, and all that stuff.
Vanessa's mom is a farm laborer. If Vanessa were to follow the same path as her mother, she could expect to make about $8,000 a year. Those calculations, Vanessa says, were enough to make her realize she wanted to take a different path.
I took my first medical terminology test, and I got an 88.
Vanessa picks up her daughter, Yamily, and bounces her on her lap. Telamon will pay the bill for daycare while Vanessa is in class. All the funding comes through the Department of Labor, through the National Farmworker Jobs Program. It provides just under $85 million to help farm workers across the country train for safer and more lucrative jobs. Telamon offices in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware share just a small slice of that, around $1.5 million.
Sara hands off the check, and in walks her next appointment.
MR. MIGUEL ZIMORA
My name is Miguel Angel Zimora Caranzo (sp?), but almost everyone knows me as Miguel Zamora.
Zimora's 21, and works in a tree nursery. Both his parents are laborers, and Zimora has seen that lifestyle firsthand.
MR. DAVID STRAUSS
A typical day for a farm worker during the season would probably mean getting up at about 4:00 to 4:30 in the morning, probably by about 5:30, they'll get out to the assigned workplace and start working.
David Strauss is the executive director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, or AFOP.
If it's a really big crop, it's possibly they may work well into sundown. The trick is, they don't get overtime pay.
Zimora came into Telamon's office three years ago for help, just as he was graduating high school. Since then, he held down his job at the tree nursery, and earned an associate's degree in electrical engineering. His school was about 30 miles away, so Telamon helped him pay for gas. But, he says, it wasn't exactly a free ride.
They're not just like, here's a check, do whatever you want with it.
Zimora would check in three or four times a month with Sara, who would ask how his classes were going, and make sure he was keeping up.
Family members, or friends of them, they'll be in farm work, and, you know, they don't understand the importance of education or better jobs, and they won't have that emotional support.
According to David Strauss of AFOP, when you come from a world of no benefits, no health care, no sick days, professional support is critical. More than 83% of people who come for jobs are places, according to recent data, on the National Farmworker Jobs Program.
They're extremely dedicated to hard work, and they expect to earn money through their labor. Not everybody has that approach.
Sara Lopez has one more appointment for today. Elsa Palomar (sp?) has been coming to the offices for ESL classes for four months. She explains, her goals go far beyond simply learning English.
I want to be a nurse.
Roughly 20% of the job seekers end up working in healthcare.
(speaks foreign language )
Telamon in Virginia has served nearly 200 people in the past year, and though the program has been around for decades, there's no certainty it will survive from one year to the next.
It's funded by grant, so we never know, you know, year after year, if we're gonna be provided with these funds, and I always try to get them to take advantage of the opportunity that's here for them now.
Once someone takes that first step, Lopez says, they keep going and never look back. I'm Emily Friedman.
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