EQUAL WORK? Nestled within the immigration reform proposal unveiled by eight senators on January 28 was a detail highlighted by Seth Freed Wessler at Colorlines: special treatment for farm workers, who “have been performing very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages.” Given their important role “ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume,” the authors wrote, “these individuals will earn a path to citizenship through a different process under our new agricultural worker program.”
This same description could apply to another group that is also often undocumented: domestic workers. In a recent report, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) found that 46 percent are foreign-born and 35 percent are noncitizens. Of more than 2,000 nannies, caregivers and housecleaners interviewed for the report, 36 percent were undocumented immigrants.
Don’t domestic workers also perform “very important and difficult work,” as the immigration proposal writes of agricultural workers? Domestic workers enabled a generation of women to enter the workplace. The US economy would be 25 percent smaller if those women hadn’t sought jobs outside the home.
Yet just as with agricultural workers, domestic work pays poorly. Even worse, the NDWA found a significant wage penalty for being undocumented. Overall, domestic workers who are citizens have a median wage of $12 per hour, but undocumented immigrants are paid $10—a 17 percent difference.
Why were they excluded from the immigration fast track? Part of it is likely because this work takes place behind the walls of private homes. The fact that this workforce is 95 percent female may also have something to do with it. Whatever the reason, domestic workers also deserve national recognition of how vital their work is and to have access to an easier path to citizenship. BRYCE COVERT
A WIN FOR FAIR TRADE: The Nation recently reported on a growing schism in the world of fair trade [“The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee,” September 10]. On one side is the Bonn-based Fair Trade International, which governs the fair trade system and upholds a model of democratically run, farmer-owned cooperatives. On the other is a dynamic nonprofit in Oakland, Fair Trade USA, which, under the leadership of Paul Rice, has broken away from the Bonn regime to pursue a model of corporate-friendly practices on behalf of Whole Foods, Green Mountain Coffee and similar companies. It’s a contest that has divided activists, shed light on the fragility and complexity of the fair trade system, and provided an occasion to debate the first principles of the movement. The critics of so-called corporate fair trade now have something to cheer: in January, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it was switching its allegiance from Rice’s organization to FTI in Bonn, which will now handle the ice-cream maker’s fair trade certifications. In an interview, Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood made it clear that the company is keen to stay on the progressive side of this controversy.
“This is big news,” says Rodney North of Equal Exchange, the country’s oldest fair trade coffee company, which has spearheaded the fight against Rice and corporate fair trade. “Ben & Jerry’s was one of the largest customers for Fair Trade USA’s certification services, so this represents a significant loss of revenue and exposure.” SCOTT SHERMAN