July 28th, 2010
11:25 AM ET

Video: A day in the grapes

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

It's just before 6 a.m. in the California desert a little north of Delano. Migrant workers are showing up for another hot day on the job picking table grapes in temperatures expected to reach more than 100 degrees

Many argue that illegal immigrants come to the United States and take jobs away from Americans, but here not only are there no non-Latino workers, the labor contractor says not one has ever applied for this job... until today.

CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman was among the workers today ready to put in a shift picking grapes that are then boxed and delivered to local grocery stores.

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Photojournalist Kevin Myers and I are with him to capture Gary's day in the vines. We called the United Farm Workers representatives to ask if Gary could spend a day working here and they agreed.

When we arrive, we immediately notice we are unprepared. People are wearing long sleeve shirts and have their faces covered with various scarves and long brimmed hats. We showed up in t-shirts and jeans.

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They tell us they wear the clothing to protect themselves from the heat and cover their mouths and noses to avoid breathing in much of the dust that can accumulate inside the vines.

As the day started, Gary was getting a crash course from other workers who have picked grapes here for decades. They were pointing out what should be picked, how they should be picked and what would remain on the vine for future picking.

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The grapes were placed into large white containers and taken to another worker to sort them and place them in plastic bags to be boxed. Gary was handed some pruning scissors and told to get to work.

Workers here take this job very seriously. They get paid 8 dollars an hour before taxes and about 11 cents per box packed. They work in teams of 3 and Gary is teamed up with a husband and wife who have been working in vines like these for over 30 years.

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The workers laugh and make jokes at Gary's expense, as it's obvious he's a novice at doing this work. They take the time to inspect all of Gary's work to make sure the company's quality control supervisor who inspects all of the boxes packed for delivery rejects none of the grapes he picked.

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As the day presses on, it gets hotter and hotter. It's starting to become very uncomfortable, but you wouldn't know it listening to the workers laugh and sing while boxing up their fruit.

As Gary is working with his team, I talk with many of the other workers who tell me they're happy to be working. They say they have to earn as much money as they can now, because there are several months when the grapes are not in harvest and they won't be able to work.

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I ask them why they come here to work and they speak of poor wages and conditions in Mexico. They say that while they only earn 8 dollars an hour here, they'll make that in an entire day working in the fields in Mexico.

Many of them have children who were born in the United States. Some have gone to college and others are married and living productive lives here as U.S. citizens.

5 hours into the day the foreman calls for a lunch break. Gary appears out of the vines looking hungry and thirsty. After we finish the 30-minute break, Gary heads back to the vines with the other workers, 3 hours of picking still ahead of them.

One of the workers says this is the hardest part of the day, the sun is getting hotter and the shade doesn't do much for the heat. The temperature is now 102 degrees.

Gary is starting to catch on to the work, but admits the work is not only physically exhausting; it's also tedious and monotonous. As the day draws to a close, a large truck comes through the work area and starts picking up the boxed grapes. It's the end of a long tiring day and while many workers will be back here tomorrow, none of us could imagine doing this every day.

Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Immigration • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. Jim

    Actually that is untrue! In the current economy if the work was offered at the Labor Ready Office in Freno off of Highway 99 plenty of Americans would take the work. I know, I was an unemployed engineer and in reality an engineering manager in Fresno approaching 60 and took any work that someone would hire me to do. In a good economy I wouldn't but take this story with a grain of salt.

    There are literally 1000's of Americans available in Fresno County California who would do this but the farmers won't hire them because they can hire wetbacks at crazy wages and no OSHA.

    This particular area is not somewhere that I would recommend for anyone to look for work. Even in good times in California unemployment in Fresno County is very bad. Most of the industry has been leaving there over the past 25 years or more. Wages are lower than most of the state. Crime is horrible. Gangs are everywhere. Fresno and the surrounding region is a very bad place with the exception of a few well heeled farmers who have very nice homes.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  2. Bob

    I'd argue with the wording here. I believe that Americans will do the work, picking fruit, it's the job they won't do and shouldn't. Nobody should work that hard for $8 an hour. I don't care which side of a border someone is born on, anyone taking advantage of that situation by paying ridiculously low wages should be the ones to go to jail.
    As it is we have a form of slave labor then tell ourselves that we're being good liberals by letting illegals do the work.
    Is artificially cheap food really worth creating a system of second class people?

    July 30, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  3. Randall

    I"m sorry but I find it hard to believe that no Americans will do this job. I know that if you market your advertising in certain ways you can draw any group of people you're targeting. I just believe that if you gave me a week in that area I could bring ten truckloads of Americans that'd be begging for the job.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  4. PJ

    They will do that job. They might want/demand more pay. So the price of wine goes up. American jobs for American workers. Where is the problem?

    July 30, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  5. dallas reader

    Great article, I myself and Hispanic immigrant but work for a fortune 500 company. Not a day goes by I dont count my blessings to which I have a great paying job and inside and air conditioned building. I am getting very sick of the fact that they blame illegal drug trade and terrorism on illegals aliens. The terrorist that attacked on 09/11/01 were here legally as well as Timothy McVeigh and the uni-bomber were home grown boys. Yet we are made as the demons that are destroying this country. Every generations blames another culture; in the 80's it was the blacks, in the 70's it was the Jews, and even up into the 50's it was the Italians. Why is it, that one one will understand that we are all here for the same thing, and that is the right to live and provide for our children. Lets look at the future and realize that in another 10 years we will start to blame the Asian community for the unstable world market...

    July 30, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  6. Li

    Hmmm... that's funny. How did we get all our fruits and vegetables from 1492 – 1965?

    July 30, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  7. Ben

    It's not that Americans won't do these jobs, it's that welfare pays better!!!

    July 30, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  8. Michael

    This is simply not true. Any American will be willing to do this kind of work if they were in the same situation (supporting their families).

    Don't blame Americans for not wanting to do the work, blame the employers who REFUSE to hire them because Mexican immigrants work cheaper.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  9. Matt, Boston

    I would never, ever take that job. i am perfectly ok with Immigrants, legal or illegal, taking jobs like that.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:22 am |
  10. Katie, Buena Park CA

    I have lived in California for 49 years. Long before we had an immigration problem. The people who worked in the fields were migrant farm workers. They would come here seasonaly, which is legal, and work the fields. They would then return home, because they were not allowed to live here without citizenship. The problem comes when the workers don't want to go home and won't apply for citizenship. They then bring their families here. I am not against migrant workers, I just don't want illegal aliens draining the services, and housing market, and job base, the way it is where I live.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  11. Derek

    I'm 18, need money for school, am LEGAL, and think that would make a great summer job. Sorry, but yeah, Americans will do that work, so stop being disrespectful and saying we won't. It's a matter of knowing the work is there in the first place. Please! All the unemployed people in California and nobody's applied? Right.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  12. Tom, Oklahoma

    These illegals ARE stealing american jobs by doing them for less money than americans will do them for. If not for the illegal workers the pay rate would go up until americans would do the work.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  13. tim

    Do we need 20,000,000 illegals and all their offsprings to pick grapes? Buy then fron South America and save our country. I will swear off grapes, Just get them out and close our boarders. They use machines in Florida to pick the oranges. I would be alot cheaper to pay the higher prices for the produces than it is to pay for welfare, schools, hospitals, uninsured motorist, crime, and drugs.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  14. t

    They do jobs Americans don't want to do. I guarantee that if you put our media outlets out there and paparazzi out there for a while to monitor their every move, i suspect they would give it up. What was described as a normal day sounds like a job in Washington D.C. which is also a job no American wants to do

    July 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  15. Joe Arpaio

    So, these are illegal workers and the employer is collecting taxes? What's wrong with this picture?

    July 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  16. Tim Saint Louis, MO

    MOST americans won't do this work because we give them unemployment, food stamps, welfare, housing and now health care. Illegals do this work because they have to, they can't take advantage of the handouts. Great story and very telling about Americans and wanna be Americans

    July 30, 2010 at 12:19 am |
  17. Matt

    Excellent article.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:19 am |
  18. Allison

    Great story–wish there were lots more like this.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  19. MJones

    This story is such a half truth. Of COURSE no American will do that job...for that pay. Pay a decent wage and toss in some benefits and you'll see Americans lining up for that work

    And that's what it comes down to folks. It's the corporations that favor migrant labor. Legal or illegal doesn't matter to them. Where else are they going to find someone willing to pick fruit in the hot sun for 4 dollars an hour?

    I say start imprisoning managers/administrators/CEO's of companies that hire undocumented/illegal workers. If American jobs ONLY went to American workers/Sanctioned foreign workers then this would be a non-issue.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  20. Last One Hired

    As someone who has hired farm workers in the summer months in Minnesota, I can tell you that local high school kids cannot do nearly as much in the same amount of time that migrant workers can do. We paid our migrant workers better than the high school kids, too–and that's because they did perform better. The work was long, hot, and dirty. Never did they complain. The local kids complained and wanted a break every hour or didn't come back on the second day.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  21. Jim Daneke

    Americans will do it. It will mean that workers will require more money and prices will go up...but they will do it.

    More lies from CNN

    July 29, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  22. Charles

    Good job, CNN.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  23. ed mckinsey

    it's fine if they want to do the work . But cross the border legally.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  24. Sarah

    Fantastic story. Very telling.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  25. Mile, Dallas TX

    Immigrants stealing American jobs? PLEASE! They do the hard labor jobs no one else is willing to take. The racism and immigrant bashing needs to stop!! Have we forgotten we are all immigrants here? The only native people in the US are the original inhabitants: Native Americans! Lets stop the hypocricy and blame game and actually look at the FACTS!

    July 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  26. john in oc

    In response to Ashley from Quebec, the only change is the USA will have to pay what the market demands in terms of wages. maybe labor rates will be double the minimum wage, so the price of food increases 30-40%, or more. Our food prices are artificially low due to use of illegal labor. Perhaps we can save money by doing our our yard work and eliminate paying for illegal gardeners. Better still, have our kids do the yard work, just as the prior generation has done. The kids might even burn a few calories in the process. Wow, that would be the best two for one I've heard!

    July 29, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  27. Jobs4Americans

    Before my accident during basic training which caused me to be disabled I used to work on my grandparents fields in 100-110 degrees & Im white. Its bull I think that Americans wont do the job.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  28. Salena Lettera

    I heard this on the radio tonight and I loved that you covered this story.

    I really wish the importance of these people, in addition to their backbreaking work and low wages, could be covered in a more in depth investigation.


    July 29, 2010 at 4:50 am |
  29. Angelia de Meistre

    Finally, someone telling the other side of the story. This is real journalism, a rare thing these days.

    Thank you anderson cooper.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  30. Mike Sallinger

    Very good story and well thought through about immigrant workers.

    I do not see anywhere an opportuntiy to comment regarding the Magazine story. A comment here. Roland Martin comments that other magazines deny the opportuntiy for non whites. Does he have facts to back up such comments? I sometimes question the accusations he makes. It cannot be possible he can back all his comments with found facts.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  31. Idzan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Great aricle on migrants hard life. Someone' got to do the job which no Amercan want to do.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  32. Laura

    I grew-up in a farmworker family. I spent my Saturdays working in the fields starting at about age 9. I remember that I was so focused on picking the right fruit and keeping up with everyone else, that I had no time to be bored. Boredom is probably the last thing on the workers mind, they are too concerned about making as much money as they can.
    By the way, many Mexican Americans work in agriculture too, not just illegal immigrants.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  33. Carmen

    Just wrote comment to AC360. Loved all your stories, especially this one! It is a side of the immigration debate in this country that I believe does not get sufficient coverage. There are millions of 'undocumented residents' living and working in the US, doing the jobs that many Americans won't do. Recommend movie 'A Day Without A Mexican". There can be immigration reform, without a road to citizenship, where these undocumented residents can receive work VISAs for jobs, like the one you profiled this evening. Why must this debate focus only on deportation & the fence vs. citizenship? Can we not find a middle ground where we can all live and work peacefully and within the law? Love to hear more! Thanks!

    July 28, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  34. cheryl,ca

    Your story was great but next time maybe you can follow my husband, a iron worker) that works out in the same weather as the field workers do , the same amount of hours with no shade or umbrellas while he is standing on a metal building that makes it 15 to 20 degrees hotter than it is (it was 105 last week) but wait no one feels sorry for him , crazy world we live in.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
  35. Chris

    I'm not sensitive enough to be offended by this story, but I raise an eyebrow with reports such as Gary Tuchman's. There are several comments in the report that lead the viewer to believe that citizens of this country are not willing to work hard, in tough environments, for low wages, and have a positive attitude all the while. I worked as a farm hand for many years.........let's just say I had very few luxuries over those years.

    In an odd twist to Gary Tuchman's story, I was never aware that an illegal alien ever inquired/or has since applied for the position I held as that farm hand.......... Even more interesting, it never crossed my mind that illegal aliens (regardless of race/nationality) were lazy because of this fact.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  36. Scott

    Years ago when I was in high school, I picked tomatoes one summer and detasseled corn the next. The problem we just saw on TV is that the contractor hiring these poor people is breaking the law, yet no one does anything. The guy was even bold enough to show his face on TV. The people who turn a blind eye to the hirers breaking the law are complicit in the abuse these people suffer. The illegals throw off the market rate that employees should be able to get without the illegal alien problem.

    July 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  37. Tonya

    Great story and wonderful people. I understood the whole peice and my heart went out, but toward the end when you said they were making 30,000-36,000 a year, I was shocked...thats more than my family makes in a year. I think were all suffering in this country. The Goverment needs to get its act together.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  38. Bill Moran

    I do think immigrants are doing job Americans do not wish to do, I believe the immigrants are taking jobs from are young teenagers. In Connecticut kids use to pick tobacco and for most this were their first job started. Most would work it for two to three years before moving on. American teen agers can no longer find these jobs because immigrants have taken them all. I am curious to know if so many immigrants work farm jobs because it’s a place to hide and make money under the table. Some farmers can pay immigrants cheaper then minimum wage and get away with it.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  39. Steph

    Great piece AC360 with Gary Tuckman but I still question the notion that immigrant will take jobs that American would not ... I still question ..... A friend of mind apply for Job in a Meat packing warehouse .... He is American Born with High School diploma .... He did not get the job in the meat packing warehouse .... the Job went to Hispanic Immigrant person .... The reason that Warehouse pick the Hispanic person, not the High School American .... the Hispanic immigrant would not make trouble or problem for the warehouse, they will not complain and they will trouble if the factory does not pay the workers for overtime .... the American person knows the American system ... He knows the factory has to pay in overtime if he works beyond his shift, while an Hispanic Immigrant would not say anything ..... .Thats why my American friend was not pick ..... The notion that American would not do the jobs that Immigrant do is false, its more easy for business people to select an Immigrant that would not make trouble, speak up or its easy for Business man to control Immigrant than American Workers ..

    July 28, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  40. Greg

    Does Obama know these people are working??? If he does he will have the people they work for taxed out of business before the show is over!!!

    July 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  41. wizowl

    Those jobs were done before it was discovered that the illegals would work for slave wages and slave wages does not make anything cheaper for the consumer. Everything has always gone up no matter the labor cost. Let the food industry collapse. We had plenty of food before the ripoff industry. I am 77 years old and I remember how we managed before the creation of all these ripoff companies. More Americans knew or learned how to maintain themselves. You ended up with Blacks here because you didn't want to pay for labor and now you are getting all of the worlds' serfs for the same reason. Too much slavery is not good for nation. These poor people come here want to improve their lives. In other words they end up improving themselves and take the jobs they supposedly didn't want. No one wants to remain poor. No one wants to be low on the Totem Pole. Whites may mostly run everything now but not for long because these people stick together and will soon outnumber you and vote themselves into all the relevant offices.

    July 28, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  42. Blanca Esparza

    Is so sad and that even when we see a story like this we don't realize how much all these people do for our economy.
    Even more you see all the comments on other articles that CNN produce and people respond right away and when they actually show the real true nobody responds. Is very ODD!

    Thank you for this article!

    July 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  43. Doug, Seattle

    This is just one of many jobs that are not taken by white Americans. You could also look into the construction industry, corner stores(7-11's), nursing homes, laundries, meat packing, clothing manufacturing, etc... The whole focus in education has been sending our kids to college and we seem to have forgotten all the work that has to get done everyday to make our lives comfortable and convenient that does not require a college education and does not always pay a good wage. We need to open our borders to hard working, law abiding citizens. Right now that is not really the case.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  44. T. Peterson

    If the migrant workers weren't there, the employer would have to pay more to attract workers willing to do the work for more money. These jobs would then be available to young people, unemployed legal residents, etc., thereby lowering our unemployment rates. And I–for one–would happily pay more for my grapes if it meant that my health care, school, and social services dollars were being spent on US legal residents-costing us millions less in these areas. Interesting article, but it doesn't make me change my mind about illegal residents/immigrants.

    July 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  45. Mary Central Cali

    I live not far from Delano and our economy is based on field workers. Field workers illegal or not, are in the fields before the sun comes up and after the sun sets, up to 7 days a week. I am white, but most of my friends are Mexican and their parents came over illegally to work in the fields. I have been told of how the fields used to be before the conditions were improved. They didn't used to have access to restrooms, water, breaks and pesticides were sprayed on field workers in the fields. These poor conditions motivated their children to go to school and become teachers, peace officers, and LVN/RN. We need to stop harassing illegal immigrants supporting their families by working in the fields and only go after those committing crimes ie dealing drugs, gangs, etc......

    July 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  46. Randy R

    As I just got done eating some grapes with my lunch, I wonder what would happen to the price of grapes if all the illegals were kept out and we were forced to make some lazy Americans do the job for $17/hour! Heaven forbid... But that is what it would come to.

    July 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  47. Liz, Columbus OH

    great article

    July 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  48. Lisa Logan

    I love Gary Tuchman! (Sorry, Anderson!)

    July 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  49. Ashley, Quebec, Canada

    Very telling that no American has ever applied, but the most common excuse used in the immigration debate is that these workers are "stealing" American jobs.............
    CNN should do a piece on what would happen should all of these migrant and illegal workers disappear......food industry collapse anyone?

    July 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  50. Rou-Jhen Su, Taiwan

    I love this article !

    July 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
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