Gary Tuchman | BIO
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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