Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Chasing the Harvest: ‘If You Want to Die, Stay at the Ranch’ (longreads.com)
41 points by DiabloD3 on May 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments

"It is also the poorest paid job in the country, with some sheepherders still earning around $750 a month; with their long hours of work, that amounts to about a dollar an hour."

How many Americans are willing to work for this type of wage in these conditions? My guess would be zero.

Of course they wouldn't. The poorest 5% of Americans are still wealthier than 68% of the world. [1] It makes little sense for even an unemployed person on welfare or disability to do this job rather than cash a welfare check.

There is zero incentive for an American to do this kind of work at this rate of pay. If the range owner could only hire Americans, he'd have to increase pay, or America would have to import its wool from Peru instead of import Peruvians to shepherd sheep in America.

[1] https://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/the-haves-and-...

For the sake of accuracy, that was $750 in 1991, which is around ~$1350 adjusted for inflation. Minimum wage in '91 was ~$680 per month and my understanding is these jobs came with room (crappy room) and board (also probably crappy).

That doesn't take into account the extremely long hours they were forced to work, or the general working conditions which sound horrid, but I'm sure there are a few Americans who would take the job.

That would of course require hiring Americans, and that's a hard sell when presented with a near endless supply of easily exploitable workers being imported into the country for this exact role.

What is the purpose of this comment? Do you honestly think Americans should feel bad that we won't exploit ourselves even further?

If anything the average American should be demanding more, not accepting less.

There is no morality in sacrificing for your masters. If anything it is immoral to allow the market to swing so low by accepting a job with such a low wage. Let the masters herd sheep, the current herders would serve society better by not accepting such low paid work and choosing to die if better work could not be found.

While a decision like that would likely serve the market better and encourage higher wages, I think telling people they should die instead of giving any attempt to survive is a bold, if not heartless statement.

If you don't mind me asking, have you found yourself ever having to make that sort of decision?

You seriously think people will choose to die? Have you ever met other people?

Of course I don't think they would do that. I'm just saying people that would choose that are likely on the moral high ground compared to those that choose to take jobs that don't even pay a living wage.

The reason those jobs pay so little is ranchers can find people willing to take them. You may be right that Americans wouldn't take that job, but that's not an argument for bringing in cheap labor from other countries. Quite the opposite, actually. If ranchers couldn't fill those slots they would pay what it takes for Americans to work there.

I wonder if many of the issues described aren't specific to the treatment of immigrant workers, but something inherent to modern ranching in the American West. "Sweetgrass" is a phenomenal 2009 documentary about American sheepherding culture in Montana:

An unsentimental elegy to the American West, “Sweetgrass” follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana’s breathtaking and often dangerous Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. This astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed.


It's an unflinching movie that captures the beauty of the landscape, the desperation of the herders, and a sense of place and belonging. It also includes the most heartfelt swearing scene I've ever seen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCbV58dzmBc. It's probably best to start with the official trailer, though, to give some context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV9iah71iPQ.

Would one of the people who've read this kindly share a summary?

People coming from (e.g.) Peru on H-2A visas were treated poorly in the 1980's and the 1990's. Legislation was passed in 2001, which lead to some increases in living conditions, and pay, but it's not really enforced by the Dept. of Labour, so some ranches still have workers living in the same conditions as in the 1980's and 1990's. Specific points:

* The company he worked for didn't want to pay him worker's comp. when he contracted Valley Fever, which is a direct result of his job / working conditions.

* They also wanted to just pay him a lump sum of $2k, and send him home rather than continue to pay his medical bills. They failed to mention to him that doctors in Peru don't know how to deal with Valley Fever since it's really something limited to the US. He only found this out from other Peruvians that he got in contact with.

* Companies liked to sign people up for H-2A visas as "sheepherders," but then have them do different jobs once they were here (and conveniently pocket the difference in pay between the jobs).

* The people living as sheepherders were basically modern-day "slaves." They were paid $750/month (flat fee) for a job that basically required their every waking hour (and or more) to complete. They were isolated from anyone except for their boss. Their boss would flip out and grill them if there were so much as "unknown" tire tracks in the vicinity. They weren't even allow to have a magazine let alone a radio or television, because apparently that would mean that they were slacking off and not working.

>The company he worked for didn't want to pay him worker's comp. when he contracted Valley Fever, which is a direct result of his job / working conditions.

That part is debateable. People in parts of central California and Arizona sometimes come down with Valley Fever. You don't have to be a shepherd or even have an outside job. Or have a job at all.

You can make the argument that he wouldn't have been in California and therefore his employer should have covered the cost of his medical care, but you can make that argument about any illness he suffered after coming to California.

Thank you very much.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact