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Legal Foreign Workers said to be Exploited in Colorado

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rancher Kip Farmer navigates his truck over rocky dirt roads in the mountains of Western Colorado. Farmer grew up tending his family’s flocks up here, living for weeks at a time in tents and old trailers out on the range. But he’s one of few Americans to have any experience with this work.  “It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Farmer says. “None of the locals really would want to put in that kind of time and be tied down every day that many hours a day doing a job up away from family and friends.”  So instead, Farmer employs around a dozen Peruvian sheep herders on temporary work visas.  As we come down a steep hill, he runs into one of his men and stops to check in. Farmer tells the worker he’s left a crate of border collie puppies at the man’s trailer, to help tend the flock.  The federal government requires Farmer provide his men with trailers and food, and pay a minimum wage of $750 a month. There’s a stack of white envelopes in the center console of his truck, today is payday.

“When I get back to town today, I’ll probably send four or five different Western Unions back to Peru,” he says. “The ones that have families generally will send $500 or $600 of it home every month.”  Most of Farmer’s herders have worked with him for ages, and Farmer says he doesn’t have any trouble convincing them to renew their visas every three years.  “Employees we have are making a lot more money with us than they would be back home,” Farmer says. “So they’re bringing resources back to their home country that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”  For years, though, immigration rights activists have argued the conditions herders put up with aren’t worth the money they’re paid. They say some ranchers take advantage of their workers, denying them medical care, taking improper deductions from their paychecks, and generally making an already difficult job even more lonely and isolating than it has to be.  Spanish Professor Thomas Acker is one of those fighting for a higher wage and more oversight of working conditions. (click on link to read full story)

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