Sheep Ranchers Claim Paying Minimum Wage to Workers Would Put them Out of Business.
This is an important article :
In Loneliness, Immigrants Tend the Flock – The New York Times
* Also, check out Captive Labor.
Domestic sheep ranching on public land is subsidized in many ways – environmental costs associated with the activity are largely covered by you and I – our tax dollars to slaughter predators that feed on untended sheep, blade otherwise unnecessary roads, build fences, abate weeds etc; Our public lands leased at remarkably below market value, our bighorn sheep herds decimated by disease spread from domestic to wild sheep, our stream-waters rendered undrinkable, our public landscapes denuded precluding/depreciating habitat that might otherwise support untold numbers of wildlife – including big-game.
There are also the direct subsidies collected by sheepman – millions of tax-dollars for wool and other Ag subsidies. But despite all of the ways that you and I prop up this destructive use of public land, their industry groups continue to maintain that if held to the same environmental and fair-market standard as nearly any other industry – even minimum wage for workers – they’ll go under.
Costs to Human Health, Safety, and Dignity
When consideration for the environmental impact of an activity is so easily subordinated to “custom and culture” or the unfounded claims of economic contribution of an activity, it isn’t much of a stretch to take the next step and dismiss the true costs to humans.
Take Q Fever as an example. How many people realize that domestic sheep herds grazed on public lands pose a risk of a bacteria to recreationists and laborers that is considered possibly the most infectious disease in the world ? It’s even described as a potential biological weapon.
Alvaro Bedoya transcribes an account of one sheepherder’s experience with illness in his must-read essay Captive Labor:
One day, I fell sick and my bones ached… and I had a very strong fever. I asked the campero [manager] to visit the doctor. He said, “Go to your tent and don’t come out.” I asked him [again] and he just gave me three pills and told me, “Go to your tent and don’t come out.”
And I wanted to see the doctor, but the money wasn’t enough. I couldn’t leave, anyway, not without the campero’s permission. I tried to cure my fever with some plants I picked… a friend of mine showed me how… but I just kept on shaking. It didn’t stop until [three days later].
Nowadays I try to keep myself warm, but sometimes during the lambing season you have to be up all night, or so early in the morning that it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. I just don’t want to get sick again. Maybe the campero would take me to the doctor this time.
The same is true of labor. Sheepman have been getting away with providing substandard working conditions for their laborers – indentured servitude – and paying below minimum wage for 24 hour/day 7 days/week labor as described both in the NYT article and Captive Labor.
Given all the costs to our environment, wildlife, the public-dole, and the most basic labor standards – to human rights – It’s time to pull the cord on this destructive public-land sheep-grazing industry.