Friday, September 11, 2015

Immigrants and the American work ethic

Donald Trump is at once the most qualified and unqualified man running for President. No other candidate comes close to his executive experience (and it is an executive we are supposed to elect); nor do they dole out even a dollop of the hate and vitriol that he directs at various classes of people. It’s that behavior that makes him unfit for office despite his phenomenal credentials – and it’s that same behavior that promotes and encourages xenophobia.

Trump’s brand of foreigner fear is dangerous. To him and those who champion his candidacy, it’s impossible to distinguish between illegal immigrants who come here in all the wrong ways and for all the wrong reasons and the countless legal immigrants who come here in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.

It’s unfortunate, because the folks who take the legal path to our country via student visas, work visas, naturalization and refuge should be welcomed to this country with open arms and open hearts and treated like the good neighbors they are. They help make America better and one could even argue that they are more American than many of us.

The American people used to pride themselves on an unconscionable and unmatched work ethic. Our predecessors cleared the Earth and tamed half of a wild continent, working through conditions and with tools that are now unfathomable to build a great nation for themselves and their heirs. The knowledge that hard work and ingenuity yielded greatness carried into the late-1900s as men and women grinded it out to achieve it.

But, we live in a different world, a different America. Ask any business manager or Baby Boomer who is still in the workplace – they will tell you that today’s younger generations don’t get it. They don’t like to get their hands dirty, they don’t come to work on time (if at all), they don’t want a 40 hour week, and they immediately expect the wages and benefits that people before them worked years to get.

That sense of entitlement permeates society, as the labor participation rate is less than 63 percent, a 38-year low. A record 94 million people are choosing not to work and government makes it too easy for them not to.

But, the people who come here legally want to work, as they know it’s the only path to achieving the incomparable American Dream. They know that through hard work and thrift, they can have a middle class standing and live exactly like the privileged the upper classes and kings do in their homelands.  

You see this exercising of the fabled American work ethic everywhere -- from factories to farms to hospitals -- out of folks who weren’t born Americans.

I have a pretty diverse workplace, with a minority population in excess of 30 percent. A good number of those diverse peoples are immigrants and refugees. Among the first to come to us were the Vietnamese. One fellow, who has been with us for over 15 years, has an incomparable work ethic that should shame anyone. A couple of years ago, while working on one of his Buffalo apartments, he took a bullet from a random shooter that lodged in his skull. He came to work that same night and I had to forcibly tell him to leave and get it taken care of. And, to think, some of his American-born cohorts look for even the smallest ailment to get out of work.

That ethic is not unusual for Asians, as we’ve welcomed two dozen of the 9,000 Burmese refugees who call Buffalo home. They work, they don’t create headaches, they feel bad for missing time and most do not miss any time at all. They are absolutely fantastic coworkers. Quite simply, they work, just as Americans used to and were expected to.

That’s just one workplace. Take a look at the farms and orchards across the Niagara Frontier, most of which are staffed with migrant workers from Jamaica or Mexico. As I wrote a few weeks back, they are paid well and receive great benefits. So, why aren’t Americans gobbling up those jobs? Because they don’t want to: It’s easier to collect benefits from the government than it is to get muddy, pick fruits, milk cows or work under the sun.

So, if you like American-made products and good, quality produce realize they’re being made possible by immigrants, “new Americans” – just as most of your surgeries and medical advances are. If it weren’t for them, the American work ethic would be dead. Despite what the Donald Trumps of the world might believe and say, they are not ruining America…they are making it better.   

From the 14 September 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers

No comments: