Irvine Forces City Contractors to Pay their Workers a Living Wage–Unless They're Mexican Crop Pickers

This summer, the city of Irvine and its apologists made much about its decision to force any contractors doing work for the city to pay its workers a living wage, that progressive wet dream in effect wherever former Mechistas sit on city councils.

The announcement made it seem as if Irvine really is a wonderland where no exploitation is allowed, and everyone who lives, works, and plays in the city is middle-class except those stray Mexicans that invade their parks every once in a while. Of course, the devil is in the details, and one key group of workers on Irvine land is excluded from a living wage: farmworkers at the Great Park.

The detail came to an interesting interaction during the Nov. 17 board meeting of the Orange County Great Park, whose governing body is really the Irvine City Council and lackeys of Irvine godfather Larry Agran and which falls under Irvine's living-wage ordinance. An item on the agenda that evening referred to a lease modification with Orange County Produce, owned by the influential Kawamura family. They have a contract with the Great Park to create a community farm, a farm that needs cheap labor to harvest all those crops–so surely those Mexican pickers get a living wage, right?

HA! Poor Mary Ann Gaido–former Irvine councilmember, current chair of the planning commission, and member of the Orange County Interfaith Committee to Aid Farmworkers–certainly wishes so. She approached the Great Park board and asked them whether Kawamura's farmworkers were subject to the living wage, remarking that city lawyers had told her they don't apply because they are subcontracted, a bullshit excuse if ever there was one.

Great Park board member (and Irvine councilwoman) Beth Krom got visibly annoyed at her planning commissioner, mumbling something about that the living-wage ordinance “applies for people who work for us”–you know, because the Mexican farmworkers who take care of the farm that the Great Park board uses to show the county they're not wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a boondoggle don't count.

CEO Mike Ellzey then jumped in to clarify. He told Gaido that, since Orange County Produce is technically a lessee of the Great Park and not a contractor, the living-wage ordinance didn't apply. Four Mexican fieldworkers good, two office drones better, you know?

Amazingly, coming to the possible rescue–in the first sign of true progressivism he's exhibited since the 1990s–was Agran. He admitted that the living wage didn't apply to the farmworkers, but “that does not mean we don't have aspirations” to ensure they get a living wage. He went on to babble something about the Great Park having the “highest standards” and the “best practices” and promised Gaido that the Board would “visit the issue…sit down…and talk about that.”

Jumping in to prove that–like his idol Agran–he wasn't always a vendido, was SanTana Mayor-for-Life Don Papi Pulido. I can't read my notes, and the Great Park website's video option crashes on Firefox, but the Don Papi said something about them having an “obligation” to lead by example and help out the farmworkers get a living wage. Is Pulido's Manchurian Mechista finally emerging, 25 years after we thought it would?

I can dismiss your comments as patronizing politics, Larry and Don Papi, but 'tis the Christmas season: I believe ustedes. Make it happen in 2012; subject Orange County Produce's farmworkers to the living-wage ordinance. If you do, I'll be the first to applaud. But don't, and watch out…

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