My husband is a Mason. We currently live in Florida. We first started dating 18 years ago, at that time he was an apprentice. His pay was about $8.00 an hour. Certainly not enough to live on but he knew that if he kept at the back breaking, hot, dirty work he would acquire a skilled trade that would support his family. He worked his way up thru the ranks. Paying his dues as first a laborer, then a laboring apprentice, (for those of you that don’t know what that is, it means you want this bad enough that you do your laborers work then at every opportunity you do double duty by grabbing a trowel, whenever someone will let you, and helping on the wall, not standing around when your labor duties are caught up), then as a true apprentice, then finally claiming the title of Journeyman. As we grew up, we started a family, went thru good times and bad, but his work was steady and the pay increased with his skill level and cost of living. Until a few years ago. We noticed that wages plateaued. In 2004 he got hired on with a Masonry company doing hi-rise work. His pay was at that point $18 an hour. A livable wage and we were comfortable, if we kept our spending in check and lived frugally.
It was around this point that a Mason had come from California and started talking crazy ideas about how Florida was sure to suffer the same fate as California. He had actually left because he finally just couldn’t find work. We thought he was insane! There was plenty of building in California! If he couldn’t get a job it was surely his own fault. But his words still left a disturbing tingle at the base of the spine. He did mention the influx of cheap labor from Mexico and we had certainly noticed the large number of Mexican laborers in Florida at that point. He also mentioned the effect of the builders throwing up more condos than they could sell, then abandoning new projects before completion. Well, we had also seen quite a bit of a lean toward knocking down old hotels and instead of replacing them with hotels they were all going condo. But surely someone was paying attention to the trends and knew whether there were the needed number of buyers rather than vacationers to support the condo growth, right?
Wrong. Let me tell you first hand that an illegal worker, from where ever, Mars for all I care, is the death of the American family. Since being hired on at $18 an hour in 2004 his pay has not increased once. Why should it? Those same illegal workers who were willing to labor for under the going acceptable wage would soon get skilled enough to be able to slap block in the wall at a rate significantly under living wage and the company owners knew it. All they had to do was bide their time. Soon they were skilled enough to do basic block work and then were exploited in yet another field. Even tho the $11 or $12 an hour beats the pants off the $6 or $7 they were getting to labor (remember 18 years ago my husband made $8 to labor!) they all know it’s a far cry for what a skilled tradesman who is here legally and has paid his dues, to know his trade inside and out, receives for pay. But what are they to do complain? Not a good idea since there is no one to report this injustice to and a million more just like him waiting to take his place. Still think because you’re not in a construction trade that you’re not affected? Would you like to live, in a hurricane prone state, in a structure that was built by someone who had taken years to learn lay out, stress capacities and structural soundness or someone who was thrown on the wall to build your house because they would do it for half of what had to be paid to someone with actual knowledge? Not enough for you still?
How about this, do you pay taxes? My husband hasn’t worked in his trade for about 8 months. The men he came up thru the ranks with, men who have 25 and 30 years experience are in the same boat. They go from job to job, every time they see caissons being driven they stop at the jobs looking for the mason foremen. All leave with the same heavy heart and waning self esteem. “sorry man, we’re pretty well staffed” is the typical response. That is code for we already have a crew of illegals doing the job you used to do for ALOT less and I’m getting a HUGE bonus, but thanks anyway. My family is not typical. Even tho we have a large family, 4 children of our own and one ours in every way except biologically, we have never used public assistance. Once again, we are not the norm. We have been blessed with friends that remember every little favor we ever did for them,friends who have truly generous natures. We have had the good sense to keep our cost of living ridiculously low and managed to raise a family that is not materialistic. When my proud, talented mate has to take a laborers job for a pittance and I have to flea market, ebay, bartend, waitress, pretty much anything to make a dime, we can get by. We kinda saw this coming. What about the poor souls who thought they would be OK, that their trade wouldn’t sell them out? What if we had a car payment? A bad mortgage, with a huge interest rate? Maybe private school for one or all of the kids? College tuition and not lucky enough to have a good or maybe any scholarship? A sick mate that couldn’t work? What if, what if, what if! We’d need help. Your tax dollars. You’d not only be paying for social services for the influx of immigrants, legal and illegal, but you are also supporting at least some of the Americans that these same people, who I guarantee you are getting some kind of social service ( look at any health department) have displaced out of well paying jobs.
Think I’m exaggerating? Think, this broad is just crazy, there can’t possibly be that many illegals on these job sites! You’re living in a fantasy world. The INS made a surprise visit to the last job my husband was on. They came sadly unprepared. Maybe 50 were detained and taken away. 200 ran for all they were worth. The job site remained at a stand still for almost a week until the crisis appeared over and greed over powered common sense. Then they came back, bringing cousins, uncles and friends to fill the spaces of those sent home.
Pay attention America. The issues that seem so far removed from every day people, the Real Estate market, immigration, the fight between the parties in our government for control, they all trickle down to affect each and every one of us some how. Maybe you just a little right now. Tomorrow when you wake up don’t be surprised to find that it’s become alot.