National / International News

Cell phones bring new leverage for farm workers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-12-18 02:00

When you think of “salary negotiations,” picking fruit isn’t the first job that comes to mind. Individual farmworkers don’t control much about their work environments, but Eduardo Cruz says there’s a big range in what you can get paid to pick apples. “This year, I picked Honeycrisp for $42 a bin,” he says. “At other farms, they paid $35 a bin, or thirty.”

These differences in pay depend on a host of variables that determine how easy it is to fill a 1,000 pound bin of fruit: the size of the trees, the slope of the orchard, the quality standards imposed by the grower. In Washington’s Yakima valley, growers and workers alike say cell phones have helped to spread this information faster than ever, tightening the labor market and spurring on competition for the best piscadores. 

Farmworkers have always gotten together to trade tips. Still, they often had to drive out to far-flung orchards to find out who was hiring and what they were paying. Nowadays, most of these conversations take place via cell phone. “I’ve got a lot of friends, and we talk,” Cruz explains with a smile.

You ask a few questions about the job, get the foreman’s number, and if it seems promising, make the trip out to the orchard. Cell phones have reduced the “transaction costs” of looking for farmwork.

Grower Charlie de la Chapelle says that’s made the workforce more willing to move around: “And that’s a good thing, because if in fact we are short of people and we have a good price, they call their buddies and they bring ‘em.” The flip side is that “you don’t know who’s gonna show up tomorrow.”

On Chapelle’s farm, workers picking Fujis have to sort the fruit as they go, and the ground is littered with discarded apples. This extra work means they can’t fill bins as fast, which can hurt their pay.

Orchard manager Art Thompson says he’s worried his crew might start looking elsewhere. “We’ve got a pretty steady crew,” he says, “but believe me, if I let ‘em make this wage all day, the cell phones will start being picked up.” This means employers have to be ready to adjust wages.

It’s basic economics: free-flowing information leads to a freer market. Researchers have made similar observations about cell phones across the developing world. Agricultural economist Philip Martin recalls one study of fishermen in southern India.”If you’re out in your little boat, and you’ve got a bunch of fish, you have more power to know which port to take them to, by calling the various fish brokers, and saying, ‘what are you paying?’”

 For low wage workers without much clout, cell phones have brought a bit of leverage. 

Man critical after takeaway attack

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:55
A man is left critically injured after he was attacked in a takeaway in Portrush, County Antrim.

Surviving the Peshawar school massacre

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:52
The schoolboy who was shot in the head and lived

Badger cull fails to meet target

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:45
Fewer than half the target number of badgers were killed in this year's cull in Gloucestershire, Defra announces.

VIDEO: 'Three boys died before my eyes'

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:42
A survivor of the Pakistan school attack, Aqif Azeem, describes what happened when gunmen stormed the school.

Kenya protests halt parliament debate

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:42
Kenya's parliament is forced to adjourn after angry opposition MPs disrupt government plans to push through a tough new security bill.

VIDEO: Why energy use is falling in the UK

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:40
The amount of energy people are using in the UK is falling steadily even though the economy is growing, new figures confirm.

Jack and Emily are top baby names

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:38
Jack and Emily revealed as the most popular first names for babies whose births were registered in Scotland in 2014.

Libraries 'must emulate coffee shops'

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:35
Public libraries in England need to become more like coffee shops if they are to survive, a government-commissioned report concludes.

Your move, Netflix

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:30
$90 million

That's how much Sony Pictures Entertainment will lose from the production and marketing of its now-cancelled film "The Interview," the Wrap reports. That doesn't include lost box office or home video revenue, or the long-term costs of the cyberattack that pushed Sony to cancel the movie in the first place. Meanwhile, one Texas theater is showing the 2004's "Team America: World Police," another comedy about fighting North Korea, in place of "The Interview." Quartz also makes a convincing case for releasing the movie on Netflix.


There's lot of questions about how relations with Cuba will change with yesterday's announcement from President Barack Obama; from travel regulations, to how many Cuban cigars Americans can purchase. But over at Gizmodo, they're wondering if Cuba will now cash in the $4,000 rent checks sent every year by the U.S. government to pay for the use of Guantanamo Bay. Up until now, the country has refused to accept the payments.


That's the most common cost of a phone call to or from prison in 2013, along with a $3.95 fee. Using that figure, Bloomberg estimates the calls reporter Sarah Koenig recorded for "Serial" — which wraps its first season Thursday — cost the podcast more than $2,500.

1 hour

That's the amount of time in which Amazon's Prime Now says it can deliver orders in Manhattan, as reported by the WSJ. Announced Thursday, Amazon says as many as 25,000 items are available through the service. We'll go ahead and wait until they launch a predictive delivery service called Prime Yesterday.

1 news site

The number of news sites tested by ProPublica that weren't censored in China Wednesday. The organization has been testing the sites behind China's firewall every day for several weeks, and another site has been at it all year. The results are collected in this interactive graphic.

Mortgage lending dip 'continues'

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:15
UK mortgage lending in November returned to the level seen a year earlier, lenders say, offering more evidence of a post-summer slowdown.

US boy's 1944 conviction overturned

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:13
A judge has overturned the conviction of a 14-year-old black boy sent to the electric chair for murder more than 70 years ago.

Retail sales boosted by Black Friday

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 01:10
UK retail sales rose at their fastest annual rate in more than 10 years in November, thanks to the effects of Black Friday.

Tests claim Ebosse died from beating

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:46
New post-mortem tests claims Albert Ebosse died in Algeria after a beating rather than being hit by a projectile thrown by fans.

'Ice pancakes' found on River Dee

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:44
Dozens of "ice pancakes" the size of dinner plates are found floating on a stretch of the River Dee in Scotland.

Two world titles, one champion?

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:31
Stephen Bunting hopes to become the first player to hold both versions of the world darts title at the same time.

Whitehall v town hall

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:29
David Cameron promised to give local government more power, but local councils continue to shrink, relative to central government.

Autism link to air pollution raised

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:26
A link between autism and air pollution during pregnancy has been suggested by scientists.

Drug allergy: Culprit protein found

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:25
Scientists uncover a single protein that could be responsible for drug allergies, on the surface of cells.

Obesity 'is a disability' - courts

BBC - Thu, 2014-12-18 00:23
Obesity can be constitute a disability, the European Court of Justice has ruled.