When I left my bicycle business in 1993 I went to work for a company that manufactured bowling equipment. The company was located in the City of Orange just south of Los Angeles in Southern California. The workforce of about 100 was almost entirely Mexican.
The following year the owner of the company decided to move the business to Springfield, Oregon. The State of Oregon, along with the City of Springfield gave him large tax breaks, low rent, and other incentives to move there because of Oregon’s high unemployment rate.
All employees were given the opportunity to move with the company but only about 15 of the original workforce including myself decided to move. When we arrived in Oregon we immediately started hiring. My position with the company was Welding Production Manager so I did some of the hiring.
We were not necessarily looking for skilled workers, we were prepared to train people. We didn’t drug test anyone which may have been a big mistake, most of the people we hired it seemed had been unemployed for so long, they had lost any desire to work. One man I remember started work at 8:00 a.m. I showed him how to do a simple assembly job with a wrench. He worked until 10:00 a.m. when we took a break, he left and we never saw him again.
Another man I hired lived near me and I gave him a ride to work each day because he had no car. He quit after two weeks and stole a box of bronze bushes from the company worth several hundred dollars and sold it for ten dollars to a local scrap metal dealer. How do I know this? I found the bill of sale from the scrap dealer in my car some days later. As fast as we could hire these local workers, they quit. We didn’t fire them, they quit. We may be found two or three workers we could hang on to.
In desperation the owner contacted some of his original Mexican workers from Southern California and offered them a job. A few of them came and soon the word spread and others followed and by the end of that first year in Oregon our entire workforce was once again almost all Mexican. The company had really tried to give locals the jobs but had failed through no fault of our own.
I found the Mexican worker a joy to work with. You could take someone who had never welded in his life before, spend about half an hour showing him how, and by the end of the day he was welding with the speed and quality of someone who had been doing it for years. The Mexican has a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe having been taught to work hard from a very early age. In their own country they don’t work just to get by, they have to work hard in order to survive.
If one of their group was not pulling his weight for example the others would say to me, “Juan is lazy.” Not behind his back but to his face. Juan would become embarrassed and we would all have a laugh. He had been shamed into working harder by his fellow countrymen.
They called me “Don Dave,” in a somewhat lighthearted manner, but never-the-less a mark of respect they didn’t even extend to the owner of the company. Being an immigrant myself helped, but I believe I got that respect because I treated them with respect. I treated them as I treat everyone, as an equal, neither above me nor beneath me. I learned a few words in Spanish, enough to instruct them on their daily task. They made me look good with the company, because of the quality and quantity of work they produced.
Mexicans would not cross the border each day in their thousands if there were no jobs. People hire them not because the Mexican is cheap labor, but because they work hard, do a good job and often an employer can’t find others to do the work they do.