The Dynamics of Labor in North Carolina's Christmas Tree Industry

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Title: The Dynamics of Labor in North Carolina's Christmas Tree Industry
Author: Hamilton, James Victor Jr.
Advisors: Frederick Cubbage, Committee Chair
Abstract: Hispanic workers now make up a majority of the labor force in North Carolina's Christmas tree industry. Data were collected from Christmas tree growers, Hispanic workers, and government agency personnel in 2001 and 2002 to analyze the factors that (1) contribute to the dynamics of labor issues and (2) influence decision-making among growers and workers in the industry. While advocacy groups, researchers, and the popular media commonly address labor exploitation and public health issues among migrant workers, objective appraisals of labor management strategies within specific industries are rarely undertaken. In this study, labor issues within North Carolina's Christmas tree industry are analyzed. The existing theoretical body of social exchange research also is challenged by emphasizing the importance of non-economic factors, such as social and psychological values, in social exchange among industry participants. A qualitative approach was used to develop a more complete understanding of labor dynamics in the industry, incorporating multiple methods including a mail survey, personal interviews with industry participants and agency personnel, and participant observation. Survey and interview results among growers yielded an historical context to the development of the industry's labor force. This, in turn, revealed a body of concerns under which Christmas tree growers currently manage their labor force such as hiring and training, legal status and language barriers, as well as regulatory monitoring and advocacy scrutiny of their operations. Interviews with Hispanic workers illustrate how social networks influence their decision-making in migration and job selection and reveal concerns about both legal status and communication with their employers. Respect, rapport, and positive interaction among industry participants in a system of mutual benefit are also revealed. This information can be used to challenge the traditional notions of a confrontational and exploitative dynamic between migrant workers and employers that is commonly portrayed in the popular media at least within this industry sector. Recommendations are provided that will make it possible for educators, advocates, and policy makers to develop more effective strategies for meeting the labor needs and concerns of employers and workers in the Christmas tree industry and other agricultural and forestry industries.
Date: 2004-07-19
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Forestry

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