Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

They Want Everybody's Job
by James Glaser
June 18, 2010
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The bricks came for my addition Thursday. They are not exactly the same as what is on the rest of the house, as like with many things, they change the colors and patterns of even bricks. They are close, and they will be laid like the rest of the house, so they should look good.

I don't lay bricks. So, I had a couple of brick layers come out to give a bid. Both were highly recommended. The first man happened to tell me that his crew was Spanish. I asked, "They came all the way from Spain?" He said "NO, they're Mexican." I said, "Wouldn't that make them a Mexican crew?" He said, "Yes, but people like to hear that they are hiring a Spanish crew better."

Well, I have nothing against Spanish workers or Mexican workers, but I think they should work in their own country, unless they want to become Americans, and if they become Americans, they would no longer be a Spanish or Mexican crew. You never hear of an Irish or German crew, and I kind of favor hiring American workers, so after the guy gave me his bid, I said I would have to go with American workers.

The next guy was a true son of the South. It was a good thing that I have been with Wanda this long, because I could understand just about everything he said. He is a good old boy, and I could tell a hard worker, too. Brick/block layers tend to be in shape if they work all the time, and this guy looked like a worker. First off, he asked how many bricks. I told him 4,700. He measured up the addition and said that was too many. I said the man who sells bricks figured it out, and he said that he had been doing this for twenty years, and he was pretty good on figuring it out. I went with his number, as he told me, you order the bricks, and you have bought those bricks. It seems you can always order more, but they won't take them back.

Dalton, that is the brick layer's name, saved me money on the bricks. His bid was $480 lower that the other guy, and he had none of the $170 in extras the other guy had. In truth, I was prepared to spend a bit more for an American crew, and it ended up costing me almost a thousand dollars less.

Now our politicians in Washington will tell you that Mexicans only take the jobs Americans don't want, but politicians in Washington or any place else in this country don't know jack about jobs or working. Fifteen or twenty years ago Mexicans started taking over the roofing trade in Minnesota by bidding so low they could pay their guys only five bucks an hour. Those guys were happy with that kind of money as 15 or twenty of them would rent a house and stay for the roofing season living cheap. American roofers had a house payment, kids, insurance, and every other expense Americans have.

A few years later I noticed Mexicans had moved into the sheet rock and auto body trades, plumbing, electrical, and every other construction trade. It wasn't that Americans didn't want those jobs, they just wanted a job with decent pay. Well, the Mexicans started out cheap—so cheap that most people could save a bundle hiring them, but times have changed.

Now, thousands of those small American construction companies are out of business. They were driven out by the low bids of the Mexicans. So, today it is sometimes hard in some places to find a small American crew. And the cost? Well the Mexicans are living here in America now, and they are paying for a house, and they have kids and a car payment and the same expenses as anyone else. So their bids are right up there with the surviving American construction workers.

People will tell you that Mexicans work harder, but they don't work any harder than the Americans who have stuck with their trade. Sure, some of the bad or slow workers have been culled out, but I'll put just about any American worker up against a Mexican worker and their production will be about the same . Some Americans will be better, as will some Mexicans.

Speed isn't a good way to judge a construction worker, but a combination of speed and quality is. Anybody that has been in the trades for a long time learns how to work efficiently, and their quality usually increases with time.

I guess it's just me. I have this thing about hiring American workers, and sometimes that is hard. You can buy a Ford that is made in Canada or a Volkswagen that is made in Mexico, or like me, an Isuzu that is from Louisiana. You have to work at it, but if you want to, you can hire American, get quality work, and maybe even save yourself some money.

One thing to remember though. When politicians in Washington start talking about the American working man or women, you have to remember they have no idea what the American worker does, or how they live, or even what their values are. Our politicians are a sorry lot.

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