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Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do
     

Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do

4.5 2
by Gabriel Thompson
 

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What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis—not

Overview


What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis—not always successfully—as a bicycle delivery “boy” for an upscale Manhattan restaurant, and was fired from a flower shop by a boss who, he quickly realized, was nuts.

As one coworker explained, “These jobs make you old quick.” Back spasms occasionally keep Thompson in bed, where he suffers recurring nightmares involving iceberg lettuce and chicken carcasses. Combining personal narrative with investigative reporting, Thompson shines a bright light on the underside of the American economy, exposing harsh working conditions, union busting, and lax government enforcement—while telling the stories of workers, undocumented immigrants, and desperate US citizens alike, forced to live with chronic pain in the pursuit of 8 an hour.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thompson (There’s No José Here) details working alongside undocumented workers in this stirring look at the bottom rung of America’s economic ladder. Thompson’s project feels initially like a gimmick; that this middle-class white American can go undercover in the lettuce fields of Arizona or the poultry plants of Alabama seems more stunt (or rehash of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed) than sound journalism. But the warmth with which he describes his co-workers and the heartbreaking descriptions of the demanding, degrading, and low-paying jobs quickly pull the reader in. Gimmick or no, the author pushes his body and his patience to the limits, all the while deferring attention to the true heroes: his co-workers, whose dignity, perseverance, physical endurance, and manual skill are no less admirable for being born of sheer necessity. What emerges are not tales of downtrodden migrants but of clever hands and clever minds forced into repetitive and dangerous labor without legal protections. Thompson excels at putting a human face on individuals and situations alternately ignored and vilified. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Journalist Thompson (Calling All Radicals) writes much in accord with the image of him presented by the photographs that begin several of his chapters here. Garbed and accoutered for each of the jobs he undertook to research this volume—from picking lettuce in Yuma, AZ, to riding his bike as a flower shop and restaurant delivery man in New York City—he appears to be an affable young man, game to take on whatever comes next. His goal is to expose the harsh working conditions to which Latinos (and, he acknowledges, other poor Americans) are currently subjected, including "grinding, deadening work; the workplace diet of sodas and candy bars; the sleep deprivation; the frequent health emergencies; [and] the complete lack of savings." VERDICT However well intended, The Jungle this isn't. It's a mostly anecdotal and impressionistic account that will, however, be of interest to social scientists and public policymakers. Readers may come away hoping that "AgJobs," a bill currently being considered by Congress that seeks to relieve chronic farm labor shortages while protecting rights and opportunities for immigrant workers, is passed soon. [See also Dick Reavis's Catching Out, reviewed above.—Ed.]—Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A Brooklyn-based journalist spends a year undercover in America's low-wage immigrant workforce. Thompson (Calling All Radicals: How Grassroots Organizers Can Save Our Democracy, 2007, etc.), who has reported on immigrants in the past, decided to find out what it was like to work in their jobs, which tend to be the "most strenuous, dangerous and worst paid." He embarks on a series of jobs that proved to be consistently boring and often punishing, exhausting and unsafe. In Yuma, Ariz., he joined a 31-person crew that harvests 30,000 heads of lettuce daily for Dole. Stooped over in the heat, wielding an 18-inch knife for $8.37 per hour alongside Mexican guest workers, he returned to his apartment each night dirty and exhausted with badly swollen feet. Fellow workers were astonished to find him at their side: "The white guy can work!" one said. After two months, Thompson moved to Russellville, Ala., where he landed a job in a nonunion Pilgrim's Pride chicken plant that processes a quarter-million chickens per day. Working the 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift, he spent every minute on his feet breaking chicken breasts and performing other repetitive duties in the frigid, noisy block-long plant. He fought to stay awake in the tedium and popped painkillers to relieve the throbbing in his hands. His co-workers-evenly divided among whites, blacks and Latinos-often moved back and forth between dead-end jobs at the plant and Wal-Mart. Fired when his cover was blown, the author returned to New York and worked briefly at below minimum wage for a verbally abusive boss in the flower district, then became a delivery man and kitchen worker for an upscale Mexican restaurant. At each workplace, Thompson attemptedwith varying degrees of success to get to know his immigrant co-workers, but the sketches he offers are not especially revealing. He gives a good sense of what the jobs are like-almost entirely stultifying-but as a writer he fails to hold the interest of readers. Wearisome confirmation of what (most) Americans already know. Agent: Michael Bourret/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781568586380
Publisher:
Nation Books
Publication date:
07/12/2011
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
727,133
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author


Gabriel Thompson writes for New York magazine, The Nation, the Brooklyn Rail, and In These Times. The author of There's No José Here, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
nadrad More than 1 year ago
Excellent!  Thompson does a great job reporting on what it is like to do the jobs most of us would never do.  He intersperses facts with good old fashioned stories.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
good book. pick up a copy