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Fields in the Factory: The Making of Precarious Stability in the Salinas Valley’s Bagged Salad Industry

  • Author(s): Espinoza, Ruben
  • Advisor(s): McKay, Steven
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores the paradox of labor that is both precarious and stable. While most research in the social sciences approaches precarious labor from an organizational perspective, I analyze precarious labor as a lived experience through borderlands theory. My case study focuses on workers from a bagged salad company, Miracle Vegetable, in California’s Salinas Valley. Data was collected through a workplace ethnography, interviews, and five years of fieldwork in the community. Individuals participating in my study were undocumented farm laborers when they arrived from Mexico. However, they are now unionized industrial workers with legal residency who have permanently settled in the Salinas Valley. From a subject-level perspective, their lives exemplify the contradiction of achieving upward social mobility while continuing to endure precarious socioeconomic conditions. Borderlands theory helps unpack the borders that workers navigate, such as being permanent residents but not citizens and unionized factory workers that earn similar wages as undocumented farm laborers. I argue that labor precarity and labor stability reinforce each other by conceptualizing precarious stability. This concept advances sociological understandings of precarious labor by moving beyond the binary of good and bad jobs or primary and secondary labor market sectors.

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