Fifteen years ago, Geno needed to find a way to support her husband and nine children in Mexico, where it is difficult to find steady work from season to season. She didn’t have many options: she was told that the only jobs available to migrant women were in crab-picking houses. She has traveled to Maryland to work ever since, leaving her dependents behind for long stretches of six months because the expense of bringing them along is simply too high.
There are times during the work season when Geno and the other women at her workplace must wait, without pay, for work, even when her contract guarantees her 35 hours or more of work per week. This is often the case at the beginning of the season, when the crab harvest is light. During these stretches, she still needs to pay for food and is expected to pay rent for her employer-provided housing. Geno reports that food, however, is not always readily available, as the store is a long way away and they do not have access to transportation.
Like other women at her worksite, Geno is paid by the pound of crab meat she can produce. For this reason, many choose to work through the 30-minute daily allotted break. By contrast, men perform different jobs and are paid by the hour rather than by production. She observes that they also have a greater opportunity to earn more money.
As a long-time veteran of the crab-picking industry, Geno is pessimistic that employers will ever improve working conditions and that women like her will have the chance to earn a better salary. Still, she suggests that migrant women should be provided information about their rights so they can protect themselves. To this end, she believes contracts should clearly state the rights of the worker. She suggests that women also be given access to employment opportunities in areas outside of crab-picking, so that they can look for better quality working conditions if they choose.