Category Archives: Working People

Cargill: Making Salt For a Living

As a scuba diver, I have had the pleasure of visiting Bonaire and seeing the Cargill Solar Salt Works operations. The sights and sounds of an industrial workplace caught my attention. It’s just another day at the salt mine!

Kit Case, Editor

Cargill is making salt in paradise on the island of Bonaire. A Dutch Caribbean island, Bonaire lies about 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. It is home to the Solar Salt Works of Bonaire.

Cargill has operated the Solar Salt Works on Bonaire since 1997, and employs roughly 40 workers. The site, on the flat south end of Bonaire, covers about 13% of the small island’s 115 square mile area.

Salt Production is a Modern Process

Abundant sunshine, an arid climate and near-constant trade winds make the process of making salt relatively fast. It takes two to three months from the time the seawater enters the salt flats until the salt crystals are ready for harvest.

Solar evaporation is a process that has been around for centuries. Salt water is collected in ponds and, as evaporation occurs, the level of salinity increases. Modern salt production involves the use of pumps to move the water closer to the harvesting site as the salinity levels rise. Once the salt is ready for harvest, heavy equipment is used to transfer the salt from the water to piles for drying. Once dry, the salt is again moved into large piles alongside the conveyor system that extends out along the salt pier. Ships arrive from ports near and far to load the brilliantly-white salt aboard.

My husband, both diver and photographer, captivated by the salt piles.

Like a mini-mountain range, the piles of harvested salt are a lovely site. Tourists pull off the road to snap photos. Scuba divers love diving on the salt pier whenever no ships are in port to load salt.

Salt Ponds are Wetlands

The salt ponds also contain habitat for flamingos and terns. Cargill has taken steps to set aside and protect these habitats, as well as providing community support for projects outside of the ponds.

Cargill partners Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire to protect sea turtle nesting sites. It also works with STINAPA, which manages the Bonaire Marine Park, protecting the coral reef around the island to a depth of 200 feet, and the inland Washington Slagbaai National Park. 

Cargill’s solar salt works is a major employer, a tourist destination, and a community partner on the island of Bonaire. Read more about Cargill’s operations on Bonaire, here.

History of Salt Production on Bonaire

The story goes that the Spaniards began harvesting salt on Bonaire beginning in 1499. I’m sure the local Bonaireans were doing so long before that. The Spaniards did not initially inhabit the island, but used it as a hitching post on their trail of maritime commerce.

They harvested the mesquite forests for charcoal fuel, and left animals on the island. Goats were self-sufficient and hearty and were slaughtered, salted and used as meat provisions on the Spanish sailing vessels. Donkeys were brought as the heavy equipment of the time.

Later, as with many of the Caribbean islands, people from Africa were captured, enslaved, and brought to the island. They worked and lived in horrid conditions. Several of the slave quarter buildings remain on the island, some relatively intact and others mere ruins. Bonaire makes an effort to educate about the plight of the slaves that worked on the island. There are signs at each location that make it clear that whole families lived in the tiny slave huts by the sea.

Bonaire Marker
Modern dock next to historic range marker for guiding mariners safely to shore.

Prior post about solar installation projects closer to home:


Protecting Workers from being Destroyed by the Work Schedule

Senator Tom Harkin

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr., from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

I wrote the post below as an editorial in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Because The Scheudles That Work Act is of national importance I want to make sure this issue receives the attention that it deserves by promoting awareness of it as broadly as possible. I hope you’ll take the time to read my editorial and pass it along to concerned citizens in your area.

Workers deserve some certainty in their work schedules. Why? Because we all have need to plan for child care, time for school, transportation, or simply time to pay bills and manage the household. It’s basic fairness.

But don’t you, a friend or an acquaintance work a job with unpredictable and irregular work schedules? You’ve probably noticed that irregular and on-call scheduling are increasingly common. It’s especially common in the fastest-growing areas of our economy—- cleaning, janitorial, retail and restaurant work.

These scheduling practices can devastate the worker and her/his family. The practices demand the worker choose between his job or his family. They often lead to the worker being fired.

Vermont and San Francisco have already passed laws to help employers and workers avoid this devastation.

Senator Tom Harkin has now proposed The Schedules That Work Act to help workers balancework duties with family duties. The Act helps both workers and employers by:

  • Protecting all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Creating a process under which an employer considers a worker’s schedule request in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the worker and her/his family. For example, schedule requests based on caregiving duties, health conditions, pursuing education or the need to meet the demands of a second job, must be granted, unless the employer has a good business reason for denying it.
  • Compensating retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Providing that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than twenty-four (24) hours’ notice.
  • Providing workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts or non-consecutive shifts, within a single day.

Kudos to Senator Harkin! Some politicians and billionaire-driven PACs parrot “Iowa values” as a campaign slogan. Senator Harkin, on the contrary, uses those values to create legislation like the ADA and The Schedules That Work Act.