Farm-worker Justice 101
Farm-workers are the people who feed us. They are an essential part of our food production chain, and they ensure that we have access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables all year long. They plant, cultivate, harvest, and prepare our food for market, consumption, and storage. Just as food is something that is sacred and special, so are the lives of farm-workers. Any policies aimed at a Fair Food system that is safe, sustainable and just must start with farm-workers. The way that we as a community feel about the blessing of food should be reflected in the way that we treat farm-workers, those who nurture food and bring it to our plates.
Although the terms “farm-worker” and “migrant worker” are often used interchangeably, not all farm-workers in New York State are migrant workers, following work from place to place as the seasons change and living in temporary and often insufficient housing. Some farm-workers are actually fixed, committed community members who call New York State their home all year. Although most originally come from other countries, farm-workers are our neighbors year-round, our friends, and the parents, brothers, and sisters of our children’s playmates.
What conditions are farm-workers subject to?
There is nothing fair about the current production chain, and farm-workers endure extreme working conditions to bring food to our tables.
In the agricultural industry, laborers commonly work long hours 6-7 days a week in potentially hazardous conditions, with no overtime pay. For farm-workers there are no guaranteed days of rest, little to no access to basic healthcare, and there is no right to collective bargaining. Additionally, work takes place in isolated environments that are frequently void of basic protections against physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Roughly 75% of Farm-workers are undocumented, and threats of deportation are used to enforce acceptance of unjust working and living conditions. Even child-labor laws are only loosely maintained, and it is not uncommon for children 12 years old and even younger to take shifts of labor in the fields.
Why are farm-workers not protected by the same laws that ensure the safety, dignity and fair-treatment of other New York State workers?
Because of exemptions in the federal labor laws of the 1930’s, farm-workers are not protected in the same ways that other workers are. Although some states have the ability to pas new laws that create equality for all workers, New York State has not and so agricultural laborers remain one of the state’s most vulnerable populations. Passing the Farm-worker Fair Labor Practices Act would grant farm-workers in New York State the right to overtime pay, days of rest, collective bargaining, and reinforce protections against child-labor and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.
What can be done to achieve true equality for New York State farm-workers in the labor force?
New York State needs to act now. It is heartbreaking to consider that so many generations of farm-workers have suffered under such abusive conditions, all for the benefit of corporate interests and greedy executives who put the squeeze on farms and farmers. Legislators can no longer passively allow discriminatory exemptions in essential labor laws to remain unchanged. Join us as we fight for Fair Food in New York, calling for a Farm-workers Fair Labor Practices Act that removes all exemptions on agricultural laborers, granting them access to the same rights and protections as all other workers in New York State. Join the movement for Fair Food in NYS at all levels of production!
Organize a documentary screening in your local community (library, church, classroom, living room… anywhere that people gather)!
Share the message of Fair Food and Farm-worker Justice with your faith community (more resources coming soon).
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