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Why Fair Trade Produce Labels Are Bogus

Any U.S. consumer walking down the supermarket aisle will find berries, tomatoes, and other vegetables that are labeled “responsibly grown,” “farmworker-assured,” and “fair-trade certified.” But behind the labels, the Mexican workers who harvest these fruits and vegetables live and labor in conditions they call “twenty-first century slavery.” We interviewed 200 workers for our new report “Certified Exploitation: How Equitable Food Initiative and Fair Trade USA Fail to Protect Farmworkers in the Mexican Produce Industry.” They detailed widespread wage theft, sexual harassment, rampant retaliation, and, in the most extreme cases, forced labor.

Organizers Speak Out As Employers Investigations Hit Record Lows

Sixty years after Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association, agricultural workers—especially migrants—continue to be subjected to widespread abuses, including wage theft and dangerous working conditions, due to lax enforcement of labor regulations, concerted efforts by employers to skirt the rules that are in place and a political-economic system that favors employers. Despite these challenges, labor organizations have helped farmworkers stand up for themselves and together with other workers, with some success. Although migrants working temporary and seasonal jobs on farms are legally protected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) under the H-2A visa program, legal protection does not necessarily translate into workplace protections, especially absent a union presence.

Farmworkers In Florida Are Marching Against Slave Conditions

In December of 2016, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), based out of Immokalee, Florida, received a phone call from two men who had just escaped captivity near the town of Pahokee by hiding in the trunk of a car. The two men were migrant farmworkers, working on H-2A visas, who had been harvesting watermelons for Bladimir Moreno, owner of the farm labor contracting business Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC—a business that, in reality, was little more than a modern-day slave camp. “They told of being held against their will on a labor camp surrounded by barbed wire,” the CIW notes, “working and living under constant surveillance, and earning extremely low pay.”

Citizenship, Not Surveillance, For Farmworkers

This week, I joined farmworkers across the country in sounding the alarm on legislation that would make us even more vulnerable. We have defeated it for now. However, the agricultural lobby has been pushing for this legislation since 2019, and we know they will continue to propose legislation that ties immigration reform to labor exploitation. I know just how grueling year-round agricultural work is and how difficult it can be to make ends meet as an undocumented farmworker. After coming to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, I spent years picking grapes and after that, working on dairy farms. Farm work wasn’t my first choice, but as an undocumented person, there weren’t any other options for me. In just 10 years of farm work, my body was broken, leaving me unable to support myself.

Organized Farmworkers Win Basic Demands In A Quick Strike

Mt. Vernon, Washington - Tulips and daffodils symbolize the arrival of spring, but the fields are bitterly cold when workers’ labors begin. Snow still covers the ground when workers go into the tulip rows to plant bulbs in northwest Washington state, near the Canadian border. Once harvesting starts, so do other problems. When a worker cuts a daffodil, for instance, she or he has to avoid the liquid that oozes from the stem—a source of painful skin rashes. Yes, the fields of flowers are so beautiful they can take your breath away, but the conditions under which they’re cultivated and harvested can be just as bad as they are for any other crop. “Tulips have always been a hard job, but it’s a job during a time of the year when work is hard to find,” says farmworker Tomas Ramon.

Indigenous Farmworkers Hold The Key To Healing Our Burning Planet

Anayeli Guzman was born into a Mixtec-speaking Indigenous community in San Miguel Chicahua in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her family raised chickens on their land, and as a child she would help plant corn, squash and radishes. They ate handmade tortillas with beans, eggs and salsa. Her grandparents taught her to care for the land and to revere the rain. Few people worked for wages. Rather, families owned small plots and grew seasonal, drought-resistant crops, exchanged produce with nearby communities and helped each other with big projects. After migrating to the United States to be with her husband, Anayeli (along with 11,000 other, mostly Indigenous, immigrant farmworkers) toils for meager wages in the $1.9 billion wine industry of Sonoma County, Calif. In the past several years, record-breaking wildfires have ravaged the area, often during harvest season.

The Climate Crisis Is Coming For Undocumented Farmworkers First

In July 2020, Claudia Durán felt compelled to complete her shift harvesting blueberries in the fields of Allegan County, Mich., before driving to the local hospital’s emergency room to be treated for dehydration, where she arrived dizzy, with an acute headache and chest pain. That same month, at least three of her coworkers also ended their shifts in emergency rooms to be treated for dehydration, she says. Durán and her coworkers get paid by the hour, 50 cents for every pound of fruit they pick, and they cannot afford to miss work time and lose income. That is why Durán, who is undocumented, rations her water intake throughout the day — to avoid going too often to the restroom, which is far removed from the harvesting fields.

Supreme Court Case On Farmworker Protections Could Harm All Regulation

The legacy of Cesar Chavez has been getting another look in recent months. In January, President Joe Biden placed a bust of the 20th-century labor leader in the Oval Office, giving journalists the opportunity to reexamine how Chavez fought for farmworkers, while commentators on social media noted that Chavez’s treatment of undocumented immigrants, at certain points during his life, complicates his image as a tireless champion of migrant laborers. But a sinister reexamination of Chavez’s legacy is also happening. A California labor regulation that resulted from his campaigning is under threat from the Supreme Court at the urging of dark money-funded right-wing think tanks.

What Future For Farmworker Families In The United States?

Oakland, CA — As the Biden administration begins dismantling Trump's anti-immigrant legacy and contemplates reforms to US immigration policy, it will have to take the crucial decision of whether to continue or terminate the H-2A “guest worker” program. A new report by the Oakland Institute, Dignity or Exploitation — What Future for Farmworker Families in the United States?, documents the systematic abuse of workers in the H-2A program and its impact on the resident farmworker communities, confronted with a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.

Groups In The South Are Working To Fix A Broken Farm Labor System

For years, legal organizations and farmworker advocacy groups have sounded the alarm about the H-2A visa program — the most common legal route to hiring foreign agricultural workers. Faced with massive worker shortages, farmers in the South have increasingly turned to foreign laborers, who come to work on temporary employer-sponsored visas. The program, which ties employees and their visas to the employer, is rife with abuse. Wage theft is rampant, forced labor is common, and the contracts employers sign, which guarantee certain hours and living conditions, are rarely honored. On top of that the U.S. Department of Labor rarely enforces regulations, which allows mistreatment to go unchecked.

Will The Supreme Court Overrule Farmworker Union Rights?

Not long before Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit against California’s farmworker access rule in federal court on behalf of two companies—Cedar Point Nursery in Siskiyou County and the Fowler Packing Company in Fresno. The foundation is a conservative libertarian group that holds property rights sacred and campaigns against racial equity. It fought hard for the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the high court. The access regulation, which took effect after the passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, allows union organizers to come onto a grower’s property in the morning before work to talk with workers.

How Much Would It Cost Consumers To Give Farmworkers A Significant Raise?

The increased media coverage of the plight of the more than 2 million farmworkers who pick and help produce our food—and whom the Trump administration has deemed to be “essential” workers for the U.S. economy and infrastructure during the coronavirus pandemic—has highlighted the difficult and often dangerous conditions farmworkers face on the job, as well as their central importance to U.S. food supply chains. For example, photographs and videos of farmworkers picking crops under the smoke- and fire-filled skies of California have been widely shared across the internet, and some data suggest that the number of farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19 is rivaled only by meat-processing workers.

Immokalee Workers Win Major COVID-19 Victories In Florida

During the past month, the strict criteria in place effectively limited the tests to those with severe symptoms, giving public health officials a very limited view into the path of the virus.  Starting Sunday, as stated in the Department of Health’s press release, no referral will be needed for testing, opening testing to symptomatic and non-symptomatic people alike. This means that the number of people tested should increase significantly, and the ability of public health officials to track, understand, and predict the virus’s path should expand along with it.  The new testing protocols should provide state and county officials with the data necessary to steer a more aggressive course toward addressing the virus in the farmworker community in the weeks ahead.  

Appeals Court Recognizes That Farmworkers Have A Fundamental Right To Organize

ALBANY - A state appellate court today declared unconstitutional a Jim Crow-era exclusion in state law that denies farmworkers the right to organize and collectively bargain. Plaintiffs Crispin Hernandez, the Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Worker Justice Center of New York, represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, originally challenged the exclusion of farmworkers from basic labor protections in 2016. “This is a victory for farmworkers, as we have finally had our day in court,” said Crispin Hernandez, who was fired from his job as a dairy worker in Lowville...

The Farmworkers Who Pick Your Halo Mandarins Just Organized A Massive Labor Strike

The sun is setting on the east side of Bakersfield, California, as Salvador Calsadillas sits down with his cousins and their kids for a dinner of caldo de mantarraya, a hearty stingray and tomato stew, a specialty of the coastal regions of the Mexican state of Sonora. Calsadillas and his family are from Oaxaca, further south in Mexico, but like many others, they moved to Bakersfield looking for work. Bakersfield is the entryway to California’s 450-mile-long Central Valley, the site of a sprawling $50 billion a year agriculture network that produces more than one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of our nuts and fruits.
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