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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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…

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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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Are We Prepared To Pay The Price For Farmworker Justice?

Wearing a flannel shirt, Wrangler jeans and worn-in beige boots, Juan Antonio Zuniga has the look of a farmer but not the entitlements that come with owning an actual farm. Fleeing violence in El Salvador, Zuniga came to the US in 1991 and has been a farmworker in New York ever since. Today, he lives and works on a farm in Mattituck, Long Island, where he picks grains and grows vegetables. According to the National Farmworker Ministry, the annual average income of crop workers is between $10,000 and $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family, an offensively noticeable difference from the $5 billion-plus that New York’s agricultural industry brought in last year.

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Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation

These are harrowing times for the nearly 1,500 migrant workers laboring on Vermont’s largest dairy farms. These farmworkers, predominantly from Mexico, are forced to live in the shadows, where their farm bosses harbor them in exchange for long hours, low wages, and cheap housing. It’s a human rights stain on the state, allowing these migrant workers to live and be treated this way. And it continues because there’s a whole lot of “looking away” from the deep-rooted ugliness of this system, which has been described by human rights advocates as “close to slavery.”

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Sarbanand: A “Dirty Dozen” Corporation Contesting Being Fined In District Court For Working A Farmworker To Death In Whatcom County

On Wednesday May 23rd at 9:00am Sarbanand Farms is scheduled to appear in the Whatcom County District Court to appeal a fine that was imposed on them by the WA State Dept of Labor and Industries after the death of a worker on August 6, 2017. This is happening in a courtroom that normally handles driving citations. This is the level of disrespect we are receiving for a farmworker’s death in Whatcom County. We believe the WA State Dept of Labor and Industries has given permission to agricultural corporations and the courts to normalize the deaths of farmworkers by exploitation. This past February, Sarbanand was fined over $150,000 for not allowing workers to take their rest breaks and lunches.

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How Filipino Migrants Gave The Grape Strike Its Radical Politics

The great Delano grape strike started on September 8, 1965, when Filipino pickers stayed in their labor camps, and refused to go into the fields. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970. The conflict was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It breathed new life into the labor movement and opened doors for immigrants and people of color. California’s politics have changed profoundly in the 52 years since then, in large part because of that strike. Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation. Children of farm worker families have become members of the state legislature.

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No Loopholes, No Exceptions

For decades, domestic workers and farmworker women have been systematically excluded from labour protection laws and have faced extensive barriers to justice for sexual harassment, among other forms of abuse. Most have no human resources department to turn to, and are not covered by Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits sexual harassment, as the law currently only applies to workplaces with 15 employees or more. Since most workers in the care sector are the only or one of just a few employees in their workplace, they – along with independent contractors – fall beyond the purview of this federal labour protection instrument. “It’s happening to us because we are invisible workers,” said Teresa Arredondo, farmworker leader from Alianza de Campesinas.

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