Hope for Farmworkers in 2013?

Farm work is hard, dangerous labor; hours in weather that can range from hot sun to freezing sleet, repetitive motion, verbal and physical abuse from supervisors, poor housing, low wages, and exposure to dangerous chemicals and equipment are all par for the course for people working on farms. Many of these individuals are underage or members of the undocumented community, and the industry is somewhat unique in the nation for the limited protections it offers to laborers. Agriculture receives exceptional treatment (thanks to extensive lobbying efforts), and it can create a situation ripe for abuse.

Since César Chávez, farmworkers have been fighting for dignity and fair treatment in the United States, and a resurgence in organizing has occurred in recent years, suggesting that the community may be at an important tipping point. Concerns about immigration have been a driving factor, but workers have also been encouraged by organizing in other sectors of the economy as well as increased awareness in the community at large about agricultural issues. Which means 2013 might just be the year when farmworkers get their due.

Immigration turned out to be an important touchpoint in the 2012 election, and it’s clear that US immigration policy is in desperate need of overhaul. In 2012, numerous states passed aggressive anti-immigrant laws as the US government cracked down on undocumented immigrants. One result was a shortage of farmworkers, which led the agriculture industry to complain vigorously as farmers were forced to let crops rot in the fields because they had no one to harvest them. Farmers need workers, and they’re pushing for a better immigration policy to ensure that they get them.

This might not necessarily benefit workers, though, depending on how it’s handled. Guest worker visas can still expose people to the risk of abuse, while a streamlining of the immigration system could allow people to work legally in the US, retain rights, and maintain their dignity. Because, as farmworkers stress, fixing the immigration issue still won’t resolve a lot of the problems faced by farmworkers, who need to be able to organize to protect themselves. It may be easier to fight for their rights when they don’t have to fear deportation, but farmworkers in 2013 would still be facing a hard battle, as many of the changes they want are opposed for economic reasons.

Raising pay for farmworkers, ensuring access to shade and water, renovating housing to bring it up to code, and other basic measures farmworkers and human rights advocates argue are critically necessary could get expensive, claim farmers and agriculture lobby organizations. These could drive up the price of food, in an era when people are already struggling to pay grocery bills. This creates a complex doublebind as farmworkers reach out for support and encounter opposition from people concerned about the costs associated with labor reforms in the agriculture industry.

Support from the general public could be critical as more people become aware of farmworker issues and start to consider getting involved in the fight. Thanks to a number of journalistic exposés in 2012 about dangers and abuses on farms, such as this piece about silo deaths and underage farmworkers, people are starting to think not just about where their food comes from, but who is involved in growing, harvesting, and processing. If leveraged, that awareness could turn into action.

One thing seems certain: 2013 could be the year in which farmworkers break through and secure more rights and protections in the workplace, or it could mark the aggressive suppression of farmworker rights campaigns. The secret to success may lie in meeting up with other labor organizers, like domestic workers, in the hopes of finding and exploring common causes.


Related articles:

No Day of Rest for America’s Farmworkers

US Female Farmworkers: Silent Victims of Sexual Violence

Dolores Huerta Honored as Fight for Farm Workers Pushes On


Photo credit: Alexandria Jones for the National Farm Worker Ministry

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Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jude Hand
Judith Hand2 years ago

Thank you.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Thanks, I hope this is a much better year for them!

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara2 years ago

Hope 2013 be the year when farmworkers get their due.

Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgado2 years ago

Wouldn't it be fantastic if we as humans could just stick our finger in a power outlet to power us and give us the fuel we need without ever having to rely on any kind of farming. What a world we could have!!!!

Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago


Theodore S.
Theodore Shayne2 years ago

Ernest, what you say at this point is relevant. That is what has to change in humanity. I have no illusions. I worked once for a shop where the owner was from Hong Kong and a family member was coming from mainland China. I would expect it no less in any society. Guess who lost the job? I've been a few places in life and I understand that type of thinking. I'm not that naive or stupid to think that the tribal mentality of humanity will change overnight. I see it on the streets every day in North American cities and I have seen it everywhere I have lived or traveled. If I can lead by example then so be it. The earth is the only planet we have and if we don't start changing our attitudes and practices we won't have one left. The "mestizos" are certainly responsible for a lot of pain and suffering. Trust is something you earn, and understanding comes with experience not out of some book.

Patricia G.
Patricia Gall2 years ago

I favor "farmers" and the work they do "if its healthy & proper" I feel they should be treated better by our government & legislators.

Sue H.
Sue H.2 years ago

Great article, thanks. Bless all farmers and farmworkers. We can hope for change.

roseann s.
rose ann s.2 years ago