Support Farm Workers this Labor Day

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on September 6, 2010.

The average life expectancy of a migrant farm worker working in the United States is 49 years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, agricultural laborer is one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the country. More farm workers died from work-related injuries in 2009 than truck drivers, construction workers, or industrial machinists.

Infant mortality among families of farm workers is 125% higher than that of the general U.S. population. Higher rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer, miscarriage and Parkinson’s disease have been found in farm workers worldwide.

Most of the people who grow and harvest the food most Americans buy at the supermarket work long hours with few breaks, performing repetitive manual labor, toiling in every kind of weather, often enduring heavy rains or dangerous heat for days at a time, with no paid holidays or sick days. Laborers on large-scale industrial farms work with heavy machinery, and may be repeatedly exposed to toxic pesticides known to cause birth defects and cancer.

And for all they do, and all they risk, to provide those of us who do not farm with food, most migrant farm workers — those who travel the country to help harvest crops as they ripen — are paid less than $12,000 a year.

About three quarters of migrant agricultural workers are immigrants to the United States; about half of those work legally under established guest worker laws. Most migrant farm workers have not completed a high school education, and a number of them, as immigrants, speak English as a second language and are not familiar with the U.S. legal system.

As a consequence, many farm workers are unaware of workers’ rights under U.S. law to promptly paid wages, regular breaks, and a reasonably safe work environment. This lack of knowledge allows many large corporate farms to exploit even those migrant workers who are in the U.S. legally, insisting they work long hours, under unsafe conditions, and without overtime or hazard pay.

Poor conditions and low wages at corporate farms are not necessary evils; corporations do not have to exploit workers to provide the United States with abundant, affordable food. According to Phillip Martin, Professor of Agricultural Economics at UC-Davis, less than 10% of the final retail price you pay for supermarket strawberries or apples goes to farm worker wages. The lion’s share of the retail price of fresh produce from corporate farms goes to corporate profit.

Because migrant workers’ wages make up such a small percentage of the cost of produce, a wage increase of 40% for farm workers across the nation would only cost the average American household $16 more per year at the grocery store.

This Labor Day, if you happen to be one of those lucky workers celebrating a day off of work with a nice, American-grown meal, please take a moment to think of the farm laborers who harvest so much of the food Americans eat without ever stopping for a holiday. And then pledge to take action to help them, by seeking out responsibly grown and harvested produce from farms that welcome unions and treat workers well, and by supporting legislation that provides farm workers with safer conditions and better pay.

Photo: Farm Workers and Mt. Williamson, by Ansel Adams. Public domain.

211 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a month ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

krysta Ice
Past Member 9 months ago

Kamia T Said
"All you vegans who are so proud of what you're not abusing? Guess what, you're the very reason migrant slave labor exists. STOP supporting mega corporation farming in ANY form, and spend the money to buy from local small organic farmers who need your help. Will it be cheap? No. But if Walmart workers deserve $15 an hour in wages, so do family farmers!"

Vegans aren't "so proud" about not abusing, it's just simply the right thing to do. Making efforts to be the best you can be IS a confidence builder. If you feel inferior to vegans then maybe it's your own self-confidence you need to work on instead of bashing vegans every chance you get.
Your claim that migrant slave labor exists is because of vegans is just ridiculous. People who eat meat eat the same foods that vegans do and there are far more of them. We're well aware of going to Farmer's Market and buying local preferably when shopping at the grocery store.


krysta Ice
Past Member 10 months ago

Kyle N. Oh, I see. You meant the picture with the article, I thought you were referring to the link I sent(witch would have been more relevant). Still, this pic has nothing to do with anything and I think we can all see that it is very old.

krysta Ice
Past Member 10 months ago

Kyle N There is no photograph... don't know what you're going on about.

Max Leung
Max Leung10 months ago

thanks

Max Leung
Max Leung10 months ago

thx

Fi T.
Fi T.11 months ago

Equal to the support in our living life

Max Leung
Max Leung11 months ago

thx

Jennifer Manzi
Jennifer Manzi11 months ago

We work on a point system for comments Neil which in turn help animals. Get over other people's comments if they're not wordy enough for you.