Underpaid and Mistreated: The Plight of New Mexico Farm Workers

Written by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

An overwhelming majority of New Mexico farm and dairy workers have been underpaid and mistreated, according to aNew Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) study released Monday. Over 88 percent of farm and dairy workers were subject to wage theft, poor working conditions, and forced to work overtime without lunch breaks.

Immigrants overwhelmingly make up the nation’s agricultural workforce. More than fifty percent of the nation’s farmworkers are undocumented, so employers threaten them with deportation if they report abuse or try to organize.

One dairy worker recounted a harrowing tale of being attacked by a bull, which broke his ribs and punctured his lungs. His $40,000 medical bill was only partially paid for by his employer and caused him to lose his home and his vehicle. Another worker severely injured her wrist on the job, but was dumped at the hospital without any identification or money.

In violation of the Pesticide Control Act, over 20 percent of farm workers were exposed to pesticides while they were out in the field. The consequences of pesticide exposure range from dizziness to lifelong respiratory issues to even acute poisoning, which these workers cannot afford to treat because they lack health insurance.

Despite the bleak working conditions they endure, farm workers are among the poorest of the working class. They generate an annual family income of $15,000 to $17,499. Of the New Mexico agricultural workers surveyed, the annual household income was a paltry $8,978. While the agricultural industry made over $3 billion within the past five years, the average amount paid in wages was only about $231 million.

New Mexican laws permit a wide swath of provisions for small family farms to keep afloat financially, but such laws are exploited by large agribusinesses as well. These provisions let farmers pay dairy workers less than minimum wage. Under these laws, agricultural workers in the state are denied other basic labor protections such as overtime pay, the ability to participate in collective bargaining, and the right to a safe and clean workplace.

Female farmhands also often face sexual assault and harassment in the fields, but do not report the crime for fear of retaliation.

Although violence and wage theft are still ongoing occurrences in New Mexico and beyond, a judge ruled that agricultural workers were entitled to equal protection under the New Mexico Constitution. Dairy farmers have pursued legal challenges as a result.

California, another state that relies on immigrant farm workers, is on track to pass legislation that would penalize employers who threaten to turn workers in to immigration authorities. Notably, the state will consider its first sexual harassment complaint filed by a female farm worker later this summer.

This post was originally published at ThinkProgress.

Photo from Thinkstock


Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

(continued)them as they migrated south in the fall and again in the spring when they returned. DDT nearly did them in completely, I didn't see one for a very long time and just read they are again now dangerously threatened by agribusiness. Those businesses use laws designed to keep family farms operating to shield themselves against fair wages, working conditions, hours and job security. That is so wrong. On every level. Those laws should be changed to exclude businesses with more than a couple hundred full time workers from providing decent wages and safe working conditions. The single thing I found MOST unsettling in this story is that NOW, just now, California is hearing its FIRST sexual harassment complaint from a female worker when we all know for a fact this has been going on since migratory workers began working the fields for large companies, here in Minnesota in the sugar industry, in California and elsewhere in the produce they grow. The first complaint ever. I wonder how many poor women suffered before this one "Rosa Parks" was brave enough, had enough support and resources to fight back. That is the most disgraceful element in that entire story, all of which was rancid.

Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

"New Mexican laws permit a wide swath of provisions for small family farms to keep afloat financially, but such laws are exploited by large agribusinesses as well. These provisions let farmers pay dairy workers less than minimum wage.'

So. Nothing much has changed since the days of Cesar Chavez. When I was a boy growing up on a farm in Minnesota, virtually all farms were smallish, family businesses, though the buying up of land by large groups which became factory farms had begun by the end of my childhood, during those days one could still make a living on a farm, grow virtually all of what you ate and pass the farm on to your children. That has stopped. Laws designed to safeguard small family farms were never meant to be used by giant agribusinesses, they who all by themselves destroyed one piece of the original American dream. My ancestors, all of whom came from Sweden on both sides of the family, came here for the ability to be free and work for themselves as first loggers, then family farmers.

It was in many ways an idyllic life. A good way to grow up surrounded by crops and woodlands and silence. The 1960's with DDT began to change that as Rachel Carson documented so well in Silent Spring. The Monarch butterflies disappeared for years, only to come back in recent years but are now again virtually gone due to the use of pesticides that destroy the milkweed they use to harbor their larvae which grow into the beautiful Monarch's. The skies were dark with t

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Sandra Penna
Sandra Penna4 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago

I agree with Christine S.

Alexandra Hayward

That is so sad that the most vulnerable and needy people in our world are being used and abused in what is supposed to be one of the most wealthy countries in the world! Can't believe things like that go on anywhere in the world but to see it happening in the USA is truly shocking!

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

We are in the 21st Century... are we not? Now can we please ditch the ongoing feudal system?
What a disgrace!

James Beeston
James Beeston4 years ago

thanks for posting this very imformative aeticle

John B.
John B4 years ago

Thanks for sharing the exceptionally informative article by Esther Yu-Hsi Lee and the very relevant links.

Kay M.
.4 years ago

thank you for a very informative article. I also enjoyed the many comments from the care 2 members.