THE PROBLEM AT HAND
It is estimated that there are over 3 million migrant farmworkers, 68% of those being born in Mexico (“Farmworker Health Fact Sheet”). The conditions that some of these workers experience are worse than others. In 2017 alone, over 416 farmworkers died from a work-related injury in the U.S. (“Agricultural Safety”). Farmworkers encounter pesticide exposure, heat-related illnesses, poor working conditions, and lack of access to healthcare. What is often overseen by the average consumer is the fact that pesticides are openly sprayed onto plants that farmworkers may still be picking. Pesticide exposure has the possibility of causing reproductive issues, congenital disabilities, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, and asthma (“Health and Safety”). Some more minor but equally dangerous problems that agricultural workers endure include illness from heat and back problems. The locations of many crop fields are in much hotter, rural areas. The location of these crop fields leads to many cases of heat-related illnesses. Many employers do not supply workers with adequate shade coverage, cold water, and work breaks (“Health and Safety”). Finally, workers struggle with meager wages and no overtime pay. Still following regulations made in the 1930s, some employers have exceptions to paying agricultural workers minimum wage and overtime.
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The mistreatment and discrimination against Latino and Mexican workers first started in the 1920s and 1930s during the Great Depression. Around the world, millions of people had lost jobs and struggled financially. In response to the lack of open positions and white Americans’ financial situations, the U.S. government decided to deport over 500,000 Mexicans back to Mexico, even Mexican American citizens (Biscontini). After multiple decades of conflict and deportations of Latino immigrants, it was not until the 1940s that Mexicans were brought back into the U.S. through an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments (Biscontini). The agreement, called the Bracero Program, offered over 220,000 Mexican citizens short-term job contracts. White farmers noticed and used the vulnerability of the “Braceros” to their advantage. Migrant workers experienced deplorable working conditions and dangerously low wages (Batten). Much like on Jamaican sugar plantations, farm owners also used tactics to prevent unionizing. Both Filipino and Latino migrants workers were divided among farms to make uniting more difficult due to language barriers and cultural differences.
These struggles that agricultural workers have may seem like an impenetrable brick wall, but some efforts have been made to end these problems, some successful, some not. One very progressive and hopeful effort is the Fairness for Farmworkers Act. This legislation, introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris and sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva. If passed, it would require all farm owners and employers to pay minimum wage and overtime pay to farmworkers (Grijalva). Another effort made to improve farmworkers’ working conditions was the 2012 Bautista v. State of California settlement. The settlement is supposed to implement better ways to prevent agricultural workers from heat-induced illnesses and deaths by more comprehensive evaluations of work conditions and employers’ resting methods for farm workers (“Bautista Settlement Summary”). A smaller but nevertheless impactful effort that provided a number of families with easily accessible healthcare was Ann Cheney and her medical research team at UC Riverside. After concluding that many farmworkers needed affordable and adequate healthcare, Cheney and her team deployed multiple mobile clinics to farmworkers’ residential areas. These efforts have all been surprisingly successful. Although the Fairness For Farmworkers Act is still passing through the House, the Bautista v. State of California case was settled in 2012, and all actions have been implemented.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Apart from the attempts that have already been made to improve the quality of life and work for Latino farmworkers, there are also some small steps that the average person can take to help these struggling workers. People can donate money to organizations and foundations that assist workers. An even smaller step the average person can take is to raise awareness. Raising awareness includes reposting posts on Instagram that inform others about Latino farmworkers’ condition, telling friends, and signing petitions. The final thing you can do is refrain from using large produce companies such as Driscoll which has a long history of ethical problems and racial discrimination among Latino and Filipino farmworkers.
Lastly, I just wanted to thank all of you for checking out my website and I am honored to help you better understand this pressing problem and how to help. Please feel free to leave constructive comments and feedback. Here is the link if you would like to view my complete works cited. Thank you!