From MercuryNews.com, Santa Cruz Sentinel, “Report: Farmworkers’ still face hardships after decades of struggle” by Donna Jones, 13 Mar 2011.
On day honoring Cesar Chavez, advocates urge legislators to do more to improve the lives of farmworkers
SALINAS [CA] – Despite decades of struggle, California’s farmworkers continue to live in poverty and without adequate access to education and health care.
That was the message from a group of elected officials and farmworker advocates as they celebrated the birthday of civil rights leader and United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez on Thursday.
Flanked by farmworkers and their supporters waving red UFW flags at a press conference at Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, the group released a report filled with grim statistics and offered policy recommendations for officials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
“Farmworkers face the same crippling socio-economic conditions they experienced earlier,” said Dr. Maximiliano Cuevas, chief executive officer of the safety-net clinic in East Salinas. “It’s a good time for us to come together and continue the efforts that Cesar Chavez left to us to pursue.”
In Sacramento, the state Senate marked the day by passing SB 104, the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, on a 24-15 vote. The legislation is aimed at making it easier to organize the fields by permitting unions to sign up a majority of workers rather than win an election at a polling place, which are typically on company property.
Cuevas urged legislators to adopt the report’s recommendations, including holding off on a proposed shift of state services to counties until standards are set for serving farmworkers, providing county-based clinics incentives to care for farmworkers, and establishing a task force to regularly survey farmworkers and to design comprehensive strategies for improving their health.
The report, “The Status of California Farm Workers Since 1990: Progress or Retrenchment,” is based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Surveys conducted during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as from policy papers produced with grants from the California Endowment during the past decade. Though the most recent statistics are from 2005, Maggie Melone, a clinic board member, said not much has changed.
Working conditions have improved with drinking water and toilets more likely to be available in the fields, and fewer and better-trained workers handling pesticides, but socio-economic factors indicating a better quality of life have barely budged, the report says.
Among the findings:
- In 2005, 75 percent of individual farmworkers and 52 percent of farmworker families earned less than $15,000 a year; in 1998, 80 percent earned less than $10,000 and three out of five families lived below the poverty line.
- In 1998 and in 2005, the typical farmworker had completed only six years of formal education.
- In 1990, 68 percent of farmworkers lacked health insurance; 15 years later, 70 percent went without.
- In 2000, 81 percent of male farmworkers and 76 percent of female registered unhealthy weights, and 28 percent of men and 37 percent of women were obese.
- In 2000, 18 percent of male farmworkers had at least two of three risk factors for chronic disease, 33 percent had at least one-decayed tooth, and male farmworkers suffered from iron deficiency anemia at four times the rate of the general male population.
Rogelio Jacinto, a retired farmworker who joined the UFW in 1970, said he was burned over half his body when a tractor exploded on the job in 1968. He was bandaged head to toe for eight months. His employer didn’t pay for his doctor visits. Some things have improved, he said.
“But some people still suffer injustice,” Jacinto said.