From SFGate.com, San Francisco Chronicle, The Thin Green Line, Cameron Scott, 12 Apr 2011.
Farmworkers are the source of a lot of talk in the U.S. — they’ve got their own Department of Labor category and anti-immigration activists point to them as taking jobs away from Americans.
These arguments have persisted in the face of a dramatic lack of evidence about who farmworkers are and what their jobs are like.
Bon Appetit Management Company and the UFW, with support from Oxfam America, are seeking to illuminate the blind spot with a newly released report.
According to the report, there are 1.4 million crop farmworkers in the United States. They are marginalized by low rates of fluency in English, lack of legal papers, poor hourly wages, little continuous employment, and high rates of sexual harassment.
Farmworkers aren’t guaranteed the right to collective bargaining: Under federal law, a farmworker can be fired for joining a labor union.
Less than half of hired farmworkers and only about a quarter of contract workers are covered by unemployment insurance — which is particularly brutal in a seasonal industry with notoriously low wages.
Employers are as unregulated as the workers are unprotected. Farms are exempt from many of the federal government’s workplace regulations. A full third of all crop farmworkers work for employers that are not subject to regulations dictating basic health and safety standards.
Federal laws permit children as young as 12 to be hired to do farm work, and, at 16, youth are permitted to do hazardous tasks that are restricted in other sectors. California and Washington have stricter child labor protections, but the study found little enforcement of what labor protections there were for farmworkers.
And farming is a dangerous business. In 2009, the rate of job-related deaths among farmworkers was five times that of the U.S. average worker. Yet, less than one-half of U.S. farmworkers were covered between 2005 – 2009 by workers’ compensation insurance.
It’s almost as if the federal government has decided to turn a blind eye to the treatment of farmworkers in exchange for low food prices. Is it any wonder then, that few citizens want these jobs?