Our VoiceNews & Politics

Defend the Rights of Farmworkers

Guest Blogger • Feb 10, 2011

by Minnie McMahon

Big agriculture must stop exploiting its workers.

The majority of America’s agricultural workers are undocumented people subject to sub-human treatment from their employers. Because of their lack of legal status, these workers have limited recourse to advocate for their human rights.

Agricultural workers in Immokalee, FL, and across the country find themselves in positions of indentured servitude.

For instance, they pay much of their wages back to their employers in the form of unfairly high rent. It is common for 10-12 men to share a single trailer to be able to afford the rent of $1,200 per month. These workers almost constantly run the risk of falling behind financially, despite working up to twelve hours a day.

And twelve hours of work does not ensure twelve hours of pay. The tomato pickers of Immokalee are paid in piecework, and are not compensated for the time they spend commuting from the company camp to the fields. They often have to wait hours for company transportation at the beginning and end of each workday. Immokalee workers make 50 cents for every 32 lbs. of fruit picked.  Because tomato pickers are paid by the bushel of fruit harvested, they work at a backbreaking pace for 10 hours a day.

On top of that, tomato pickers are exposed to harmful chemicals.

Grossly inadequate financial compensation and unsafe living and working conditions are unacceptable.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “A wide variety of chemical pesticides — insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and others — are used on U.S. crops. Florida’s tomato industry is particularly reliant on these chemicals, using more than 70 different pesticides that are sprayed and dusted at the rate of 217 pounds per acre.”

We need to advocate for fair conditions and wages by supporting the efforts of cooperatives like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

It is our responsibility as consumers to show big agriculture whose side we’re on.


Minnie McMahon is a Bay Area environmentalist and gardener
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