As we begin the 2014 Farmworker Awareness Week, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs encourages you to take time this week, and hopefully every day hereafter, to recognize the two to three million men, women and children who perform often dangerous and backbreaking work to ensure our nation’s abundant, low-cost food supply: our nation’s farmworkers. While we consumers enjoy the literal fruits of their labor, farmworkers, sadly, often cannot afford to purchase the very produce they help bring to market.
According to a March 2011 study by United Farm Workers of America and others, the lack of accessible data and documentation about farmworkers’ employment — and their ultimate role in the food system — has in effect kept farmworkers hidden from public attention. Few people, for example, are aware that farmworkers are excluded from the basic labor and safety standards firmly established in other employment sectors. Likewise, many people would be shocked to learn that farm work has little or no overtime limits, child labor restrictions, collective bargaining rights, or workers’ compensation insurance, although agriculture is considered to be one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. Most Americans would also be surprised to find that even the few rules that do exist for farmworkers are rarely enforced. The absence of regulatory oversight, enforcement, and data about this sector leaves employers unaccountable to basic health and safety standards, while leaving farmworkers vulnerable to abuse.
AFOP is doing its part to help farmworkers out of this trap. By providing often life-changing job training, its members help give farmworkers a chance at a better life through gainful, self- and family-sustaining employment. These organizations perform this critical work at a very high level, continually exceeding federal performance standards, year in and year out, making a real difference in workers’ lives. AFOP and its member agencies also strive very hard to educate our nation’s decision-makers in Washington, D.C. so they know of the good work being done for farmworkers, and, just as importantly, the continuing need to help provide others laboring in agriculture a shot at securing stable, fulfilling employment.
Won’t you join in that effort? Please visit Congress.Gov today, find your elected members of Congress, and write to tell them farmworkers deserve fair treatment, fair pay, and access to the essentials other workers take for granted every day.
Daniel Sheehan, Executive Director