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farmworkerIt’s National Farmworker Awareness Week: Time to celebrate the dedication and strength of the people who plant and harvest our food.  Farmworkers are exceptional people in so many ways: their incredibly hard work, the courage of many of them in seeking a new life in another country, and their persistence in the face of so many challenges.  Unfortunately, farmworkers are also exceptional in a way that no one wants to be.  Agricultural exceptionalism is a well-established concept in American law – the notion that agriculture is somehow so different from other industries that this justifies treating agricultural workers in ways we would not dream of treating other workers.

What does agricultural exceptionalism mean for farmworkers?  For starters, no entitlement to overtime pay for hours worked over 40 (and there are many of those long hours during peak harvest season). There’s also no minimum wage for labor done on a small farm. Farmworkers who join together to press for better living and working conditions don’t have federal labor law protections. Children as young as 10 can legally work in the fields. And most North Carolina farmers are not required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees, who toil in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Let’s take this Farmworker Awareness Week to support those who push to make farmworkers unexceptional, including:

Please use this Farmworker Awareness Week to join their fight.

A grand jury in Greensboro last week handed down a 41 count indictment against the owner and operator of a firm that brings in foreign workers for temporary agricultural and non-skilled jobs in North Carolina and around the Southeast.  According to WRAL, the indictment charges Craig Stanford Eury and Sarah Farrell of International Labor Management Corp. with submitting fraudulent visa applications in an attempt to evade caps on the number of workers who can enter the country on H-2B visas and moving workers on agricultural H-2A visas into non-agricultural H-2B positions.

Much has been written about the problems with the H-2B and H-2B programs.  The Southern Poverty Law Center’s seminal report, Close to Slavery, details the exploitation at the heart of a “guestworker” system which ties workers to a single employer and provides no way for them, many of whom leave families year after year to perform thankless work in the U.S., to ever create a permanent home here.  The unfair treatment of U.S. workers who don’t get a fair shake at these jobs are described in Farmworker Justice’s No Way to Treat a Guest.  Hopefully those messages will not get lost in stories about an indictment that focuses on sleight of hand tactics to game a system that is, at its core, patently unfair to the workers (immigrant and U.S. citizen workers alike) who just want to support themselves and their families.

Farmworkers 2In anticipation of your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, consider sharing this essay about the people who made it possible:

Safer food, farmworkers and families
By Fawn Pattison, Executive Director, Toxic Free NC

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this week, many of us will say a prayer of thanks for the hardworking people who harvest our food. While we enjoy the harvest’s bounty, we also reflect on those who work hard in the fields, facing many dangers and often not earning enough to put food on the table themselves. That’s why Thanksgiving week is also designated as International Food Workers Week.

This week a coalition of farmworker supporters is launching a new campaign to keep farmworkers safe from one of the biggest hazards they face on the job: exposure to toxic pesticides.

Check out http://protectfarmworkers.org/ and add your name to the petition calling on the federal government to fix the outdated pesticide rules that are failing to keep workers – and us – safe from exposure on the job. Read More

Farmworker pre-K(This post is part of a blog series on the crucial role of quality early childhood education and child care in caring for our youngest residents, creating thriving communities, and promoting a healthy economy. Read the introduction to this blog series and learn more about the programs we?ll be discussing here.)

By John Menditto

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced a bold and ambitious plan to expand preschool services. The “Preschool for All” Initiative calls for $75 billion in new funding during the next decade to partner with states and help expand access to low- and middle-income children who are not currently enrolled in preschool programs.

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been tireless in his advocacy for this new, national initiative. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Duncan as part of a small coalition of community-based groups who serve the Latino community and ask him how the Administration would make sure that the Preschool for All Initiative did not exclude by its design the preschool-aged children of migrant farm workers. Secretary Duncan assured the group that “Preschool for All” meant exactly that: there would be no asterisk excepting out farmworker families. He invited those in attendance to provide the Administration with information on how to design preschool services to ensure the children of farmworker families did not lose out on the benefits of a preschool education.  Read More

Living wageThe fallout from the destructive 2013 session of the North Carolina General Assembly continues to settle out across the state policy landscape.

As you will recall, during the waning days of the session, lawmakers enacted (and Governor McCrory approved) a new restriction on the ability of cities and counties to enter into contracts on their own terms. Last night, in response to the new law, Durham County Commissioners retracted part of the county’s forward-looking living wage ordinance.

The County Commissioners expressed regret about their action, which was in response to HB 74, signed into law by Gov. McCrory on August 23. The so-called “regulatory reform” law, among many other things,  Read More