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Farmworkers 2If you missed it this morning, be sure to take a few minutes to read this morning’s lead story over on the main Policy Watch site: “Twenty-first Century children, Nineteenth Century laws.” The article features a powerful interview with a young woman who describes the pain and hardship she endured for years as a child laborer in 21st Century America — something that, as remarkable as it may seem, remains perfectly legal more than a century after our country supposedly addressed it. Here is an excerpt:

Q. When and why did you start working? Was it your choice?

A. At the age of 8 years old I started working in cotton fields in Arkansas. When I was12-years old I started working in blueberry fields in Michigan, as well as working in the processing plant and various nurseries. I come from a family of migrant farmworkers; we were all expected to work at some point. I am not entirely sure why I started at a much younger age. But growing up I learned that we worked to help pay for bills, school clothes and supplies and also to learn a lesson. Both my parents met in the fields, they both knew how hard the life of a migrant farmworker was and didn’t want for that life to be their children’s. They made us work to show us exactly what was out there without a proper education and to motivate us to stay in school.

Q. What was your typical job and what would be a typical workday? Read More

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Tobacco fieldInstead of thinking up new and creative ways to downsize and privatize government, shred the social safety net and just generally make life harder for the 99%, here’s the kind of issue that North Carolina lawmakers ought to be addressing forcefully during the 2014 legislative session:

A new report is out that once again highlights the dangerous working conditions for children in the North Carolina tobacco industry.

As WRAL reports here, the good people at Human Rights Watch released a report today documenting the hazards. The authors of “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming” interviewed child tobacco workers in North Carolina Read More

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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.

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“Harvest of Dignity,” a 30-minute documentary that chronicles the lives of modern farm workers in North Carolina, won a regional Emmy over the weekend in the topical documentary category.

The film updates Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 report, “Harvest of Shame”, and shows that unfortunately, not much has changed about how our country treats the people who work so hard to deliver the bounty of our farms to our grocery stores and our tables.

Donna Campbell of Minnow Media in Carrboro, worked closely with the Farmworker Advocacy Network to make the film. Upon accepting the award in Nashville Saturday, Campbell said she did so on behalf of North Carolina’s farm workers.

“Those of us who haven’t spent 16 hours in a sweet potato field really have no idea what hard work is,” she said (you can watch the awards speech around 01:14 of the Emmy broadcast.

At least 150,000 farm workers and their families are in North Carolina for each growing season, according to the North Carolina Farmworker Institute.  often making less than $11,000 a year. Wage and safety violations are unfortunately all too common, with workers still facing difficulties like pesticide exposure, unacceptable living conditions and rampant wage theft.

The thought-provoking movie is worth watching with a book club or group of friends or neighbors, sure to raise awareness and generate discussion. Watch the movie and download discussion materials here: http://pic.tv/harvest/.

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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