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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

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.

“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/.

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