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Farm Workers’ Rights Presentation (March 15 2011)

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

Claire and I presented on Farm Workers’ Rights.  This was particularly interesting because of the IWP panel “Who Picks your Local Foods?: The role of Labor in the Food Movement.”

Here is our outline for our presentation:

85% of fruits and vegetables are hand picked (really hard work!)

Almost 90% of farm workers are primarily Spanish speakers.

75% of farm workers are undocumented (2-3 million)

In order to understand the ways in which undocumented farm workers are super exploited and to conceptualize worker resistance we need to understand and deconstruct capitalism and the ways capital asserts power over labor.

We think that Marx’s understanding of capitalism can provide us with a valuable analytical framework to understand the lived experience of undocumented immigrant farm workers…

-       Marx argues that the worker is exploited because the capitalist appropriates the surplus value.  Surplus value is the difference between the value of the worker and the value the worker produces.  The capitalist constantly wants to expand this surplus value.

-       Marx argues that the supposedly “voluntary and equal” exchange of labor for a wage is not actually equal because the capitalist buys a certain amount of time and thus what happens in that time is up to the capitalist (he can speed up assembly line, cut lunch hours, cut bathroom breaks, create competition between workers, etc.)

-       Thus, the creation of unions attempts to balance the power dynamic between capital and labor.

What are the ways that undocumented farm workers are super exploited?

-       First lets look at farm worker rights

  • The National Labor Relations act (aka the Wagner act)

o   Enacted by congress in 1935

o   The NLRA guaranteed private sector workers the right to join unions without fear of management reprisal

o   It created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce this right

o   prohibited employers from committing unfair labor practices that might discourage organizing or prevent workers from negotiating a union contract

o   does not cover agricultural workers: what does this mean? Agricultural employers do not have to recognize organized workers (NLRA states that if industrial employers do not recognize the union, the union can sue the employer through the NLRB, thus they have state recognized legitimacy).  This means that agricultural workers are more militant and

  • The Fair Labor Standards act

o   FLSA is the federal law which sets minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping, and child labor standards. Enacted in 1938

o   Protections extended to farm workers in 1966 amendment

o   Most workers covered by act, but certain exceptions

o   Agricultural workers covered under act are exempt from overtime pay provision. Do not have to be paid time and a half for hours worked in excess of forty per week.

o   Narrow definition of agricultural work: Agriculture does not include work performed on a farm which is not incidental to or in conjunction with such farmer’s farming operation. It also does not include operations performed off a farm if performed by employees employed by someone other than the farmer whose agricultural products are being worked on.

o   Minimum wage exceptions:

§  Piece rate:

ú  Local hand harvest laborers who commute to farm, paid on by piece rate (not minimum wage), if working less than 13 weeks

  • *piece rate: creates competition

ú  Non-local minors, under 16, hand harvesters, paid on piece rate basis if employed on same farm as parent.

  • *immigrants

§  Youth Minimum Wage: $4.25 if under 20 years old for first 90 days. (1996 amendment). Amendment includes protections for non youth workers (employers can’t replace workers with youth for $4.25 wage)

o   Typical Problems from Act:

§  Not keeping records of temporary employees, or dates of birth or hours of workers doing piece rate

§  Failing to pay overtime to employees doing work outside of definition of agriculture in act

  • The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) 1983

o   MSPA provides employment-related protections to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers and is administered and enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

o   establishes employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping

o   Small businesses exempt from this act

  • Despite these laws people are still exploited (especially undocumented workers because of their vulnerability)

Working Conditions:

  • Dangers:

o   One of the three most dangerous jobs

o   Sun stroke, no water breaks

o   Repetative movements

o   Psychological stress

o   Pesticides

o   Direct exposure, indirect exposure

o   Sanitation is key!

o   Housing

o   1 toilet for every 15 people (fighting for 10)

o   1 refrigerator for every 27

o   1 shower for every 15

o   location- near pesticides, isolated

o   dehumanizing lack of privacy

o   don’t need to provide mattress or phone for emergencies

o   sexual harrasment

How do we organize against this?

Discussion Questions:

- Can we brainstorm possible ways to combat the injustices immigrant farm workers face? What can we do at Oberlin? (Small Groups)

United Farm Workers (UFW)

Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez

Instrumental in the passing of labor laws

Now pushing AgJobs immigration reform bill

The Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (“AgJOBS”) represents a major compromise between farmworker advocates (led by the United Farm Workers) and major agricultural employers to address the agricultural immigration crisis.

AgJOBS would provide a legal, stable labor supply and help ensure that farmworkers are treated fairly.

The proposal contains two main parts:

(1) an “earned legalization” program enabling many undocumented farmworkers and H-2A guestworkers to earn a “blue card” temporary immigration status with the possibility of becoming permanent residents of the U.S. by continuing to work in agriculture and by meeting additional requirements; and

(2) revisions to the existing H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.

* Fair Food Campaign

* Tomatoes (Bon appetite)

The presentation went really well.  The information did not drag on for to long, which we were a little worried about.  Our discussion of the Fair Foods Campaign and Bon Appetite’s boycott of tomatoes was extremely interesting.  The example of Bon Appetite was really cool because that is the company Oberlin uses for its dining halls.  We all had experienced the lack of tomatoes and it was really cool to discuss the labor issues that had prompted the company to boycott its tomato supplier.  This led to a discussion of what we could do at Oberlin to stop the abuse of farm workers.

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ESL class on May 7

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

I was unable to teach ESL this Saturday because I had a paper due on Monday and my sisters were visiting me.  However, I planned the lesson with Claire so she could teach it alone.  We decided we wanted to return to the past tense because we had discussed it earlier, but it became to overwhelming with all the irregular verbs.  We decided to play hangman with verbs that are irregular in the past tense.  We made a list of there words to give out to them, which Claire would choose from and use it for hangman.  Once they guessed the word, Claire would do the word in past tense for hangman and they would have to guess.  Mari told us about this game and we really liked it because it helped with spelling, past conjugation and made the game more difficult.  Then we planned to make sentences using verbs in the present tense and then changing them to the past tense.

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ESL Class on Physical Appearance (April 30 2011)

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

We were finally able to do the lesson on physical appearance because the class was a decent size.

Here is the lesson plan, though we modified it as we went along.

Go over homework

Introduce vocabulary

  • Physical

Give out pictures

  • Have them describe the pictures through writing


  • Think of a famous person

o   Write it on a sheet of paper a famous person’s name

o   I tape it to their backs

o   They have to ask questions about themselves

§  Am I an actress?

§  Am I tall?

§  Am I blonde?

§  Am I popular?

o   See if they can guess

Conversation questions:

  • 1 How would you describe your own appearance?
  • 2 Who do you take after in your family?
  • 3 What physical characteristics do you find attractive? What personality characteristics?
  • 4 How would you describe the your ideal man/woman?
  • 5 Do you think the way we look is important? (a. when finding a partner, b. when making friends and, c. at work)


  • Write about the physical appearance of a family member or close friend

As we went over the vocabulary I drew on the board, which I think was helpful.  We also gave out sheets with the vocabulary and they drew matching drawings in the margins as a way to remember the definition.  After going over vocabulary we passed out the pictures and had them write sentences describing the person in the picture using the new vocabulary.  This was effective because it gave the students writing practice (sentence construction) and practice using the vocabulary.  After they were done writing the sentences they all read aloud what they wrote, while holding up the picture they described.  Originally we were going to play the game using celebrities, but we decided that it might be too difficult to try and guess from millions of celebrities, and we might not all know the same celebrities.  So instead, we played the game using the people in the room.  We all taped different people’s names to our head and went around asking questions about the persons physical appearance.  We asked questions like: “what shape are her eyes?,” “what color is his complexion?,” “what shape is her face?,” “what texture is his hair?”  Though this game was fun, it was also a little problematic (and sometimes uncomfortable).  Because there were a limited amount of students, we could identify the person we were guessing by process of elimination.  But we still used the vocabulary, which was helpful.  It was a little awkward and uncomfortable at times because we were describing people in the room, and we had to ask about body shape and type.  But we also had a lot of fun and it felt more intimate and personal.

I think this lesson was pretty effective. We gave out sheets of vocabulary on physical descriptions and reviewed what them meant. Afterwards we gave out a variety of pictures in which they had to describe a person implementing the new vocabulary that they had just learned. I think this was a helpful exercise. Afterwards we decided to play a game. Originally we were supposed to do it in reference to celebrities but we thought it might get too difficult in that they wouldn’t know the same celebrities and wouldn’t be able to recall what they look like. Instead we played a game in which we took name cards and shuffled them and put another class mates’ name on our forehead without knowing who they were. By doing classmates we thought it would be easier to describe them. Then the person would have to ask questions about they looked like using the new vocabulary and others would respond. This game was problematic in that at time it was a little awkward and the person was able to figure out who they were through a process of elimination but it was still helpful in engraining the vocabulary in that it was repetitive and it seemed by the end they felt more comfortable with the words. Afterwards we did some brief conversation topics about how they would describe themselves and what they look for in a mate. We then assigned homework in which they took another picture to describe and were supposed to describe a family member from memory.  We then asked some discussion questions that we all talked about as a class, which was mildly successful.  And for homework we gave them another picture to describe and told them to describe a family member.

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ESL Class on April 23

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

Today’s class had only 3 students (and there were 3 teachers!).  So instead of doing the lesson plan on physical appearance, we used Cyndi’s beginner lesson plan on prepositions.  We did a lot of worksheets that helped the students practice using prepositions in sentences.  Many of the sheets had pictures with an object that the students had to identify where it was (on, under, next to, etc).  This was helpful and the repetition was really good.  It was interesting because the students had trouble differentiating from above and on, but we drilled them a lot by pointing to different objects in the room that were either above or on something and asking them to yell out the correct preposition.  The lesson was fine, but it was a little slow and boring because it was such a small class and we were thrown off by that.

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ESL Class on April 16

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

I was unable to teach class this Saturday because I was in Washington, D.C. for the Powershift Conference.  When I came back from Powershift Claire told me that the class was very small and she had saved the lesson plan for next week, so my absence wasn’t a problem.

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ESL Class on the House (March 26 2011)

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

Today’s class was on the House, focusing mainly on vocabulary and speaking skills.  We first started with a game students were given multiple pictures of household objects and had to describe the object without saying its name while the rest of the class guessed.  This was really fun and really helpful.  What’s important about teaching vocabulary is that you don’t just translate, but rather you understand the meaning of the word through other English words.  For example, in my Spanish classes in high school, on our vocabulary tests we had to identify synonyms to the words given to us, thus we understood the word in terms of another Spanish word.  This exercise, that identified important household vocabulary, forced the students describing the object to use English words, and the students guessing, to understand the English words.  This took up most of the class time, because we had a lot of vocabulary and each word took a lot of time.  A great example of the benefit of this game is when one of our students, while describing a can opener, used the word “pantry” to explain where the can opener was found in the house.  This led to a discussion on the meaning of pantry (in English!), which then helped the students guess the object. After the game we had a class discussion using these discussion questions:

How long have you lived where you are living now?

How many rooms are there in your house?

Do you like the place where you are living? Why or why not?

What changes would you like to make to your home?

Where would your dream home be? What would your dream home be like?

Who lives with you? / Who do you live with?

Make a list of the 10 most important things you would look for when choosing a house to live in.

This discussion was fun because we learned about each other and it drew upon the vocabulary we had learned.  It was specifically interesting when one of our students explained that the reason he didn’t like where he was living was because his neighbor harassed him and used racial slurs.  He explained that even though he had been living in Lorain, in his house, for over ten years, his neighbor constantly told him to “go home” because he was an immigrant.  This comment opened up a discussion on discrimination, which felt very important.  His story really made the connection for me between teaching ESL and what we learned in the private reading about immigration.

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ESL Class on Health (April 4 2011)

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

Our class on health was less successful than our previous lessons. The class was small, with only four people, which made the activities harder to do and less effective.  We can’t seem to tackle the issue of vocabulary.  In our classes, Claire and I often list out the vocabulary for the lesson, but we go over too much vocabulary and go over it too fast.  What is hard is that our students are advanced so it seems elementary to repeat and repeat vocabulary, but I think we need to do it.  Or we need to go back to what we did with our house lesson where we gave them pictures of the vocabulary and ask them to describe it to the class, and the class has to guess.  We did something like this later in the lesson when we handed out worksheets that depicted illnesses and they had to write the illness, but the worksheet only had 10 illnesses.  This was very helpful, especially because it made them write full sentences to explain what was depicted in the picture.  Because it was such a small class it became more intimate, which was really good, but it also allowed for one of the students to dominate because we stopped raising hands.  One of the students, who was more advanced than the others, kept calling out the answers before they could say it, which was hard to deal with.  Later we asked them to write a dialogue between a doctor and a patient using the vocabulary we learned.  This wasn’t very successful because the prompt and requirements were so vague that they wrote very short and direct skits.  Also because it was such a small class, and it was more intimate, everyone was feeling very silly and goofy, so people were laughing and joking and not actually writing the dialogue.  But this was also good because I felt more connected to the students, which was fun.  We didn’t have time to finish our lesson plan (to practice listening by listening to and answering questions about a voicemail on a doctor’s office answering machine) which I think would have been really cool to do.

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Final Reflection

May 22nd, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

This private reading was one of the most interesting and important things that I participated in at my time at Oberlin thus far.  The structure of the class, of the weekly meetings where we learned about immigration issues and teaching ESL, was ideologically and practically really great. I truly believe in experiential learning and it was so important for me to be teaching English and learning about the issues we discussed in class (or issues indirectly related to immigration) first hand.  For example, during a break, on of our students asked us for help on this citizenship test he was studying for.  During a lesson on the home and neighborhood, one student discussed the discrimination he faced as an immigrant from his neighbors.  All of these experiences were framed by the issues we learned about in class.  I also felt that the class became a supportive base for us to discuss our experience of teaching ESL.

One of the most interesting things about the class was learning about Cyndi, Mari and Meridith’s experiences working for IWP.  They constantly told us stories about the cases they were working on, which provided such an important, personal framework to understand the issues we were addressing.  The work they do with IWP is the most direct action I have seen at Oberlin.  The activism I’ve encountered here is either disconnected (signing petitions, calling senators) or too theoretical, the IWP is an extremely important organizations, whose mission I believe strongly in.  I hope to improve my Spanish and apply for the internship that Cyndi, Mari and Meridith have.

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IWP Panel for local foods week (March 8 2011)

May 22nd, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

I went to the IWP panel for food week on migrant labor in Ohio. It was extremely interesting.  The panel featured Jeff Stuart, the head of IWP, Melvin Rios, an organizer for IWP and a man from Nicaragua.  The panel discussed the state of immigration today, the affects and problems of immigration law and enforcement and the role immigrants play in the food we eat.  I was most struck my Jeff’s accounts of the tactics of the police, Border Control and ICE in arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants.  It was extremely upsetting to here that police officers had pulled people over for having mud in their tires, too loud music, driving too slow, and turning it into an immigration issue.  It became clear that the reasons those people were pulled over was because of their skin color.  However, the panels main focus was on migrant labor in the “local foods” that local foods week was supporting.  The night before going to this panel I went to the local foods week banquet, which was a buffet of local foods and we could meet the farmers that provided some of the foods we eat at Oberlin.  I was sitting at a table with two women from Gerber’s poultry, the poultry farm Obelrin buys from.  I had a nice conversation with them and even felt defensive for them when a student attacked them with questions about the treatment of their chickens.  During the panel Jeff and Melvin explained that the working conditions at Gerber’s were poor and workers were not treated or paid very well.  It was really interesting that I had met the women from Gerber’s but had no idea that there were serious issues with their company on labor issues.  This really illuminated for me the lack of consciousness of labor issues in our society.  People are so concerned with the conditions for the chickens, while at the same time workers are being exploited.

* * *

I interviewed Melvin Rios for an oral history project for my Work, Workers and Trade Unions class. It was extremely interesting and educational.  Though I don’t want to put my essay on the blog (because of issues of privacy).  I would like to highlight some the quotes that Melvin provided me with:

“workers have the right to organize, regardless of their status. They have the right to demand for better wages, they have the right to demand for better working conditions, for better benefits. They have the right to organize.”

“the company knows that they have undocumented workers, so they take advantage of them.  They use tactics to scare people about their status so they don’t fight for organizing the company.”

“they feel that they, even until now, that they are being exploited, but a lot of them are undocumented so they’re doing any kind of job they can do I order to get some income to survive. So I think that the workers are being exploited, but they have no choice because being undocumented they don’t have that many opportunities to go somewhere else and look for something better.”

“the first thing we need is to educate the immigrant workforce about their rights, their rights as immigrants, even though they don’t have status, and their right to work, their worker’s rights.”

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ESL Class on Transportation (March 12 2011)

May 22nd, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · Uncategorized

Here is our lesson plan:


-       read aloud stories,

-       go over stories, correct them

Theme: Transportation and directions

Go over vocabulary and verbs

Write 4-5 sentences about a trip you took in the past.

-       where you went

-       how you got there

-       what you did there

Check sentences

Conversation topics: groups of 2

•                Have you ever ridden a motorcycle?

•                Do you drive a car often?

•                Do you often use public transportation?

•                Have you ever been stopped for speeding?

◦                                  (Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?)

•                Have you ever missed your last train or bus home? If so, how did you get home that night?

•                What are the most annoying bad driving habits of other drivers in your country (/or this country /or compared to this country)?

•                What do you think is the most dangerous form of transportation? Why?

•                What’s your favorite form of transportation?

•                Do you have good public transportation where you live? How could public transportation in your city be improved?

•                Do you feel safe when you use public transportation?

Reading and Questions in groups of 3

The Problems with Modern Transportation System

For many people, commuting by car or by public transportation is a daily necessity. People with their own cars, use it to commute to work, to go shopping or to take the family out on weekends. For those who cannot drive or afford to buy their own vehicles, public transportation provides these commuters with their only means of transportation. However, it seems that it won’t be too long before our society will have to resort back to the horse and buggy cart era if our politicians don’t build better roads or resolve the on-going oil crisis.

Our roads and highways are congested most of the time, and the meaning of rush hour has all but disappeared. Heavy pedestrian traffic and poorly designed roads are all factors that can lead to a slow down in traffic flow. A lot of construction work that takes place along our roads and highways are actually doing more to hamper the critical flow of traffic, than to help provide a better solution to the traffic problem. The reason why traffic flow is becoming such a nightmare is simple, our early town and city planners failed to factor in the future needs for an efficient mass public transportation system.

Another problem with modern transportation systems is the depletion of our natural oil reserves. The reality is that we don’t have enough oil reserves to supply worldwide demands. But what’s even worse is that there are currently no alternative sources of energy to replace the oil and gas shortage that our society so much depends upon. With our natural oil reserves dwindling away, many analysts are expecting oil barrel prices to continue to rise.

With no solution in sight to the traffic congestion on our roads, or to the current oil crisis; the world has no choice but to explore alternative sources of energy or else resort back to the horse and buggy cart era.

Vocabulary Practice

Commuter: Someone who frequently travels by public transport.
Congestion (Congested): Too crowded because of heavy traffic or too many people.
Rush hour: A period of heavy traffic.
Pedestrian: A person who travels by foot.
Alternative: Different options and choices.


1. Why does the statement the meaning of rush-hour is becoming meaningless mean?
2. What are some explanations given for the increases in oil prices?
3. Do you agree or disagree with the author’s statement that the oil crisis is a bad thing?

Our lesson plan for today was somewhat successful. I felt that our technique of going over the verbs and vocabulary was not very successful.  Because the class is advanced and their grip on English is very good, it seems beneath them to go over verbs and vocabulary as a class multiple times, so we end up just quickly going over the definitions.  However, in my Spanish class in high school when we would learn new vocabulary we would have to repeat all of the new words after my teacher multiple times.  I think that, because the class only meets once a week, the ability to use repetition as a tactic for memorization and learning is limited.  Though we go over all the new words, it doesn’t quite feel like they have a grasp on them, yet it feels really dry and not helpful when we go over every word.  I think Claire and I are going to ask Cyndi how she teaches new vocabulary so we can try something new.  The sentence writing was very successful and I think helpful to the students.  Though there speaking is very good, they struggle a lot with writing.  They have trouble constructing sentences and stringing them together.  But writing the sentences allowed them to practice the past tense and using the vocabulary they just learned.  Editing their writing was also good, though I think we should probably do a lesson on grammar (though that seems to boring!) because a lot of them are making the same mistakes.  The reading was difficult, though I think that they were at the right level for the story.  Their reading comprehension is not very good.  The questions were too hard for them.

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