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Farm Workers’ Rights Presentation (March 15 2011)

June 1st, 2011 by Julienne Hoffman · No Comments · 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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