Farmworkers are some of our nation’s most vital workers; their labor allows us to enjoy high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Despite farmworkers’ economic and cultural contributions to the communities in which they live and work, they continue to be among the lowest paid, least protected and unhealthiest workers in the United States.
During National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), March 24–31, Seward Co-op is calling out the hardships faced by farmworkers. Please join us on Friday, March 31, at the Friendship store for an evening screening of “Food Chains,” a documentary film about agricultural labor in the United States.
Many people have a strong interest in food, yet too often there is very little interest in the hands that harvest it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved—all within the borders of the United States. Eighty five percent of our fruits and vegetables are handpicked, and it is estimated that between two and three million men, women and children work in the fields across America. When compared to other wage-earners, the people who plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries, as well as higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, urinary tract infections, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis. Many farmworkers live in poor conditions, small spaces and have unpredictable work. Instead of valuing farmworkers in our society, we undercut their ability to live and work by denying them a living wage and benefits like healthcare.
This happens because farmworkers are treated differently under the law. Federal law does not guarantee farmworkers overtime, unemployment insurance, and protection when joining a union. The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1978 to mandate minimum wage for farmworkers on large farms only, and it does not include provisions for overtime. Though an increasing number of consumers focus on locally and organically grown food, farmworker justice is often not part of food conversations. Farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in unacceptable conditions.
At Seward Co-op, we advocate for just living and working conditions for farmworkers and an end to unfair treatment under the law. Join us March 24–31 for National Farmworker Awareness Week. NFAW is sponsored by Student Action with Farmworkers. NFAW is an opportunity to honor the critical contributions that farmworkers make and stand in solidarity with the people who harvest our food.