Fairness For Farmworkers

A Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Initiative

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are among the lowest income groups in the United States. An estimated 2.5 million people struggle each year to earn enough to support their families in one of the most difficult and physically strenuous occupations. Approximately 4.5 million people including family members rely on farm work for their income. The latest National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor based on data from 2001-2002, shows that the situation of farm workers continues to be very difficult due to low wages, chronic underemployment and an absence of fringe benefits.

Recognizing that the condition of these workers has changed little since the days of Edward R. Murrow’s seminal 1960 documentary “Harvest of Shame,” it is time to organize a comprehensive effort to improve the conditions of these workers.

First, there must be an effort to legalize the large number of undocumented workers, who because of their legal status, are unable to avail themselves of existing legal protections regarding wages, health and safety, and collective bargaining.

Second, farmworkers are unable to earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. The various government programs developed over the years to provide partial assistance to these families workers are crucial and must be supported and indeed, expanded. Without maintaining and expanding these programs, these workers and their families will be deprived of even the minimal benefits provided by this desperately needed social safety net. It has also become clear that all of the elements of this safety net must be maintained, whether those programs service children (Migrant Head Start, Migrant Education), workers (Farmworker Job Training) or families (Migrant Health, Migrant Housing). It is unconscionable to force farmworkers and their advocates to pick among desperately needed assistance and to fight for the leavings on the federal budget table. Below is a description of these programs, all of which should be maintained and expanded.

Immigration Policy: Earned Legalization and H-2A Program Reform

The Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act of 2005 (“AgJOBS”), S. 359, H.R. 884, represents a major, bipartisan compromise on farmworker immigration and labor policy supported by farmworker advocates and agricultural employers. On April 19, 2005, a majority of Senators voted in favor AgJOBS but it did not pass due to procedural rules that required sixty votes to pass. The lead sponsors, Sen. Larry Craig (R.-Idaho) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.) plan to bring it up again this year and then move it to the House of Representatives. If enacted, AgJOBS would