Five things you didn’t know about farmworkers

1. The average life expectancy of a United States farmworker is just 49 years old — 10 years less than the average life expectancy in Haiti or in Ghana!

2. Organic food isn’t necessarily better for farmworkers — while it is grown with fewer pesticides, the tendency towards seasonal labor in organic farming makes it harder for farm workers to organize, and means they have to spend more of their limited resources on finding work during other parts of the year.

3. A huge number of the labor laws designed to protect American workers just don’t apply to farmworkers, leaving them vulnerable to employer abuse.   As noted by Roman Pinal of UFW, “Farm workers, for example, are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (the law that gives every private sector worker in the US the right to join a union but denies this right for farm workers), Fair Labor Standards Act ( the law that gives the right to overtime pay after 8 hours a day does not offer this right to farm workers).”  Even those laws that do exist are routinely violated.    In 1997, of the 455 random investigations performed by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, 130 were found to be in violation of labor law in at least one of the following ways: (1) failing to pay employees the minimum wage, (2) failing to provide overtime pay, (3) making use of illegal child labor, (4) paying in cash, or (5) failing to provide worker’s compensation.

4. A huge number of factors prohibit the social mobility of farmworkers.  Just this April, researchers uncovered evidence that exposure to pesticides in the womb can have a significant impact on birth IQs.    Human Rights Watch found that hundreds of thousands of U.S. children were working in the fields–often times, instead of attending school.  We often hear the myth propagated in the United States that the poor are “lazy.”  Farmworker families labor for 10+ hours a day in grueling conditions, completely isolated from the American Dream of a better life.

5. Student Action for Farmworkers is having a fundraiser tomorrow at Brueggers.  If you’re in Durham, try to stop by!

Published by Elena Botella

Elena Botella is a Duke Undergraduate in the Class of 2013, majoring in Economics and Math.

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