Biting the Hands Who Feed Us: Farmworker Abuse in the U.S.

From by Jessica Wright
Biting the Hands Who Feed Us: Farmworker Abuse in the U.S.

After analyzing eight years of enforcement data of U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) laws protecting farmworkers, the nonprofit organization Farmworker Justice reports that there have been persistent and widespread violations of the limited protections afforded to farmworkers under federal law. The report presents a culmination of evidence highlighting that agriculture employers have been consistently violating the two laws overseeing agriculture employment, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA).

Farmworkers are among the most marginalized and poorly treated workers in the United States; dedicating countless hours of hard work in perilous working conditions to provide food for their families and the American people. Farmworker Justice reports that according to the USDOL National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS), the average family total income from farmworkers is US$17,500-19,999. Farmworkers often live in impoverished conditions, living paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet. The NAWS reports that 61 percent of the farmworker population is living below the poverty line.

USDOL data reveals that there has been an increased effort to investigate cases violating farmworkers rights and enforce labor protection laws in agricultural employment. But this heightened oversight also reflects an increase in the number of violations of farmworker rights. David Weill, Administrator of the USDOL Wage and Hour Division writes, “We need to create ripple effects that impact compliance far beyond the workplaces where we physically conduct investigations, or the organizations to which we provide outreach directly.”

The lack of effective protection for farmworkers is ghastly. Unfortunately, the pervasive treatment of agriculture workers is often left unnoticed because many farmworkers do not report the brutality they face daily in fear they will lose their jobs. They majority of agricultural workers are also undocumented immigrants; therefore, providing them with legal protection poses a unique challenge.

Without stricter enforcement and oversight by the USDOL, violations against farmworker’s basic rights are likely to continue. According to David Weill, improved enforcement efforts will correlate with increased compliance of federal labor laws by employers, inevitably resulting in less farmworker injustice. Although the USDOL reports that more investigators have been hired to oversee farm activities, the number of investigations in agriculture has remained constant. Farmworker Justice urges the USDOL to “continue to strive for greater quantitative and qualitative improvement” in the enforcement of laws protecting farmworker rights in order to create a greater deterrent against the mistreatment of agriculture workers.

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