For Farmworker Justice, there’s unfortunately no shortage of examples of mistreatment of the people who harvest our fruits and vegetables to illustrate the need to continue fighting for farmworkers’ rights. Our mission is to empower agricultural workers to implement lasting solutions to systemic abuses. We focus on labor rights, immigration policy, health, occupational safety and access to justice.
Last month, Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services filed a lawsuit in Florida on behalf of two farmworkers who were among the victims of human trafficking and labor violations while working for a potato grower in Hastings, Florida. The complaint alleges that a farm labor contractor took workers to a squalid, isolated labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs, and food, for which the workers were loaned money at 100 percent interest. Money was taken from their weekly wages to pay for their rent, food, drugs, and interest, resulting in debts which bound them to their labor contractor.
For decades, agricultural workers have suffered theft of wages and other abuses related to their jobs. As in the case in Hastings, Farmworker Justice’s litigation team brings cases aimed at ending employers' systemic deprivations of workers' rights. Abuses associated with labor contractors are widespread. Many farm operators – or “growers” – hope to escape responsibility as “employers” under labor law and immigration law by claiming that their farmworkers are employed solely by the labor contractor. But everyone needs to be held accountable. That’s why Farmworker Justice works with attorneys and other public-interest organizations throughout the country to bring lawsuits to hold the grower jointly responsible with the labor contractor for complying with the minimum wage and other employment laws. We also advocate at the Department of Labor for greater use of the joint employer concept in its wage-hour enforcement.
Protections that do exist for farmworkers are few and far between. Many of our cases since our founding in 1981 have challenged the failure of federal agencies to adopt policies that carry out labor protections applicable to farmworkers. Farmworker Justice and co-counsel have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to adopt safety standards to protect farmworkers from exposure to toxic pesticides and the Department of Labor for undermining the rights of workers under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program, a guestworker system that has been rife with abuses.
Farmworker Justice engages in advocacy at federal agencies and helps farmworkers meet with federal officials to voice their concerns and priorities for reforms. We publish reportsthat analyze the performance of federal agencies and recommend improvements in the administration of programs and labor law enforcement. Our communications team helps publicize abuses and explain our proposed solutions to shape the opinion of the public and policymakers.
In addition to pursuing high-impact litigationand administrative advocacy, Farmworker Justice engages in legislative advocacy. Among our highest priorities is passage of immigration policy reform. Because more than one-half of farmworkers lack authorized immigration status, the labor force is vulnerable to abuse and politically weak. Farmworker Justice works with the United Farm Workers and many other groups to seek a reasonable compromise that would allow many undocumented farmworkers to earn legal immigration status as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
We work closely with farmworker organizations because history has demonstrated that the most important improvements in legislation, government action and labor practices have come as a result of farmworker organizing. We also help local organizations enhance their capacity to train farmworkers to control their own destinies.
All the tools used by Farmworker Justice – litigation, advocacy, communications, support to farmworker organizations – are needed to help farmworkers build a brighter future for themselves and their families. And farmworkers need support from many more organizations and individuals to achieve a greater measure of justice.