The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) has been an advocate for migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States since 1971. The thread that binds the Association is the concept that training and education can provide the launching pad to a better and more stable life for the workers who plant, tend, and harvest the crops that Americans consume at their tables. Specifically, we seek:
- A living wage for farmworkers. Most of the more than 3 million people that work in agriculture in the United States earn minimum wage or less and have annual incomes below $10,000 per year.
- A just and equitable immigration policy. A growing percentage of migrant and seasonal farmworkers are recent immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian countries. Many do not possess work authorization. These immigrant workers perform jobs that few others are willing to do. Their lack of legal immigrant status deprives them of the services available to other farmworkers. They are seldom able to protect their labor and civil rights, and they are in a poor position to bargain for higher wages and benefits. United States immigration policy should permit such farmworkers, who directly and indirectly pay taxes, to earn temporary residency that leads quickly to permanent residency and citizenship.
- Benefits for the work that is done to prepare and produce the crops and livestock that become food for American tables. Over 95 percent of farmworkers have no health insurance, sick, or vacation pay. Most have no unemployment insurance or access to workers’ compensation. This is simply unacceptable for any worker, but especially for those who toil in such hazardous and backbreaking conditions as farmworkers.
- Comprehensive and equal protections. Farmworkers and their children do not enjoy the same protections as other workers. Children in agriculture are exempt from many of the protections afforded other children entering the workforce. Inequitable child labor standards rob farmworker children of opportunities for education and training and relegate them to a life of menial labor and poverty. The inequities in federal laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, should be corrected.
- Protection against disasters and dislocations similar to those enjoyed by agribusiness, farmers, and growers. Drought, flood, infestations, overproduction, trade activities, and other conditions can cause economic hardship for growers. These often result in federal assistance to alleviate those hardships. It is rare for farmworkers to be assisted during such times of federal help to farmers. Farmworkers often suffer devastating losses during these times; when they are not able to work, they do not get paid. Hunger, homelessness, and illness are the outcomes of such situations. AFOP believes that every program that assists growers for disasters and/or dislocations should assist those who cannot work in the fields due to those same conditions.
- Enhanced and expanded federal programs that serve farmworkers and their families. There are a myriad of programs that help farmworkers and give them hope for themselves and their children’s futures. They are woefully underfunded. AFOP urges significant increases in all such programs. Two examples: The National Farmworker Jobs Program currently serves about 1 percent of eligible farmworkers. Even tripling the fund, a recommendation made several years ago by a federal advisory panel, would only serve 3 percent, yet there are no plans to permit this vital and successful program to grow beyond its current limitations. Migrant Head Start legislation was amended recently to include children of seasonal farmworkers. Funding was not increased to meet the early childhood demands of this population, so Head Start centers often reach capacity without being able to serve these children. Housing, health, education, and youth programs face similar dilemmas caused by extreme and chronic underfunding. This must be corrected by a holistic legislative and appropriations effort made by the administration to meet the needs of agricultural workers.
- Protection of workers’ rights. The right to organize and collectively bargain is taken for granted by most workers. In many states, farmworkers have no such legal right. All workers should have the right to improve their conditions through participation in the American trade union movement. A related problem is the move to create an expanded “guest worker” program to alleviate the alleged shortage of agricultural workers. Several studies, including two by the Government Accountability Office, have shown that there is no shortage of farmworkers in the United States. AFOP believes that a living wage with benefits and adhering to worker’s rights would obviate any possible need for importing new, temporary workers.
- Increased enforcement. Some laws do exist to protect U.S. farmworkers and their families from abuse and exploitation. Yet the intent of these laws is often thwarted by a lack of resources and will to adequately enforce them. AFOP believes that increased enforcement of existing laws would significantly reduce the incidence of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. The administration should provide funds and direction to the agencies responsible for such enforcement.