When you sit down to dinner, have you ever thought about the workers who helped pick the fresh fruits and vegetables you enjoy?
Did you know that nearly all of the produce grown in the United States is hand-picked by seasonal farmworkers? And did you know that too many of these workers live and work under intolerable conditions?
Agriculture consistently ranks as one of the most hazardous occupations in the nation. Seasonal farmworkers have few federal workplace safety protections and only a minority of states provide additional safeguards.
Unnecessarily exposed to many health and safety risks when working in fields and orchards, these workers are often afraid to complain about health and safety violations because of fear of employer retaliation. Among the most serious safety and health hazards farmworkers face are:
- Lack of adequate drinking water and toilet facilities;
- musculoskeletal injuries from lengthy stooping, lifting, and cutting;
- working with farm machinery and equipment, including tractors, ladders and sharp tools;
- and, especially, exposure to pesticides and extreme weather conditions.
Pesticide exposure causes farmworkers to suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce in the nation. Workers who mix, load or apply pesticides can be exposed to toxic pesticides due to spills, splashes, defective, missing or inadequate protective equipment, direct spray, or drift. Workers who perform hand labor tasks in areas that have been treated with pesticides face exposure from direct spray, drift or contact with pesticide residues on the crop or soil. Farmworker families can also be injured by pesticides when their children play in treated fields; when workers inadvertently take home pesticide residues on their hair, skin or clothing; or when pesticides drift into residences or other areas located near fields.
The exact number of workers injured each year by pesticides is unknown, because there is no national surveillance system for acute pesticide illness reporting and no surveillance system for tracking chronic illness related to pesticide exposure. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that annually 10,000-20,000 farmworkers are poisoned on the job due to pesticide exposure. This number excludes the many workers who suffer chronic health problems such as cancer, infertility, and neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, as a result of these toxic exposures.
Factors deterring farmworkers and their families from seeking medical care for pesticide illness include lack of health insurance, language barriers, immigration status, cultural factors, lack of transportation, lack of awareness of or exclusion from workers' compensation benefits, and fear of job loss.
Many Americans are working to secure fundamental human and civil rights for the over two million migrant farmworkers who harvest the fruits and vegetables that we rely on every day. Our Quaker Testimonies call us to pursue just and humane policies towards these immigrants, our neighbors.
Ways to Help:
The Migrant Clinician Network works as a force for health justice for the mobile poor. Started in 1984 by a team including an RN from Delmarva Rural Ministries, MCN's goal is to improve health care for migrants by providing support, technical assistance, and professional development to clinicians with the ultimate purpose of providing quality health care that increases access and reduces disparities for migrant farmworkers and other mobile underserved populations.
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs and its member organizations serve farmworkers in 49 states and Puerto Rico. They provide job training, pesticide safety education, emergency assistance, and an advocacy voice for the people who prepare and harvest our food. The Children in the Fields Campaign attempts to publicize the plight of the hidden population of child farmworkers and advocates for federal policies that would strengthen the child labor safeguards in agriculture so that they are just as protective as in other industries. Also, check out their recent report on women farmworkers.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Although based in Florida, the CIW has earned national and international recognition based on its innovative program of worker-led investigation, human rights education, and has a track record of real success.
The Farmworkers Support Committee is a migrant farmworker organization that is governed by and comprised of farmworkers who are actively engaged in the struggle for better working and living conditions. CATA's mission is to empower and educate farmworkers through leadership development and capacity building so that they are able to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for their interests. This site has a great resources page.
Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health and occupational safety and access to justice.
A recent American Friends Service Committee publication, "Seeing God in our Immigrant Neighbors.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Dr. Martin L.King, Jr.