Saturday, September 05, 2009

Farmworkers and the California Veto

It is unacceptable but it happened again. SB789, a measure sponsored by the United Farm Workers and introduced by state Senate President Pro Tem, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. The bill was a renewed attempt to allow farm workers to join a union and to be part of a collective bargaining process. The Governor disagreed and decided that the privacy of the farmworkers was more critical than the option to join a union. Labor-laws violations in the fields have been widely studied and continue to be rampant.

The Governor’s veto comes at a time when the work conditions of those in the fields continue to suffer, and where the daily life of workers and their families are rift with tensions about work mobility, labor standards and their future in the United States.

Dependent on this labor to stock the nation with fresh fruits, leafy lettuces and colorful vegetables, this physically back-breaking work is ignored by employers, contractors and legislators. Consumers also enjoy the fruits and vegetables of this labor but opt to eat and enjoy rather than to worry about how their succulent salad made it to the table.

Without advocates, potential union representation and the monitoring of wage and labor standards, those in the field – men, women and youth – they will continue to suffer under the hot, blazing California sun and other harsh work and environmental conditions. In the past years, media coverage has pointed to some of those who have died in the sweltering sun and the terrible conditions under which farm worker families live.

In the meantime, farm workers are consistently side-stepped in the search for a genuine remedy to their awful plight and to their tenuous immigration status. Why not? They are expendable, sometimes transient and often abused. Who else would work under these harsh and inhumane conditions -- where you may be sick, but you have to work; you may be injured, but you have to work; or where your wages may be stolen (or shortchanged), but you still have to work! It is because of this uncertainty that farm workers need representation and an organized vehicle that can support their labor rights and their basic human rights, not to mention fair treatment at the hands of employers, contractors and sub-contractors.

A report issued this past week points to the egregious work violations taking place in the nation’s labor market. Titled, Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, this comprehensive report identifies the ‘gloves-off practices,’ the workers who are affected by them, and the strategies needed for monitoring workplace standards.

In the meantime, sweatshop standards and dehumanizing labor conditions, are but two of the bitter realities many workers tolerate while we sit to enjoy delectable salads or fruits that were cultivated or picked by these same workers. And thousands of farm workers and their families continue to toil away hoping that they too can one day enjoy the fruits of their labor. Terrible flavor, isn't it?

To learn more about the work conditions of workers in the United States and AFSC’s recommendations for labor rights and protections read: A New Path: Toward Humane Immigration Policy at http://www/afsc/org.

To read Confronting the Gloves-Economy: America’s Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, visit