“I don’t care if you faint or die ...”
You have been a good friend of farm workers, so we don’t have to tell you that farm labor isn’t fun. It’s hard and often dangerous work. It’s so difficult for low paid workers to stand up against abusive employers. Won’t you help?
Javier Santiago picks lettuce. This involves walking stooped over down a line of lettuce that might be several hundred yards long, cutting and trimming the heads at the base with a very sharp knife -- often without standing up or stretching. “Our supervisor exhorts us to work harder and says he does not care if we faint or die … He tells the machine operator to go faster, so we can work faster, too. When it’s very hot, we aren’t allowed to rest in the shade and are pressured more.”
Things aren’t any better for lettuce worker Andrea Gonzalo. “When it’s very hot … they make us work, and if we complain to the supervisor, they yell at us and make us work harder even though the heat gets worse. Likewise, when it’s raining, they make us work in the rain without any protective equipment, just a black trash bag for covering.”
And to make matters even worse, some bosses cheat. Virginia Isidro works in the lettuce fields for a farm labor contractor in California. She gets paid just above minimum wage. And on top of that, her boss cheats her. “When on occasion, we have to work a Sunday, they pay us with a personal check to avoid having to pay us overtime.”
But there’s a better way. We can have a dependable food supply without crushing workers and treating them like animals or machines. We can have vegetables and fruit that doesn’t come with a side of guilt about the fate of the people who work stooped over in the hot sun.
Farm work will always be hard, but it doesn’t have to be cruel. The only thing proven to win a better life for workers is a union contract. Veronica Chavez works under UFW contract at D’Arrigo Brothers. “For me, it is important to work under a union contract because the union keeps us informed of laws that help all farm workers, and we can improve every day our long days in the fields and not be mistreated like at other companies … We have respect, because we have a contract.”
Once workers have respect, management begins to think of them as human beings who have dignity and strength. That’s why we hope you’ll continue your support by donating today.
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United Farm Workers, P.O. Box 62, Keene, CA 93531, http://www.ufw.org