Photo Source: Courtesy of John Moore/Getty Images North America
By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
Farmworkers are among the most vulnerable population groups in the US. They are confronted by many barriers such as marginal income, culture and language, lack of transportation, and little to no access to healthcare or medication. Additionally, they face the fear of deportation, loss of wages, and being fired for missing work due to health issues.
Now, factor in the acute and chronic illnesses, injuries and diseases associated with the demands of their job and the inadequate living conditions and this is the perfect recipe for yet another reason why farmworkers are so susceptible, marginalized.
Undocumented farmworkers are at a higher risk than the general farmworker population because even with the aforementioned, they do not qualify for any of the federally funded public health programs due to their status. It is a rarity for farmers to provide farmworkers with health insurance and when the simplest acts of being able to consume nutritious food and partake of a good night’s rest are few and far between chronic disease is more common.
You’re working in 105 degree temperatures, picking strawberries in the blistering sun. You begin to feel nauseated, dizzy and faint after 10 hours of work in the fields. The urges to vomit are strong but when you tell the foreman, you’re told to rest for a few minutes in the shade and then return to work.
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Unfortunately, the above scenario is not uncommon among both documented and undocumented farmworkers. And, neither is the fear of deportation or unfair labor practices that dictate the lives of many. Fear of getting caught at a healthcare facility when all you long for is relief from pain and suffering. Fear of being fired or replaced for not showing up to work because you took time to seek medical care.
Most farmworkers do not have sick days and consequently will lose wages if they take time off to see a doctor. As a result, farmworkers tend to put their lives at risk attempting to endure their illness or injury. And for those who find it unbearable or too much, they seek out the services of traditional healers.
There is no easy resolution to this problem. It will require a multitude of reforms on healthcare, immigration, wage and hour, and labor. However, educating farmworkers on the dangers of their work and how to protect themselves; and the importance of knowing their rights will go a long way in self-preservation, while we continue in the fight for the rights of farmworkers.