By: Melanie Forti, Programs Director
When visiting our local grocery store to purchase food to make dinner, we probably have a certain thing on our mind; that is, to look for the best products that look up to “our standards”. We probably don’t even think about the work that was put into harvesting the fresh or even processed food that we eat every day.
So, what is really working in the fields? Let’s start by stating that farm work is treated differently under federal and state wage and hour laws. Except for California, farmworkers are exempt from overtime. In other states, such as Massachusetts, farmworkers are subject to a lower agricultural minimum wage. It’s a long day of repeated periods of pick, push, pull, snip, pick, push, pull, snap, and so on. Farmworkers usually wake up very early to prepare their food, and then head out to work for long hours in the fields throughout all seasons and weather conditions.
Between 10 – 14 hours a day farmworkers plant, cultivate, harvest, process and package food that will be shipped and then sold in stores for us to enjoy. While working in the fields, you will find farmworkers hunched and/or knelt picking produce and planting, working with the soil, carrying heavy loads of products, driving tractors and much more.
Jose Lopez a Mixtec farmworker working in the US for 10 year, told his story to New American Media. This is what he said: “Picking grapes for raisins is the hardest job. It’s a lot of work and in hot conditions. Sometimes we work up to 11 or 12 hours a day, but they never pay us overtime pay. I get extremely tired after a day’s work, especially because of the heat. On this job, the pay is 25 cents per tabla [a bucket of grapes spread out over a piece of paper in the row between the vines]. I make approximately $300 a week on this job. Considering the long hours and the extreme heat, it is not a fair wage. It’s not enough.”
Farmworkers are exposed daily to pesticides while working in the fields. Whether it’s absorbed by the skin, inhaled, or swallowed it all can be dangerous to their health. Due to the exposure to pesticides, farmworkers rank among the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any workforce in the US. Diverse studies have demonstrated that exposure to pesticide can lead to different types of cancers. So imagine the exposure farmworkers intake while working 10 – 14 hours a day for 52 weeks a year. It builds up in their bodies and eventually they could suffer from multiple health problems or diseases including different types of cancer, Parkinson Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and more.
In addition to pesticide exposure, farmworkers work under extreme weather conditions. Many times, resulting in a heat-related illness such as heat stress or heat stroke. They also face working in the cold, in occasions suffering from cold stress. If all the above is not enough to quit. Then add personal factor to mix. These are just a few of the issues a great percent of farmworker face: migrating, language barrier, cultural shock, lack of sanitary housing, lack of health care, financial difficulties, alcoholism and drug abuse, sexual harassment, unsafe work environment,
Yes, farmworkers are super heroes. They overcome all obstacles, and handle everyday challenges in order to feed you, me, their family, our nation. From AFOP Health & Safety Team thanks for everything you do for us and our families.