Farm Workers

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and inpleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  James 5:4-5

Farm Workers Seek Justice

Just as in New Testament times, farm workers in the U.S. today confront injustices in the fields. They labor under difficult, unhealthy, and even dangerous conditions. Wages are low. Workplace protections are weak, poorly enforced, and penalties for violations are pitifully small. Farm workers are not covered by many of the federal laws that protect most other workers. Housing, whether provided by growers or available for rent by farm workers, is frequently substandard. Child labor laws are often ignored.

Being a disciple of Christ means that Jesus' values must govern our lives including our decisions about purchasing and investing. We witness to our faith when we use our purchasing power to encourage companies to treat workers fairly. Investors bear witness to their faith when they call a company to account for unethical practices. The reign of God does not stop at the door of the factory, edge of the field, or entrance to the store. People of faith strive to be faithful witnesses in the marketplace. 

Say a Prayer for the hard-working people who plant and harvest our crops or use other worship resources from the National Farm Worker Ministry.

Our Faith Calls Us to Stand with Farm Workers, a short resource linking our faith to justice for farm workers.

Read the materials on this page or download information from Student Action with Farmworkers or Farmworker Justice. Prepare a Mission Moment for Sunday worship.

RESOURCES

Just 13, and Working Risky 12-Hour Shifts in the Tobacco Fields by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2014. Low wages paid to their parents and completely inadequate legal protection mean children work in N. Carolina's hazardous tobacco fields.  

Protecting immigrant farm workers, an article in the Miami Herald (March 13, 2013) written by Prof. Cindy Hahamovitch, an historian at the College of William and Mary, reveals the abuses that have been present throughout the history of agricultural guestworker programs. 

A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina's Tobacco Industry. This investigation calls for a fundamental restructuring of the exploitative industrial structure that denies tobacco farmworkers thire most basic rights.

California Institute for Rural Life: the Fair Food Project.  Watch the excellent videos showing conditions experienced by farmworkers, views of growers, and what advocates are doing to help.

New Report Outlines Abuses Faced by Farmworkers. In a unique for-profit/NGO joint venture, the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation and United Farm Workers of America, with support from Oxfam America, released a groundbreaking report on March 31, César Chávez Day. The Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States compiles and analyzes data from multiple federal, state, and private sources to give the most comprehensive picture yet of the reality faced by America’s least-valued but critically important workforce. The report is the first of its kind to detail the lack of laws and protections for crop farmworkers in the U.S."  -- from the report's press release

Executive Summary (PDF; 499KB) | Full report (PDF; 6.13MB)
Excellent video about farmworker conditions (5 minutes)

More about the report


Justice in the Tobacco Fields of North Carolina

On October 12, 2013, nearly 400 members of the Farm Labor organizing committee left the fields in NC, SC, and OH to gather in Durham for FLOC's 12th Constitutional Convention.  Delegates debated and passed 16 resolutions addressing key issues such as wages, housing, breaks on the job, but also broader political issues, such as immigration reform and a continued effort to press tobacco manufacturers to clean up their supply chain. Read more about the convention and see pictures.  In a unanimous vote, delegates also passed a resolution to 1) continue the R. J. Reynolds Campaign to pressure tobacco giant Reynolds American to protect workers' rights as they work with tobacco that will be used in Reynold’s product and 2) launch a massive campaign to sign up 5,000 new tobacco farmworker members in the 2014 harvest season. The launch of the 2014 Sign Up Campaign began at the Convention. By summer, 2014, FLOC expects to have over 50 organizers on the ground visiting camps and talking to workers about the union.  Learn more and follow developments at www.floc.com, or connect with FLOC through social media. Supporters in North Carolina are especially needed.  For more information or to volunteer, contact JWM's Edie Rasell.

In 2012:  After four long years, R. J. Reynolds finally agreed to talk with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) about conditions in the tobacco fields.

Tobacco fields are especially hazardous for farm workers. In addition to the usual hardships of low pay, pesticide exposure, and harsh conditions, workers also suffer from green tobacco sickness due to nicotine absorbed through their skin. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee(FLOC)is seeking a way to address the workers concerns. R.J.Reynolds, the second largest tobacco company in the U.S., has an important role to play. For a number of years, Reynold's refused to speak with the workers' union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. But in 2012, Reynolds' CEO and other members of management have finally begun meeting with FLOC.


Justice in tomato fields in Florida

On March 3-17, 2013, farm workers and their allies marched for justice in Florida. Read Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson's account of the march. Rev. Jackson pastors First United Church, UCC, in Tampa. Twelve church members including Rev. Jackson participated in the march.  Read more United Church News coverage of the march and about the march and events leading up to it.

Farm workers in southwest Florida, organized in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), have for years organized, demonstrated, and marched to improve wages and working conditions in the fields where they pick tomatoes. They have achieved many successes. Food giants Taco Bell, Burger King, MacDonald, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Sodexo, Trader Joe's, and other firms have agreed to improved conditions. But the major grocery chains are still mired in the old, exploitative ways. So from March 3-17, 2013, the CIW and its allies marched from Ft. Myers to Lakeland, FL, the home of Florida grocery chain Publix. CIW invited allies to join the march for an hour, a day, the whole march, or anything in between. Marchers celebrated the changes underway in Florida's tomato industry, urged Publix to support CIW’s Fair Food Program, and lifted up the hope that, one day, farmworkers across the country will enjoy the unprecedented new rights and working relationships being born today in the fields of Florida.

End Oppression and Slavery in Florida's Agricultural Industry
Since the mid-1990s, tomato pickers in southwest Florida have been seeking justice. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is seeking an additional penny per pound of tomatoes they pick (nearly doubling their wages after decades without a raise), plus improved conditions in the fields and a voice in their workplace. Since they began their struggle, numerous purchasers -- including Taco Bell, Burger King, A&W, Long John Silver, KFC, Subway, and McDonald -- have agreed to the pay the extra penny per pound, as well as to enforce a strict code of conduct to improve conditions in the fields, and give workers a voice in their workplace. The UCC, the first denomination to endorse the CIW's boycott of Taco Bell, was instrumental in getting national attention for the struggle  

The CIW's Fair Food Program
The Fair Food Program is a groundbreaking approach to social responsibility in the US produce industry. It combines the Fair Food Code of Conduct – a set of labor standards developed in a unique collaboration among farmworkers, tomato growers, and the food industry leaders who purchase Florida tomatoes – with a small price premium to help improve harvesters’ wages. The goal of the Fair Food Program is to promote the development of a sustainable Florida tomato industry that advances both the human rights of farmworkers and the long-term interests of Florida tomato growers.

In 2012, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle both signed agreements with the CIW and Florida tomato growers to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program. On August 27, 2011, food service provider Sodexo signed a fair food agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Sodexo has agreed to pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes to improve farmworkers' wages, enforce a strict code of conduct with input from farmworkers, and steer its tomato purchases towards growers who meet the code of conduct and away from those tainted by abusive labor practices. See the announcement in its entirety here. With Sodexo's participation, the world's three largest food service companies (Compass, Aramark, and Sodexo) -- which manage cafeterias in the nation's schools and universities, hospitals and hotels, government agencies and convention centers -- are all working with the CIW to improve wages and conditions for farmworkers.

However, supermarkets have not yet agreed to the price increase. With the notable exception of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, major supermarket chains -- including Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Wal-Mart -- have yet to bring their considerable purchasing power to the plate. If the goal of a more modern, more humane Florida tomato industry is to be fully realized, the supermarket giants must do their part. As consumers, we can all play an important role in letting major supermarkets know that it is time to ensure fair wages and working conditions for the farmworkers who pick their tomatoes.

Slavery in the Florida Fields  Over the past 10 years, there have been seven cases of slavery in the Florida agricultural industry involving over 1,000 workers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been a leader in identifying these horrific cases.

Alliance for Fair Food: Organizations from the religious, human rights, student, and labor communities have joined together in the Alliance for Fair Food. Working in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, they will seek rights for farm workers in the Florida tomato industry. Since 2005, these efforts have led to labor contracts with fast food giants including Subway, Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell. The UCC General Synod endorsed the Alliance for Fair Food in 2005.

Bulk copies of the National Farm Worker Ministry's Harvest of Justice brochure of farm worker prayers are available, in English and Spanish, free of charge. Contact congresa@ucc.org or call toll free at 1-866-822-8224, ext 3720. These attractive brochures can be used as bulletin inserts or distributed at educational events or Thanksgiving festivals.  

General Synod Marches in Support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, July 20, 2011

On Monday, July 4, 2011, over 400 people attending the UCC's General Synod marched in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their efforts to improve pay and working conditions in the Florida tomato fields. See the UC News story and video (scroll down to Immokalee Workers March) and the story and photos from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has stuggled for over a decade to bring justice to the Florida tomato fields. Starting in the mid-1990s, farm workers engaged in talks, marches, and other measures to convince growers to pay tomato pickers a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they picked in the fields near Immokalee, Florida. In 2001, after these tactics had failed to bring the needed improvements, the Coalition called for a boycott of Taco Bell, one of the buyers of the tomato

es. The United Church of Christ became the first denomination to endorse the boycott. In 2005, after much hard work by the farm workers and their allies, including many people in the UCC, Taco Bell agreed to the price increase and to negotiate with the workers over other working conditions. In addition, the other fast food chains owned by Taco Bell's parent company -- A&W, Pizza Hut, Long John Silvers, and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) -- also signed on. More work, including marches, letters, and educational forums, eventually convinced McDonalds, Subway, and other fast food restaurants to also pay the higher price. Now the struggle has turned to grocery stores. They also need to pay the additional penny per pound and sit down with the workers to address conditions in the field. The destination of the General Synod marchers was a Publix grocery store. Publix is a large grocery chain in Florida and is the current focus of the campaign for fair food. More info  about the campaign.

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CONTACT INFO

Ms. Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
216-736-3709
raselle@ucc.org