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Programs > Farm Worker Justice > Concern of Catholic Bishops

Concern of Catholic Bishops

Farm workers have been among the most visible concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In “Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers” (2003), they renewed their commitment to lift up the situation of agricultural workers and to work to improve their lives and those of their families. They are among the most vulnerable and exploited people in our land. Their situation demands a response from people of faith.

Poor Working and Living Conditions
Agricultural workers are low wage earners. The seasonal nature of their work and the inadequacy of the minimum wage keep most living in poverty. We affirm our support for an increase in the minimum wage for all workers. In addition, the hourly pay of agricultural workers should be increased, and enforcement mechanisms should be available to ensure that they receive just pay and benefits. These agricultural workers, who work long hours during a seasonal period, should have overtime pay as a measure of justice. Payment methods such as "piece rates" should not be used to prevent workers from earning a just wage.
A living wage for agricultural workers could help their families live a just and decent life, help to stabilize the workforce, and stimulate rural communities without significantly impacting food prices domestically and internationally. Since most benefits generally are not available to them as part of an employment package, federal, state, and local laws should be amended to ensure that all workers are entitled to health care, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and Social Security. In addition, agricultural workers’ low wages and the scarcity of affordable housing in rural areas make it essential that funding for housing be increased.
Need for Better Access to Services
To participate fully in the community where they reside and work, farmworkers and their families need access to services and mobility in those communities. We are encouraged by the enactment of laws in several states, supported by many state Catholic conferences, that would provide to undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition rates and driver’s licenses.

Agricultural labor involves some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, with workers exposed to harsh working conditions, pesticides and other chemicals, and long hours of labor-intensive work.
Labor protections are currently inadequate; for those protections that do exist in law, enforcement is random and ineffective. Labor protections for agricultural workers should be guaranteed in law, consistent with protections for other workers in the country.
The law must also be amended to allow workers to challenge in civil court employers who do not provide sanitary and safe working conditions, who violate wage and hour laws, or who use dangerous pesticides. Working conditions should be consistent with appropriate federal standards.
Agricultural workers should enjoy the same protections as other U.S. workers, including the right to join together to have a voice in the workplace and bargain with their employers.


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