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Programs > Farm Worker Justice > Farm Worker Advocacy

Farm Worker Advocacy


Advocacy Efforts on behalf of Farm & Food Process Workers 

Agriculture is not only how we grow food, but how we treat those who bring food to our tables. Catholic teaching about the dignity of work tells us that farm workers must be able to support themselves and their families through their work. 

This also means that they must be able to survive the risks associated with field work and food processing lines. We bear witness to the great pain and stress experienced when a laborer works long days in the field or inside meat/poultry processing factories. 

Agriculture is about rural communities and the quality of life in small towns surrounded by farmland. Who will welcome the “stranger and guest” when they arrive? 

Whether working in open fields picking fruits and vegetables or employed in meat processing, dairy farms, poultry houses, or hog confinement operations, many migrant laborers are ill-housed, poorly paid, threatened and vulnerable. 

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Consumers – meaning all of us who must purchase food to eat – need to know whether fair and safe conditions are enforced in the production and processing of our foods. We should care if laborers are exploited and mistreated; we would want them to have safe and healthy work conditions like anyone else. 

One of NCRLC’s campaigns is “Eating is a Moral Act” in which we raise questions about how food reaches our tables. Beyond the convenient packaging we see in supermarkets and grocery stores, we must still remember to ask: What is a socially responsible, economically just and sustainable way to grow food? There are many facets to this complicated question – impacts on farmers, rural communities, the environment, global trade – and we must not forget impacts on workers in the fields or inside factory farms and processing facilities. 

What is the impact of harsh working conditions, restrictive contract terms and discrimination on those employed in the food sector? Do the arduous and sometimes perilous tasks within a processing plant or in the fields contribute to physical and mental health problems of workers? “Eating as a moral act” is our effort to find a way to a fair, just and sustainable food system that benefits producers, consumers and the agricultural worker. 

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Farm Worker Organizations & Advocates

Over the years, NCRLC has joined forces with farm worker justice groups to advocate for fair policies and raise consumer awareness. Four of these are highlighted here (reverse) and we invite our readers to visit their websites. There you will find more detailed information about farm workers, access to resources for  
your parish or communities, and ways to stay involved through campaigns and action alerts. 

Failure to provide adequate farm worker pay and working conditions, and failures to reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals harmful to humans, have left us with a national food system that disregards the dignity of workers in the field. A creative initiative among farm worker advocates is to create a new certification system for agricultural products grown in the United States. The idea is to develop a market-led approach that will help consumers identify products that have been certified as meeting standards for fairness in the treatment of workers, along with reduction in the use of pesticides in food production. 

While many consumers want to help farm workers, they often don’t have the tools to do so. It is long past the time to introduce a sense of responsibility throughout the food system, give consumers the tools they need, and end the harvest of injustice. Only then will eating fully become a moral act.

www.nfwm.org 
National office located in St. Louis, Mo.; ministry offices in California, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon 

National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) is a faith-based organization which supports farm workers as they organize for justice and empowerment. Nearly two million farm workers work in America’s orchards and fields, plant nurseries, dairies and feedlots. Many of these migrant workers labor long hours for low wages and suffer from heat stress and pesticide exposure in the fields. Isolated and excluded from some of the laws protecting other workers, migrant workers rely on concerned consumers to help achieve a measure of justice in the fields. When United Farm Workers founder César Chávez began organizing in the 1960s, he called on the religious community to change its emphasis from charity to justice. NFWM became the vehicle for people of faith to respond to that call. NFWM brings together national denominations, state councils of churches, religious orders and congregations, and concerned individuals to act with the farm workers to achieve fundamental change in their living and working conditions. Grounded in faith, NFWM helps to organize vigils, coordinates boycotts and educates constituents. 
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www.ufw.org 
National headquarters in Keene, Calif. 

Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) is the nation's largest farm workers union and currently active in 10 states. The UFW continues to organize in major agricultural industries across the nation; they have over 25,000 workers under contract in California, Washington, Florida and Texas. Recent years have witnessed dozens of key UFW union contract victories, among them the largest strawberry, rose, winery and mushroom firms in California and the nation. Seventy-five percent of California's mushroom industry is now under union contract.  In 2007, the United Farm Workers signed its first contract with Salinas-based D'Arrigo Bros., California's third-largest vegetable company. Also in 2007, the UFW signed a contract with Three Mile Canyon Farms (America's largest dairy) and the first major union contract protecting farm workers in Oregon. Many recent UFW-sponsored laws and regulations aide farm workers: in California for example, the first state regulation in the United States prevents further heat deaths of farm workers. The UFW is also pushing its historic bipartisan and broadly backed AgJobs immigration reform bill. 
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www.supportfloc.org 
Main office in Toledo, Ohio; offices in North Carolina and Mexico 

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), is both a social movement and a labor union. Their immediate constituency is migrant workers in the agricultural industry, but they are also involved with other immigrant workers and national and international coalitions concerned with justice. The FLOC vision emphasizes human rights as the standard and self-determination as the process for achieving these rights. FLOC works to change the structures of society to enable workers to have a direct voice in their own conditions. Baldemar Velásquez is the founder and President of FLOC. Along with the driving force of his vision, FLOC depends on the courage, sacrifice and dedication of migrant workers who have faced intimidation and even violence when standing up for their right. FLOC also recognizes the crucial support of community networks throughout society. These include churches, unions, and community groups which have carried the struggle within their own communities. They have boycotted products, raised funds to cover FLOC’s basic costs, and pressured corporations and politicians to recognize the rights of migrant and immigrant workers. 
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www.farmworkerjustice.org 
Headquartered in Washington, D.C

Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. Founded in 1981, Farmworker Justice works with farmworkers and their organizations throughout the nation. In 1996, they became a subsidiary corporation of National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest constituency-based Hispanic civil rights organization. Farmworker Justice engages in litigation, administrative and legislative advocacy, training and technical assistance, coalition-building, public education and support for union organizing. In collaboration with farmworker groups and others, Farmworker Justice develops agendas for improving the effectiveness of federal and state regulation of the agricultural workplace. Furthermore, Farmworker Justice meets with high-level agency officials, submits written comments on proposed regulations, and files formal complaints in order to promote the interests of farmworkers. When these methods are inadequate, Farmworker Justice seeks remedies through litigation, media attention and requests for Congressional investigations. Farmworker Justice also has been in Mexico educating farmworkers  about their rights when they are employed in the United States under the H-2A temporary foreign worker program. 

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