Rally organized by the Northern California Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride on International Migrants Day. (Courtesy of Brooke Anderson)
It may seem as if California’s agricultural sector is suffering primarily from the drought, but there are other factors contributing to the faults within the industry. As growing global demands for California’s commodities increase, new government mandates and regulations are signed while the rights of farm laborers are abandoned across the nation.
Labor abuse is rampant, and while there is a growing consciousness among our state for food-awareness, not as many people are informed with the expanding issue of migrant farm laborer exploitation. Farm workers endure minimum wage violations, long hours, unfair working conditions, physical, verbal and even sexual abuse. These workers are less inclined to file complaints of their abuse because they fear deportation.
Corporations legitimize this exploitation with subtle racism, that denies crop workers healthy labor conditions. These social inequalities are left unseen when walking through the produce section of your local grocery chain because our globalized food market doesn’t value fair labor.
Farm workers are forced to work under slave-like conditions, at a lightening pace because they are paid for how much they’ve picked, not for the hours they work. Many who oppose immigration cling to this idea that undocumented persons are a hindrance to our economy, communities, and school systems, but these generalizations are based off of uninformed personal beliefs.
These immigrants do not come to America without any skills or abilities, they come ready to work and participate in our society, regardless of the stigma they face in the workplace.
Food Chains, a documentary on the exploitation of farm workers in the nation, revealed that 80 percent of women in the industry are sexually abused, and live with their lips sealed, also in fear of deportation. America shouldn’t stand for working conditions where people are under the wrath of sexual and psychological abuse.
Migrant labor enables corporate grocery stores to make billions a year while workers are oppressed and living below the poverty line. This corruption is due to the people upstairs, the head honchos of food chains and agriculture that value their profit more than the people who made their lavish lifestyles possible. This is a sobering reminder of the wealth of problems that coincide not just in this industry, but in the many capitalist industries in America.
Anti-immigration sentiments are widespread among the whites who dominate this system, creating a ethnic hierarchy that is seemingly impossible to overpower.
The cultivation of grapes has been around since the Bronze Age, and when Spanish Friars arrived in California to establish Catholic missions in the 1700’s, they planted their own vineyards to make sacramental wine. Today, the U.S. grape industry produces $3 billion in sales annually, as stated by Migration News, yet farm workers have the lowest annual family incomes of any U.S. wage and salary workers.
The most recent study by National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), estimated individual crop workers income to be anywhere between $10,000 to $12,499 and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family. The federal poverty line is $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four.
California is accountable for 92 percent of the wine grape production in the U.S., as stated by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. Here in California, hand-harvested grapes are picked by immigrants mainly from Latin America, who are vulnerable to the toxic working conditions they have to tolerate.
While some don’t see the forlorn portrait of migrate workers while purchasing discounted tomatoes or a bottle of fancy wine, this is an issue that needs to be publicized. Orange County is a place where many live without knowledge of these issues because people are seemingly unaffected, however this couldn’t be farther from the truth.