Educate Yourself on Labor Exploitation

Before the United States was even a nation, the thirteen colonies utilized cheap and unpaid labor, in the form of enslaved labor, to fuel the profits of the agricultural industry. That tradition of maximizing agribusiness profits at the expense of workers’ rights and health continues to this day. Though workers are no longer enslaved, the vast majority of American farm workers are either undocumented or are part of guest worker programs, both of which situations leave these workers who literally feed the country vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by their employers. 

The United States guest worker program for temporary agricultural work is called the H-2A program. This program allows employers to hire forgeign workers for seasonal agricultural work lasting 10 months or less. Although employers are required to prove that there is a shortage of domestic workers before utilizing the H-2A program, most employers find ways to skirt these requirements.

Since guest workers are often willing to work for less benefits, and employers are not required to pay social security or unemployment taxes, the guest worker program is very attractive to large agribusinesses. Furthermore, in spite of housing and working condition requirements associated with the H-2A program, most guest workers still live in substandard housing and work in hard conditions, which have only been exacerbated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both guest workers and undocumented workers are often unwilling to advocate for their rights and protest harsh working conditions, for fear of losing their jobs or fear of deportation, respectively. 

You can educate yourself on the history of farm worker exploitation at National Farmworker Ministry’s website and learn more about current campaigns with the NFWM and legislation that aims to protect farm workers, such as the FARM (Frontline at-Risk Manual) Laborers Protection Act.

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