I spent all of yesterday walking the halls of the capitol with a group of amazing people. These four indivdiuals build the backbone of American agriculture. They keep my economy up, my farms staffed, and food on my table. They were four mexican migrant farmworkers from upstate New York. And they deserved every minute of my time.
The United Farmworkers Union, in coalition with 10 other groups from 15 states brought farmworkers to the capitol to continue to fight for AgJobs, the legislation that has been in the works for over 7 years. This legislation is an attempt to keep our farms afloat. Period. It’s not about undocumented, it’s not about amnesty. It’s about keep american farms running.
Have you taken a walk in a field lately? Like me, you’ve probably admired the walden like serenity, and not seen the dynamo that keeps those fields planted, harvested and healthy: Migrant farmworkers. You take a walk through florida citrus fields and all you see are migrants, New York, Idaho, it’s all the same. There aren’t American workers to do these jobs, and with the increase of raids and scare tactics by our government, migrant workers aren’t coming to the fields.
I sat down yesterday and spoke with one grower who said he lost 28 acres of GORGEOUS Oregon strawberries (have you had one? if so, you know what I’m talking about) because he didn’t have enough workers to harvest the crop in time. This is a story multiplied by the hundreds across the country. Migrant workers aren’t coming to a place they are in danger, with low wages, no worker rights. For some reason, many on the right have believed that they could treat migrant workers like dirt and still reap their labor (pogrom-style). Well, that isn’t the case. Workers are leaving, worker’s arent’ retunring, and our fields are in danger.
I heard a woman put it like this- “It is a fact that our food will be picked by foreigners, it just depends on if that happens here or there.”
The AgJobs bill is a COMPROMISE between growers and workers, democrats and republicans. By no means does this give migrant workers a free ride. It gives them a temporary visa for which they must PROMISE to work for five more years on the field, before being given a chance to become a citizen. Some workers have already been waiting for this legislation for 7 to 10 years. If you’ve ever picked a vegetable even for an hour- you know that’s no free ride.
The fight for migrant worker rights comes at exactly the same time that GM is resigning it’s contract with thousands of workers. How has the coverage of that worker’s rights fight differed from this? Hugely. For one, most people don’t even know how many migrant workers actually exist, nor do they understand the life they lead. No matter the difference in coverage, the struggle is exactly the same: rights for those that build the strength of our industries.
I wonder if next year I’ll be reading a recipe for awesome Oregon strawberry shortcake, or if instead I’ll lamenting the loss of US strawberries altogether. No more US produce, it’s not just a nightmare, it could be a reality.