The hardships endured by those that harvest the food we eat every day is unfortunately not a new story, but its latest incarnations make it difficult to ignore.
In recent weeks, staff at chicken farms in Florida and Arkansas have reported massive safety violations that led to serious on-the-job injuries, and workers at a slaughterhouse in Nebraska echoed the same concerns. Farmworkers in Texas are routinely paid below minimum wage. Last week, in agriculture-rich Kern County, Calif., three farmworkers are alleged to have died on the job from heat stroke. Unsurprisingly, according to a new occupational survey, farming ranks among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S.
It’s no wonder, then, that in Tracy, Calif., workers at Taylor Farms have been undergoing similar anguish for years. Last year, workers at the produce giant were hospitalized after the company forced employees to keep working in the midst of a massive chemical spill. This comes in the wake the company using Gestapo-style intimidation tactics to prevent workers from voting to join the Teamsters union, where armed guards were deployed to disrupt a union election. Other allegations against the company include a multitude of health code violations, racial harassment incidents and reports of sexual abuse.
The ongoing litany of worker neglect and abuse can in no small part be traced back to the influence of the agricultural industry in our political system. While giant multinational conglomerates such as Monsanto and Con Agra are already known for using their heavy-handed clout to fight back against policies such as GMO labeling and environmental regulations, lesser-known players engage in similar efforts. Part of a congressional spending bill proposed in July included provisions to roll back protections for farmworkers, and campaign finance reports show that Taylor Farms patriarch Bruce Taylor has given more than $20,000 to lawmakers in just the past two years.
The good news is that when it comes to fighting battles in the political arena, farmworkers and their advocates are fighting fire with fire. As the Teamsters launch a new hand bill campaign to let shoppers know the dark side about where their Taylor Farm’s fruits and vegetables come from, there are efforts underway in California to make farmworkers eligible for overtime. On the east coast, farmworkers in upstate New York are working to end a law that exempts them from collective bargaining, workers’ comp and other protections.
As long as bad actors like Taylor Farms are pushing their workers to suffer more for higher profits, the Teamsters and a host of other advocates will be right there to push back.