For Labor Day: Farmworkers’ Rights Still in the Toilet

Cross-posted from the TEDxFruitvale blog. (Why? Read this.)

Today is Labor Day, a time when most Americans think of barbecues and Mondays off, not so much the people who picked the potatoes in that salad and the peaches in the cobbler, or who slaughtered and processed the steer that became that hamburger. Chances are they were paid very little for this hot, often dangerous work.

toilets at a labor campAs the Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States outlined in painful 65-page detail, federal and state laws treat farmworkers differently than other workers. Children as young as 12 can legally work in the fields, with no restriction on the number of hours they can work during non-school days. Agriculture workers of all ages have fewer legal protections against unfair labor practices such as sexual harassment and don’t even have the legal right to organize. Even in California, where thanks to the activism of César Chávez, farmworkers have stronger legal protections than in other states, a lack of enforcement makes it the top state for farmworker deaths due to heat exposure and other risks.

Here’s a small but telling example of the indignities that farmworkers have to put up with. These two photos were taken by a friend visiting a labor camp for a large sweet potato grower in eastern North Carolina.  The picture of the toilets shows only a part of the line of toilets in the men’s bathroom: Only every three or four toilets are separated by a curtain. None of the facilities has a door. The gymnasium-style showers also provide no privacy whatsoever to workers.

These conditions are legal in North Carolina. In other words, there is no requirement to provide workers with privacy, either when using the toilet or showering.

Can you imagine workers in any other industry being subjected to this?

This Labor Day, please join us in thinking about how we can work toward a day when the people on whom we depend to pick our food will enjoy not only basic workplace dignity, but also the same wage and other occupational protections as employees in other sectors. The reality depicted by photos like these really leave a bitter aftertaste.

4 Responsesto “For Labor Day: Farmworkers’ Rights Still in the Toilet”

  1. Sheila Z says:

    Thanks for pointing out more reasons to skip the grocery store and buy a share from a local CSA and frequent the closest Farmer's Market.

  2. David says:

    I love shopping for groceries at the farmer's market near my home. I try to support them as often as possible!

  3. I hate to say this but I don't see the open toilet and shower areas as a big deal. I've used such many times myself. (I am a farm worker, farmer and I've worked in slaughterhouses and farms since I was young.) The real issues are the exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other things like that. The bodily trauma from equipment caused injuries. These are the real problems to get upset about. Pay attention to the real problems and don't get distracted by minor issues.

    As Sheila says though, buy from your local farmers, CSAs and such. The smaller, more local, more contact the better.

  4. Cleme says:

    My respect to all farmworkers. I was one of them here in California. Its hard to been showing the other face to the son and using the portable toilet.