By Amber Hidalgo, Spring 2019 BSW Intern
Spring is right around the corner and that means that the growing season in North Carolina is soon approaching. With the realization that many migrant farmworkers join us in Western North Carolina during our spring and summer seasons to produce many of the foods that we eat, it seems essential that we discuss fair compensation for our farmworkers.
North Carolina maintains an average estimate farmworker population of between 100,000 to 300,000 and is the 5th in the nation with the leading amount of farmworkers, both migrant and seasonal (North Carolina Farmworker Health Program, 2016). North Carolina is among the top producers of sweet potatoes, cucumbers, fresh market strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, squash, and grapes. Without our farmworkers, there would be food shortages throughout North Carolina and the rest of the nation.
The “Fairness for Farmworkers Act of 2019” is a proposed bill by Senator Harris (California) and Representative Grijalva (Arizona), supporting overtime pay and the elimination of minimum wage exemptions for farmworkers. The bill would grant overtime pay protection to the majority of farmworkers working more than 40 hours per week, as well as eliminate current exemptions for farmworkers regarding minimum wage pay. This bill is staged to take effect over a four year time period, beginning in 2021 (Harris, 2019). Employers that employ fewer than 25 employees will also have to provide these protections to their employees but will be delayed by three years.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set federal standards concerning overtime pay and minimum wage but excluded many domestic and agricultural workers (Grijalva, 2019). In 1966, farmworkers received some level of minimum wage protections; before 1966, farmworkers were excluded from the protections provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (Farmworker Justice, 2019). Farmworkers that are employed on farms with less than seven employees during a calendar quarter are not given protection from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Many farmworkers currently work for a salary at or below the federal poverty line without receiving overtime pay for working over 40 hours per week (Harris, 2019). During peak harvest times, farmworkers often work from sun-up to dusk in extreme conditions and without rest. The extreme, and often poor, conditions that are involved with farm work contribute to a high turnover rate and instabilities in the workforce. Representative Grijalva stated, “By amending the law, we are remedying decades of economic inequality rooted in racism and ensuring that the Fair Labor Standards Act truly lives up to its name for all American workers. Those who undertake the back-breaking labor to feed our constituents should be able to adequately provide for their own families (2019).”
If you are interested in learning more about the Fairness for Farmworkers Act you can read more at: https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/advocacy-and-programs/us-labor-law-farmworkers or you can view the proposed bill at: https://www.harris.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/BON19075.pdf.
Farmworker Justice. (2019). US Labor Laws for Farmworkers. Retrieved from https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/advocacy-and-programs/us-labor-law-farmworkers.
Grijalva, Raul M. (2019, February 7), Rep. Grijalva and Senator Harris Re-Introduce Fairness for Farm Workers Act. Retrieved from https://grijalva.house.gov/press-releases/rep-grijalva-and-senator-harris-reintroduce-fairness-for-farm-workers-act/.
Harris, Kamala D. (2019, February 7). Harris Reintroduces Legislation to Strengthen Labor Protections for Farm Workers. Retrieved from https://www.harris.senate.gov/news/press-releases/harris-reintroduces-legislation-to-strengthen-labor-protections-for-farm-workers
North Carolina Farmworker Health Program. (2016). North Carolina Farmworker Health Program Outreach Manual. Raleigh, North Carolina: Author. Retrieved from https://www.ncfhp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Ch02-Farmworker-Facts.pdf.