Human Agenda is a non-profit organization that reaches out to the Central California community, in an attempt to enlighten people about the injustices that migrant workers face on a daily basis. This organization is lead by Executive Director, Richard Hobbs; who is well known for his activism work, as well as his career as an immigration attorney; and Ann Lopez, the Director of the Center for Farmworker Families. On July 27th, The UUJMCA interns had the opportunity to attend one of the Human Agenda “Farmworker Reality Tours”. Here we met with migrant workers, and listened to their stories.
Early sunday morning we set off to Watsonville, unsure of the activities that we would be participating in that day. We soon found out that on the “Farmworker Reality Tour” we were to explore a strawberry farm, a farmworker labor camp, and we would be fortunate enough to be invited into the home of a woman with a passionate story of perseverance.
At each of the three destinations, we would hear two testimonies of people who work in the fields as migrant farmworkers. Some of the speakers were documented residents, others were here in the United States in search of a better life “without papers”, but all of them face daily labor injustices from their employers.
While keeping in mind the Human Agenda mantra of “[seeking] a community where we are all involved in care work, meaningful labor with reduced hours and a living wage, life- long learning, participatory democracy, and free time,” we learned of the hardships that people face, when they are not protected by labor laws, and the heavy role that the environment can play in these injustices.
With the California drought being so horrendous, particularly in the summers, it’s not surprising that this crisis would drastically affect Californian residents. The fact that “eighty-eight percent of the nation’s strawberries are grown in California”, means that the pressure caused by the demand of these crops, is high. The toll that this plays on hard-working farm workers, is an infraction of human rights.
While it is the land that refuses to produce crops, because of the drought, it is the migrant workers that are held responsible for the lack of produce. Since most workers only have a verbal contract, their employers neglect to pay them an equal or fair wage. So, when the crops are minimal, migrant workers are paid less than their agreed upon wage, if they are paid at all.
Another problem that migrant farmworkers face, are the various pesticides that are illegally applied to the crops. Unregulated pesticides affect the health and well-being of the workers that are exposed. These hazardous chemicals have been known to cause cancers, reproductive and developmental harm, and damage to the nervous system within the unsuspecting workers.
Because employers refuse to follow the legal regulations surrounding the use of pesticides, they often get into the water supply and contaminate local groundwater. According to CPR (Californians for Pesticide Reform) “Over 90% of agricultural pesticides used in the state are prone to drifting away from where they’re applied and onto nearby homes, schools, and communities”. The environmental concerns that are being indirectly caused, by the disregard of human rights, need to be addressed. In fact, this problem falls under the jurisdiction of law AB 685, which protect the human right to water.
Our first principle tells us to always pursue the “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”. This entitles each person to a fair and equal wage, and the opportunity to support their families through the efforts of hard work. This also means that we should do more than just be aware of the wrongdoings being done around us. As members of the community in which this injustice takes place, we must stand for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves. We must do more than just be aware of the wrongdoings being done around us. The environmental concerns that are being caused indirectly, from the infractions of these human rights, need to be directly addressed by upholding the laws already put in place.