Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.
Bruce advises grassroots organizations, advocates in administrative agencies and Congress, and is co-founder and Board member of the Equitable Food Initiative, an innovative corporate social responsibility project. At Farmworker Justice, a national organization that serves migrant and seasonal farmworkers, he empowers farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, health, immigration policy, and access to justice.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Bruce about his advocacy work, farmworker rights, and social responsibility in the food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Bruce Goldstein (BG): The efforts of the United Farm Workers during the 1970s inspired my interest in farmworkers. After law school and practicing labor and civil rights law, I seized an opportunity to join Farmworker Justice as a staff attorney to represent farmworkers.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
BG: I want to assist the many hard-working farmworkers who face hardships in their daily lives and are striving creatively to reduce the unfair obstacles that prevent many from achieving better lives.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
BG: Willis Reed, the New York Knicks basketball player, for his skill and dignity. And John F. Kennedy.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
BG: Consumers’ interest in food that is produced responsibly, which is leading retailers—including supermarkets, fast food chains, and food service companies—to consider the labor conditions of the workers on farms and is leading the public to improve government policies.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
BG: Carlos and Alicia Marentes established the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso, Texas, to help farmworkers. They saw farmworkers sleeping on the streets of El Paso, getting on buses early in the morning for a two or three-hour ride to the chile harvest in New Mexico, and coming back at night. Many were Mexican citizens living across the border, but it was too time-consuming to cross the border each night and too costly for lodging. In the mid-1990s, the Center opened a shelter with beds, bathrooms, and kitchen facilities to help ease the problems these migrant farmworkers experienced.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
BG: I’d like to see the problems experienced by too many farmworkers solved: including discriminatory employment laws, a broken immigration system, illegal employment practices that are widespread, low wages, lack of fringe benefits, unnecessarily dangerous jobs, lack of access to health care, inadequate infrastructure in their communities, and discrimination in employment laws.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
BG: Tell your supermarket that you want your produce to come from farms that have been certified by legitimate independent organizations, including corporate social responsibility projects and labor unions, as treating their farmworkers fairly.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
BG: The agricultural sector’s need for a stable supply of productive farmworkers will not occur unless we: create an immigration system under which people obtain immigration status and a path to citizenship; end the discrimination in labor laws that discourage people from working in agriculture; improve enforcement of wage and hour laws so that law-abiding employers are not undermined by law-breaking, exploitative businesses; and take other steps to treat farmworkers with dignity and respect.
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