Food and farm workers are the backbone of the food system, helping to put fresh, nutritious food on the plates of millions across the United States. Recently classified as essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of people are recognizing the critical role these workers play.
Employment in agriculture and food accounts for 22.2 million jobs in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the fact that food and farm workers are considered essential, they are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, often experience discrimination and sexual harassment, face food insecurity, and face barriers to unionization. But workers, labor unions, and other organizations, are fighting to change this by raising awareness of these issues and increase protections.
“[Farm workers] say ‘how is it possible that we are considered essential, but we’re not treated as such?’” United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero asks during an episode of Food Talk Live. She explains the public often dismisses the work of food and farm workers. But Romero tells Food Tank, “Farm workers are professional. They work crop-to-crop and they understand what needs to be done when it needs to be done and how.”
Thankfully, there are organizations who are fighting for better conditions for workers along the food chain. National Farmworker Awareness Week, organized by Student Actions with Farmworkers, honors farm workers’ importance and advocates for them. For this year’s National Farmworker Awareness Week — March 25th through 31st — Food Tank is highlighting the contributions of food and farm workers and the organizations that strive to help these workers.
1. Agricultural Justice Project, National
The Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) focuses on the need for fair trade and transparent treatment of food workers. AJP provides technical tools to improve work and trade practices, including the Food Justice Certification — a stakeholder-driven certification program that sets high social justice standards. They also maintain a Social Justice Fund which subsidizes certification fees for farms or operations that have excellent labor practices, but need funding.
2. Alianza Nacional de Campesina, National
Alianza Nacional de Campesina promotes and supports women as leaders in agriculture. Members serve as a voice for farm worker women and their families when facing politicians, employers, and community members. Striving for social justice, they are fighting for safer workplaces free from exploitation and sexual harassment. And in 2020, they launched a US$500,000 COVID-19 emergency relief fund to support the health and safety of farm workers and their families.
3. Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, National
The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) works to support migrant and seasonal farm workers. They advocate for comprehensive worker protections, a just and equitable immigration policy, and increased enforcement against abuse. Their Children in the Fields Campaign (CIFC) has been dedicated to protecting the children of farm workers since 1997 by partnering with the Child Labor Coalition and National Consumers League. AFOP has also partnered with 52 non-profit and public agencies to operate the National Farmworker Jobs Program to educate and train farm workers for better jobs.
4. Coalition of Immokalee Workers, National
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) fights for human rights in the food system. They are a worker-based organization that has been advocating for food and farm workers throughout the supply chain for more than two decades. Their Fair Food Program educates workers about labor rights and connects them with buyers who enforce standard practices. CIW also aims to eliminate and prevent slavery in the food system through their Anti-Slavery Campaign.
5. Community to Community, Washington
Community to Community (C2C) empowers traditionally under-represented people by identifying the needs of communities and striving for food sovereignty. C2C is rooted in eco-feminism — the intersection between environmentalism and feminism — and is led by women of color who have experienced the realities of inequity in the United States. Their three current programs are: Farmworker Rights, Transforming the Food System and Agroecology.
6. Farm Labor Organization Committee, Midwestern U.S. and North Carolina
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) works to give a voice to migrant farm workers and address problems in the food system. They worked to win the first tri-party agricultural contract between workers, a company, and the growers association, leading to an equal and direct voice for farm workers. Their Black/Brown Unity Coalition works to empower underserved communities and provide education for successful social mobility. FLOC has also brought in H-2A guest workers under union contracts, which allows them to be directly involved in their labor negotiations and working procedures.
7. Farmworker Justice, Washington D.C.
Farmworker Justice empowers migrant and seasonal workers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, and health. They are fighting to end discrimination against agricultural workers in labor laws, promote higher wages, and better access to healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Farmworker Justice also developed policy recommendations to further protect essential workers.
8. Food Chain Workers Alliance, National
Comprising 31 member organizations, the Food Chain Workers Alliance represents over 375,000 food workers in their mission to build a more sustainable food system. They focus on three areas of work to support their mission: growth & learning, campaigns & messages, and movement building. Recent campaigns worked to draw attention to the issues faced by Black and Latinx workers and the dangerous conditions workers have encountered during the pandemic.
9. Justice for Migrant Women, National
Justice for Migrant Women engages with lawmakers and officials throughout the U.S. about issues that migrant women face at work and in their homes. Their projects include The Bandana Project, which creates awareness about sexual violence in the workplace, and The Latinx House, which aims to create a community for Latinx experiences. They are currently focusing on advocacy for the federal BE HEARD in the Workplace Act and the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE) Act. In 2020, Justice for Migrant Women partnered with Equal Pay Today to present the Let’s Make Change: “Pay Us the Full Dollar!” campaign.
10. La Via Campesia, International
La Via Campesina International Peasants’ Movement fights for fair wages, food sovereignty, and peasants’ rights across 81 countries. They work closely with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Peasants and other People Working in Rural Areas to advocate for food and farm worker rights. La Via Campesina promotes Indigenous food sovereignty through Agroecology and the defense of local seeds. Their network in the U.S. includes the Farmworker Association of Florida and Lideres Campesinas (Women Farmworker Network).
11. National Young Farmers Coalition, National
The National Young Farmers Coalition supports young farmers and farm workers fighting for the future of agriculture. They are working with Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Northeast to improve and bring awareness to the mental health of farm and food workers. They are advocating for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which helps train young farmers and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented farm workers. The National Young Farmers Coalition also provides land access training and western water training for members.
12. Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste, Oregon
Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste (PCUN) is an Oregon-based organization that supports Latinx working families. They focus on building a community and representing members in elections and state and national policy. PCUN began as a union for farm workers fighting to gain collective bargaining rights. In addition to running radio programs on 98.3 FM radio poder, their work focuses on worker outreach and member organizing, system change and grassroots policy advocacy, healthy workplaces, and electoral campaigns, and voter engagement.
13. Rural Coalition/ Coalici ón Rural, National
The Rural Coalition has served as a voice of farmers, farm workers, and Indigenous, migrant, and working peoples from North America for more than 40 years. They aim to provide representation for people from all regions, ethnic and racial groups, and genders. The Rural Coalition has two long-term goals. First, they are developing and implementing progressive policies responsive to rural needs. Second, they are developing the capacities of rural organizations and people to work effectively for and sustain institutional and systematic change.
14. United Farm Workers, National
Founded by activist Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers (UFW) is one of the largest labor unions for U.S. farm workers with more than 10,000 current members. They have been taking action for a safe and just food supply since 1962 and are most active mostly in California. Recent achievements include an introduction of standards to prevent death and illnesses from extreme heat as well as a first-of-its-kind Law in California, which provides farm workers with overtime pay once workdays exceed eight hours.
15. United Food and Commercial Workers, National
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is a labor union with over 1.3 million members. They provide access to resources for members, representing individuals, and providing a safe way for workers to voice their needs. They represent people working in all sectors of the food system including retail, grocery, health care, and packing and processing.
Image courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash