Farm workers deserve basic labor protections
On March 25, PCUN — Oregon's farm worker union — celebrated Cesar Chavez Proclamation Day at Oregon's Capitol. The theme of the day centered around the teachings of Chavez, the legacy of the farmworker movement's values of dignity and respect for all workers, and Dolores Huerta's iconic phrase "Si Se Puede." In 1985, 80 farm workers started PCUN, and we've been fighting for our place in labor policies ever since — by ensuring farm workers are not forgotten in key policy changes like paid sick days or raising the minimum wage.
Farm workers are among the most marginalized workers in Oregon. Child farm workers risk their safety, health, and education working our fields because their parents can't earn a living wage. Hazardous conditions are routine, including pesticide exposure, extreme heat and lack of shade, and inadequate clean drinking water.
Much of the injustice farm workers face stems from their specific exclusion from basic protections that workers in other sectors of society receive. Under state and federal law, most workers are guaranteed certain labor protections to ensure decent working conditions. These protections have not always been guaranteed; workers struggled to win them in the 1930s. Today, rights like guaranteed minimum wage and overtime pay have been around for so long that they are taken for granted.
Many farm workers lack basic labor protections such as unemployment insurance, health insurance and basic wage and hour protections like minimum wage and overtime. We estimate that there are at least 17,000 farm workers in Oregon who are currently excluded from receiving unemployment benefits, but the number may actually be as high as 49,000 farm workers. Many workers at small farms are completely exempt from minimum wage and overtime protections. Agricultural work is hard and dangerous work; why should they receive fewer workplace protections than others?
That is why we support the FAMLI Equity Act (HB 3031), so that paid family and medical leave is accessible for all working Oregonians. We believe the FAMLI Equity Act will benefit farm workers and their families immensely. Farm workers provide an indispensable service, yet their jobs are some of the most dangerous and least adequately compensated in the country and in Oregon. We know that workers in low- paying jobs are the least likely to have access to the paid family and medical leave through their employer. They are also the most likely to take care of an ill relative to avoid the cost of other forms of care. But this often comes at great financial hardship to themselves and their families.
We are proud to be part of the Time to Care coalition and stand behind the values that guide our work on paid family and medical leave, particularly that no worker should be excluded from the policy. It's time to end the injustice of excluding farm workers from basic labor protections.
Reyna Lopez is the Executive Director