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Castillo: The Fight for Farmworkers Continues

By Michael Castillo

Friday, March 26, 2021 | 0

National Farmworkers Awareness Week takes place at the end of March each year, this year celebrated March 25-31. While some victories have recently been won in instilling greater protections for workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, other challenges remain.

Michael Castillo

Michael Castillo

The United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a case that threatens to take away access to work sites from union organizers.

After a hard-fought battle led by Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement, California became the first state in the nation to allow farmworkers collective bargaining rights in 1975. Organizers have been granted access to work sites to encourage their fellow field workers to unionize for better pay and working conditions.

In 2015, two growers in Fresno and Dorris took issue with United Farm Worker organizers entering their property to speak with workers, and in 2016, sued the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board on the grounds that the access rule was unconstitutional and a taking of private property.

The case has now made its way all the way to U.S. Supreme Court after a group of mostly conservative judges on the 9th Circuit Court encouraged the high court to hear the case.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Mario Martinez, general counsel for the United Farm Workers, as saying the access rule is needed now more than ever to protect farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented and afraid to speak to anyone for fear of losing their jobs. Farmworker activists now fear the access rule could be struck down.

The hearing comes as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill creating a pathway for citizenship for millions of farmworkers and "Dreamers," though it faces tough odds of making it through an evenly divided and filibuster-controlled Senate. Still, it’s a sign of hope for the future of many families living in uncertainty while continuing to put food on the tables of families throughout the nation.

Farmworkers continue to put their lives on the line in the face of the ongoing pandemic, working in overcrowded conditions while dealing with the usual threat of hazardous pesticides.

To help protect the health and safety of these workers, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is again running its National Long Sleeve Shirt Drive. While the pandemic has greatly reduced the capacity to donate shirts to local drop-off sites, including CAAA’s, the organization is offsetting this obstacle by running “A Shirt for a $1” campaign and will donate a new, long-sleeved shirt to a farmworker for every dollar donated.

While farmworkers have been essential to our food supply and our economy long before the pandemic thrust them into the spotlight, the fight for their safety and well-being continues. We hope the Supreme Court and Senate land on the right side of history. 

Michael Castillo is communications director for the California Applicants' Attorneys Association. This opinion is republished, with permission, from the CAAA website.


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