Petition 80589

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Rights of Farm Workers in the US (80589-C1-R236)

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“And the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts”.
James 5:4b, emphasis added
Throughout scripture we are taught the importance of respecting and rewarding work.
The prophets decried economic systems that denied workers fair compensation and
dignity and Christ’s ministry was centered on those individuals marginalized by
society. Today, workers whose hands gather the fruits of God’s good earth are among
the most marginalized – both economically and socially – in our communities. As the
cries of the harvesters continue, we are called as a church to respond.
Farm workers are the men women and children who climb for our apples, oranges and
peaches, stoop for our cucumbers and strawberries, and dig for our sweet potatoes.
Eighty-five percent of fruits and vegetables in the United States are handpicked by
some of the nation’s most vital workers, essential to the economic well-being of the
United States. While conditions have improved for some farm workers through
successful, and long-fought, organizing campaigns, the majority of farm workers
continue to struggle with low wages, minimal legal protections, and unhealthy work
environments.
The average wage of the more than two million farm workers in the United States is
$11,000. In some areas workers earn significantly less, often paid by piece rate earning
as little as forty cents per bucket of tomatoes or sweet potatoes collected. Women may
receive less pay than men for the same work and face sexual discrimination, harassment
and abuse by crew leaders who control their jobs.
Agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous occupations in the
United States. Farm workers face pesticide risks and suffer from the highest rate of
toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders of any workers in the country. Women who
work in the fields have given birth to babies with severe birth defects, attributed by
many to pesticide exposure. In recent years, workers across the United States have died
in fields nationwide from heat exposure combined with lack of drinking water, shade or
breaks.
Farm workers face numerous obstacles to receiving health care including lack of
transportation, lack of paid sick leave and risk of job loss if they miss work; only ten
percent of farm workers report having employer-provided health insurance.
Most farm workers are immigrants who have come to the United States to seek a better
life for their families. Many here today were once farmers in their own countries who
have been driven from their land, unable to compete with the price of subsidized crops
from the United States. At their workplace and in communities in which they live here,
these workers face discrimination and exploitation based on ethnicity, socioeconomic
and immigration status. An increasing number of farm workers arrive through the H2-
A guest worker program, some from as far away as Thailand. Isolated in remote labor
camps without transportation, these workers are in particular need of outreach,
support, and ministry from the community.
Farm workers were excluded from federal laws passed in the 1930’s to protect workers,
such as the National Labor Relations Act and those mandating overtime pay and
minimum wage. Few states require overtime pay for farm workers and minimum wage
statutes apply to workers on large farms only. Laws designed to protect farm workers
are often not enforced. Furthermore, workers often fear firing or deportation if they
speak up about abuses.
Farm workers call on us to stand in solidarity with them to change unjust conditions
and scripture calls us to respond. As Christians, we cannot sit silently as our brothers
and sisters are exploited and abused. We proclaim our outrage at their living and
working conditions. Following the teachings of Christ we must ensure that the men and
women who harvest our food are invited to share fully in the fruits of their labor.
The United Methodist Church:

  • publicly denounces any and all mistreatment of farm workers and repents of
    any complicity that we hold as consumers and often-silent participants in and
    beneficiaries of an exploitive food production and distribution system;
  • demands that employers treat farm workers and their families with dignity and
    respect; and that corporate processors, food retailers, and restaurants take
    responsibility for the treatment of the farm workers in their supply chains;
  • calls on the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global
    Ministries, annual conferences, and local churches to support state and federal
    legislation that would strengthen the laws protecting farm workers' rights and
    provide the funding necessary for adequate enforcement of laws protecting farm
    workers rights, health and safety;
  • celebrates that farm worker organizing campaigns have resulted in labor
    agreements producing significant change in farm workers lives, including wage
    increases, benefits, pesticide protection and treatment with respect;
  • commits itself to work in cooperation with the National Farm Worker Ministry
    whose primary mission is supporting farm workers organizing for justice and
    empowerment;
  • urges annual conferences, especially where farm workers live and work, to use
    personal and institutional resources to encourage recognition of farm workers’
    rights\ to a voice in the agricultural industry, including representation and good
    faith bargaining;
  • urges local churches to identify and reach out to farm workers in their
    communities, including those in the H2-A guest worker program;
  • urges local churches to hold a yearly service to remember and honor farm
    workers, including worship, education and a call to action; and
  • urges the United Methodist Committee on Relief to consider the needs of farm
    workers when administering relief efforts;
    See Social Principles, ΒΆ 163H.