July 12, 2016
By Sonia Huq
Today’s Farm Workers Aren’t Free –
Autryville, NC – Freedom to come together and negotiate in union is pretty high on the list of the reforms working people are fighting for. This is even more important in the case of migrant farm workers. They work seasonal jobs that are not only dependent on their bosses, but for the very visa that gains them entrance into the country for their livelihood.
This is Jose Alberto. He worked at the farm of North Carolina state Sen. Brent Jackson (R) for four years, hoping to make more money than he did as a taxi driver in Mexico to support his wife and two children. After Alberto accidentally broke a piece of equipment, Jackson’s son and farm manager demanded he pay for it. When Jose Alberto refused, he was fired and evicted from his housing.
Now, he and six other workers have filed a lawsuit against the Jackson Farming Company for unpaid wages and Alberto’s unjust firing. After they filed the suit, a farm employee called them at their homes in Mexico and threatened that if they didn’t drop the suit, they wouldn’t be rehired. None of the seven have been offered jobs on the farm again this season. The message Jackson sent to all the people who work on his farm is clear: Speak out and you will lose your job.
Unpaid wages, an unjust firing and blacklisting employees who complain about unpaid wages. It is what working people who work at Jackson Farming have been dealing with. Now, they’re facing a climate of fear for speaking out. Seven workers have not been rehired after they filed legal claims for unpaid wages—and it’s only going to get worse unless we stop it.
This fear of retaliation is wide spread on farms through the U.S., and it is why coming together in a union is so important for people who work these seasonal farm jobs. The farm bosses know they can bring in people to work, treat them poorly, deny those who stand up for their rights a visa for the next season, and in that way keep everyone else in line. Without a union contract and a strong grievance mechanism to challenge this practice, working people have no way to protect themselves and often have to make the difficult choice between staying silent and putting up with abusive labor conditions or speaking out and risking their jobs.
We must maintain our moral consciousness to keep on expanding the meaning of freedom, as well as making it more inclusive for those we may have left behind.
Don’t forget our farm workers.