A farmworker wearing a straw hat bends over in a field to harvest large leafy plants. The sun beats over their back.
Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Reflecting on Decades of Advocacy

My History of Farmworker Support

I’ve been a farmworker advocate since the days of the Campbell’s Soup boycott of the 1980s. Though the campaigns and political actions change, the issues remain much the same. For the past 28 years, my support of farmworker rights to a dignified workplace free from all forms of exploitation including exposure to hazardous pesticides, has been through collaborative work with partners around the country. My PAN colleagues have supported this work through our Fair Harvest  campaign and by calling for the support of the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA) that would ban pesticides including organophosphate insecticides and paraquat, that pose especially hazardous risks to farmworkers.

Current National Policy Work: Bringing farmworkers into the Farm Bill

Recent work at the national level includes highlighting the efforts of farmworker and farmworker advocacy organizations to push for stronger worker protections in the US Farm Bill—the bill that Congress passes every five or so years which sets the policies that govern the majority of federal farm, food, nutrition, and rural economic programs. At a cost of about $440 billion over five years, these programs influence: what is grown; who grows it; how it is grown or produced; what is done with those products and where they are sold; who can access and afford those goods; and how we invest in rural communities.

Historically, the farm bill has not included food and farmworker rights or protections, most pesticide laws, or the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts—the principle pieces of legislation which govern water quality and pollution control, and air quality and emissions control respectively. About 77% of farm bill funding goes to the nutrition title, primarily the food assistance program (known as SNAP). Other sectors address conservation programs, and supports for crop production—mostly the large commodity crops such as corn, soy, rice and wheat. The Farm Bill has historically ignored the needs of the nation’s 2 million essential farmworkers.

This year, we are especially proud of the work being done to center farmworker justice as part of the Farm Bill negotiations. Partner organizations like Alianza Nacional, HEAL Food Alliance, and the Coming Clean Collaborative have proposed significant marker bills and other policy measures that include farmworker protections. Marker bills—denoted in the list below with asterisks—are smaller bills that signal policy items and garner support for their inclusion in larger omnibus bills (like the Farm Bill). They are an important way to gather support for omnibus bills and allow bipartisan cooperation.

With respect to the current Farm Bill negotiations, we collectively call for:

  1. Increase funding for Title VI: Rural Development, making explicit improved housing and clean water facilities for farmworkers
  2. Make NO cuts to SNAP. Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2023 (S.1336, H.R.3037) and EATS Act of 2023 (Enhance Access to SNAP) (H.R.3183, S.1488)*
  3. Voice for Farm Workers Act (S.2702): Reauthorizes and expands the role of the USDA Farmworker Coordinator.*
  4. Uniform heat protections and disaster relief for farmworkers: Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act (S.2501, H.R.4897)*
  5. Agricultural Worker Justice Act (S.2601, H.R.4978): Offers reforms to USDA purchasing to address worker safety and fair wages and empower states to do local procurement.*
  6. Agriculture Resilience Act (S.1016, H.R.1840): Provides a comprehensive roadmap to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change. Fully fund the Conservation Stewardship Program to meet farmer demand by providing $4 billion in mandatory program funding per year.*

Concurrently, we oppose two BAD bills:

There are two bills before the Agriculture Committees designed to eliminate local and regional governments from providing greater protections to their constituencies than is provided under federal laws. County authorities are opposed as are a large and growing number of community organizations. The two bills are: 1) Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act of 2023 (H.R.4417); and 2) Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act of 2023 (H.R. 4288). This bill would prohibit local and state governments from enacting pesticide laws that are more protective than federal regulations. It’s no surprise that Bayer and the industry-funded CropLife America have made passage of the measure a priority.

By supporting good legislation, opposing bad legislation, and building up a network of supporting organizations, it is our hope that we can collectively move the needle on farmworker rights in the right direction.

Please join us in honoring National Farmworker Awareness Week by educating yourself and your community about the injustices faced by farmworkers every day. Our friends at HEAL Alliance have compiled a list of bills that would push the Farm Bill in the right direction, including bills that address farmworker rights. Read this partner list and call Congress to express your support for these measures. Every year, we partner with Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) to bring critical attention to farmworker struggles. Join us through using their social media toolkit!

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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