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Legislation to Help Farm Workers Unveiled

posted on June 10, 2005

Organized labor and human rights advocates oppose CAFTA. They claim the trade pact fails to ensure collective bargaining or prevent worker abuse in Central America.

But the U.S. is not exactly immune to human rights violations. In Florida this week, federal agents raided a labor camp where men and women were kept in what labor officials called "a version of modern day slavery."

American agriculture relies heavily on seasonal and migrant labor to harvest billions of pounds of domestic produce. But the work force is largely illegal, making it an easy target for abuse.

Though not a frequent subject of public discourse, the plight of farm workers was heard in Washington this week, where legislation aimed at improving working conditions was unveiled.

Legislation to Help Farm Workers Unveiled In Washington this week, migrant worker advocates and lawmakers unveiled legislation aimed at improving wages and working conditions of agricultural laborers. Known as the "AgJOBS Act of 2005," the bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

"2.5 million people in that work force are critical to sustain American agriculture, at the same time it is recognized that it is important that we treat that work force appropriately and right and we give them optimal opportunities that are available and should be available. That is what AgJOBS is all about."

Proponents claim the legislation would help provide a safe, stable, and legal work force. Undocumented agriculture workers who plan on continuing work in the U.S. would be given temporary resident immigration status. After a minimum of three years, they could become permanent resident immigrants.

According to the National Farmworker Alliance, 2.5 million migrants work in America's fields annually -- more than half of whom are not legally authorized to work in the U.S.

The Alliance claims the average migrant worker earns between $10,000 and $12,500 annually, and that migrant workers suffer the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any labor force in the U.S.

Lupe Martinez is Chair of The National Farmworker Alliance: "Our goal today is to increase legislative support for the 2.5 million migrant workers who help put food on our tables everyday. It's ironic that those who help put food on our tables oftentimes go without. We know that lawmakers can help workers, growers and the U.S. agricultural economy by supporting good legislation."

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