Two contrasting viewpoints poignantly describe the plight of many migrant agricultural workers today:
"Immigrants have made America."
"America is so rich and fat, because it has eaten the tragedy of millions of immigrants." -- Michael Gold
Farmworkers face many problems in Oregon today. Even though the work of César Chávez, "La Causa," Oregon's farmworkers union, and PCUN (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United) have improved the lives of farmworkers, many problems still remain, including:
Illegal Immigration
Many agricultural workers in Oregon are illegal immigrants. The Mexican Consulate estimates that 80,000 Mexicans have immigrated illegally to Oregon. Because many migrant workers lack U.S. citizenship and do not speak English, they can be easily exploited by farm labor contractors or farmers.
Lack of Employment Benefits
Farmworkers in Oregon must be paid the minimum wage, but they are not eligible for benefits. Laws do not require overtime pay, unemployment insurance, regulation of overtime work hours, minimum breaks, or rest periods. Because between 50% and 70% of migrant farmworkers in Oregon are here illegally, they are unlikely to complain when they experience employment problems or work injuries.
Housing Issues
Due to both the expense and housing regulation laws, very few farms provide housing for farmworkers. As a result, some workers are forced to live in crowded rental apartments, or are charged a parking fee for sleeping in their cars, with very few, and often inadequate, toilets or shower facilities provided.
Health Concerns
Many agricultural workers are exposed to serious health and safety problems as they work in the fields, including poor nutrition, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of medical resources. In addition, they and their family members often face the dangers of neurological damage from pesticide poisoning. 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. each year, and an estimated 300,000 farmworkers suffer pesticide poisoning. Many of these workers do not get medical treatment because they are unaware that workers' compensation would cover treatment, and they fear that their employers might fire them if they find out. For all these reasons, in 1998 the average life expectancy of a migrant worker was only 48 years.
Child Labor
Many children of farmworkers are unable to attend school because they must work to help support their families. In addition, due to lack of adequate childcare, many children are forced to be in the fields with their parents. More>>>
Racism and Discrimination
Agricultural workers of Hispanic ancestry have suffered from discrimination and racism in Oregon due to educational, language, cultural, class, and race differences. Moreover, current anti-immigration movements in the U.S. have had a negative impact on Hispanic migrant workers as well as on U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent. For example, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is calling for a 70% reduction in immigration to the United States, stating, "We need time to absorb [immigrants] and to teach these newly adopted Americans our culture, history, traditions and English language. To do otherwise moves toward Balkanizing America."
Before you take a bite>>>