If you’ve ever taken a sip of orange juice or a bite of grapefruit at breakfast time, then you’ve enjoyed Florida-grown produce. The Sunshine State produces over half of all oranges and grapefruits in the U.S., and significant amounts of other products like cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Florida, like much of America, is a big agricultural state that puts fresh food on the plates of consumers around the world. But while many people may be aware of the wonderful products we produce, they may overlook the millions of predominantly Latino farmworkers who made it possible.
These laborers work long hours in the hot sun cultivating and harvesting the produce we love, but are often overlooked and even have their rights suppressed in many areas across the country.
Luckily, Florida’s lawmakers have been strong champions for farmworkers. This month, Governor Ron DeSantis approved the first Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan for a farm damaged by Hurricane Michael, with more assistance to other farms sure to be on the way.
Additionally, both of Florida’s U.S. Senators – Marco Rubio and Rick Scott – fought tirelessly to pass the recent Disaster Relief Bill, which is already providing badly needed assistance to farms across the state.
These relief actions from our lawmakers will ensure that Florida’s farms can stay open and weather the economic storm left in the wake of recent hurricanes, protecting the jobs of thousands of farmworkers in the process.
However, not all states are as lucky as Florida.
For instance, New York recently passed a bill intended to expand farmworker rights in theory, but in practice would jeopardize their job security. Critics of the bill note that it imposes steep new labor costs on farms at a time when many farmers are struggling to make ends meet. The unintended consequence of this bill will likely be closures of farms and pink slips for farmworkers.
And across the country in California, Latino farmworkers were recently subjected to what can reasonably be considered the most egregious abuse of worker rights in recent memory.
A few years ago, predominately Latino workers at Gerawan Farming had had enough of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW). For two decades, the UFW had abandoned the workers, then tried to force a contract on them that would have lowered their take home pay.
The farmworkers held a vote and overwhelmingly chose to leave the union. But the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) stood with the union and blocked this vote for five years.
Thankfully, courts intervened and the worker’s votes were honored. Yet the fact that government forces would stomp on the rights of immigrant farmworkers so brazenly is troubling to say the least.
Following this event, nothing has been done to ensure it never happens again. The ALRB is still packed with UFW allies who will do the bidding of the union. State lawmakers have only taken actions that support oppressive unions like the UFW.
Across the nation, farmworkers, many of whom are Latino immigrants, are being overlooked and even discriminated against by those in power. Thankfully, Florida’s lawmakers have been tireless champions of the Sunshine State’s farmworker community. However, we should all stand with our brothers and sisters across the country who are facing continued challenges to their rights.