Columnist Bill Newman: State farm workers deserve better

What is the minimum wage in Massachusetts? This is not a trick question, but there is no simple answer. Let’s start with the legislativ...



What is the minimum wage in Massachusetts? This is not a trick question, but there is no simple answer.

Let’s start with the legislative “big market” of 2018. The big market bill created a permanent two-day weekend sales tax holiday; elimination of the time and a half for traders on Sundays and public holidays; established a new family and medical leave program; and increased the five-year minimum wage from $ 11 an hour in 2019 to $ 15 an hour in 2023. In 2021, the minimum wage is $ 13.50. Next year it will be $ 14.25.

But not for everyone. Tipping workers are less confident on the theory that tips will make up the difference, and the minimum wage for farm workers is $ 8 an hour.

It is not a typo. Really, it’s $ 8 an hour. In the large market, farm workers never had a place at the table.

Eight dollars an hour – for those essential workers doing highly skilled and extremely arduous work – it’s hard to believe. Other essential workers in the food supply chain – meat packers, food processors and grocery store workers, for example – are guaranteed minimum wages, but not farm workers.

And the story gets worse.

Seasonal agricultural workers are not entitled to a day off. Really, they can be required to work seven days a week, which at the height of the growing season means 10 hours a day or more.

And the story gets even worse. Unlike other workers, who are guaranteed overtime after 40 hours, agricultural workers do not receive overtime. Nothing.

The reason for this injustice? President Franklin Roosevelt, in return for votes from Southern segregationist senators for New Deal legislation, acquiesced in their demands to exclude domestic workers and agricultural workers, mostly descendants of slaves, from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Social Security Act. State laws have followed suit, with predictable results.

Today, farm workers, here and elsewhere, are largely members of marginalized communities subject to exploitation. About 90% of Massachusetts’ 13,000 seasonal farm workers are immigrants. Most work on farms and larger agricultural businesses, including apple orchards, cranberry bogs and hatcheries. Fifty-five percent live in near poverty or poverty, compared to 25% of other families.

But there is hope. The Fairness for Farm Workers Act, currently pending before the state legislature, sponsored by Senses Adam Gomez and Adam Hinds and Representatives Carlos Gonzalez and Paul Mark, would guarantee farm workers the minimum wage of the State, overtime after 55 hours and one day off each week if the worker so desires.

Defenders are working hard for his passage. The coalition supporting this law includes the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, Connecticut River Valley Farmworkers Health Program, Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Central-West Justice Center and the Massachusetts ACLU. (I am the ACLUM representative to the coalition.)

Of course, as is the case almost every time workers ask for a raise, employers (some, but certainly not all in this situation) say they can’t afford it. But here the facts tell a different story.

A study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute of Political Economy and Research (PERI), together with information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the UMASS Center for Agriculture, Food, and environment, shows that Massachusetts can adapt to this increase. This is in part because the Commonwealth has a strong farm-to-fork infrastructure and, moreover, compared to most other states, direct-to-consumer sales are a larger part of our agricultural economy. . These reports show that increasing the minimum wage will only nominally increase the total costs of agricultural production, which can be covered by a small increase in the selling price that most consumers will not notice.

Massachusetts likes to think of itself as a leader in progressive legislation, but in this case, we are not. California, Colorado, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Washington state, and Wisconsin have all enforced minimum wage laws on farm workers in recent years. Maine has a similar bill under consideration. There is also a federal bill pending, but you can imagine how it will play out under Mitch McConnell and the Senate filibuster rules.

The bottom line is this: The Commonwealth’s exclusion of agricultural workers from basic labor law protections is an unsustainable moral and economic stain on our state. It’s time to right the wrong of an $ 8 an hour minimum wage, no overtime and no days off. It’s time to end this shame. It is time to pass the Fairness for Farm Workers Act.

****

The Fairness for Farm Workers Act Legislative Remote Legislative Information Session, to which the public is invited, will be held on Tuesday, September 14 at 10 a.m. Information about the information session is available at bit.ly/FFFinMA. The coalition’s white paper, entitled “Fruits of the Past”, which details the facts, policies and reasons to support this legislation, is available at https://www.masslegalservices.org/content/fairness-farmworkers-act.

Bill Newman writes a monthly column.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Columnist Bill Newman: State farm workers deserve better
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