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MCN Farmworker Ally Speaks Out: What Do Low Wages Mean for Farmworkers?

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A farmworker carrying cranberries

During our weekly all-staff meeting, MCN staff members discussed the worrying health consequences of the proposed pay cut for H2A workers in the midst of the pandemic, during which such workers are essential to our basic food system. Luckily, it appears that the Trump Administration is no longer attempting to reduce H2A worker wages, but such a suggestion is concerning. Reduced pay for H2A workers would impact wages for workers in the US. For both groups, present wage rates result in poverty, stress, and overwork, and the accompanying physical and mental health consequences. On top of these health and well-being concerns, farmworkers now are faced with the stress of working during the pandemic. Nahiely Garcia, whom we call Pinky, is the Health Network Associate in MCN’s Rio Grande Valley office, on the US-Mexico border. She shared her concerns about any wage cut for farmworkers:

“Due to our current pandemic, migrant workers are working vast amounts of hours for fear of an uncertain future. They are told that they need to do as much work as possible because, as they have told me, ‘tomorrow is not promised.’  It's a tough situation because every day they go in, not knowing what time they will get out, and I am sure there are areas where they don't get paid overtime. Even though that is illegal, it still happens, especially to our undocumented communities. Here in the valley, I know several people who get paid the minimum wage of $7.25. I cannot believe people would support paying them less.

“A close friend of mine mentioned to me recently that he went into work in the early morning and didn't get home until 5am the next day, but yet, was required to be back that same morning at 9am!  We made sure they got paid overtime, but the pay they are receiving is far too low for all the physical labor they do. One can try to argue that handling a few pounds of vegetables is not as hard, but we forget that after a few hours it becomes very laborious and taxing. However, with our current pandemic, many people I know feel cornered and have made it clear to me that they must do whatever is thrown at them because, as they have told me, and I quote: ‘we are not sure how long we will have work so we got to tough it up.’

“This is a harsh reality for everyone and we can empathize with the employers too for not having as many businesses to sell produce to, but we cannot continue to devalue the work that migrant farmworkers do.  As we know, their salaries are already at a minimum as they can be. These exceptional people are not only sorting produce, but they are also carrying heavy boxes along with hefty items.  In addition, their work environments are infamous for poor conditions. Many are unaware that some vegetables leave stains on your hands and/or affect your body in different ways and the list goes on and on.  No one can truly grasp how hard this situation is for migrant workers without actually performing the job yourself or at least get a more detailed experience through other workers that share about it. Lastly, this is a personal experience that was shared with me word for word, and I am keeping in the context that it was told to me:

‘No estoy enfermo por lo del virus, estoy enfermo porque la bodega está súper fría y el producto a veces tiene que estar mojado.  Mi ropa a veces no está toda empapada de agua por el producto, pero también de sudor a pesar del clima donde trabajamos.’” 



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