FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 2010
CONTACTS: Ana Duncan Pardo, Toxic Free North Carolina
(919) 818-5933 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bart Evans, Farmworker Advocacy Network
(510) 366-1604 | email@example.com
HARVEST OF DIGNITY CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF IN NORTH CAROLINA
Campaign targets poor working and living conditions of NC field and poultry workers
RALEIGH – On Thursday, a statewide coalition of legal, medical, faith-based, worker, environmental and student groups will launch its new campaign entitled Harvest of Dignity (www.harvestofdignity.org). The new campaign, led by the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN), takes aim at the substandard and often dangerous living and working conditions faced by people employed in North Carolina’s billion-dollar agriculture and poultry processing industries.
Today’s launch event marks the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s documentary Harvest of Shame, which highlighted the deplorable conditions that farmworkers faced 50 years ago. Many workers continue to face the same conditions a half-century later.
Harvest of Dignity kicks off with a press conference luncheon at noon today at the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. Farmworkers and their allies will be present to speak with members of the press. Interpreters will be also be available. Supporters of farm workers are also participating virtually in the launch via video and photo with their statements of support. Visit www.harvestofdignity.org to see some of the statements.
The campaign will emphasize the need for reform in three main areas that field and poultry workers have identified as urgent:
Safe places to work – field and poultry workers should be protected from injury, illness and toxic chemical exposure on the job. Poultry processing plants should be required to keep line speeds safe.
Safe places to live – Employer provided worker housing should be safe, sanitary and ensure basic decency, such as privacy in bathrooms and locks on the doors.
Smarter enforcement of existing laws – State agencies should work together to enforce our state’s current laws protecting field and poultry workers and to crack down on repeat offenders who ignore the law and put people in harm’s way.
Farm and poultry workers are the backbone of the NC agricultural industry. Every year 150,000 farmworkers and their families labor in North Carolina’s fields picking produce that contributes more than $1.8 billion in sales to North Carolina’s economy. Despite their importance, farm and poultry workers live and work in some of the most dismal conditions of any workers in the state.
“You get paid by the hour, but you’re working by the minute, by the second” says Douglas Coasey, a farmworker with over four decades of experience in the fields. “You can’t slow down, you can’t stop to go to the bathroom. And even if you could, there are no bathrooms. I’ve seen workers use tobacco leaves as toilet paper.”
In employer-provided housing, state regulations require only one laundry tub for every 30 people, one shower for every 10 people, one toilet for every 15 people, and do not require telephone access in case of emergency. These standards are not just uncomfortable; they often mean that people have to wait for hours after work to wash the fertilizers and pesticides off their skin and clothes.
Nearly half of farmworker families live in housing directly adjacent to agricultural fields, which means that they’re more likely to be exposed to pesticides even when they’re not at work. A study conducted right here in North Carolina showed that most farmworker children are routinely exposed to pesticides at much higher levels than other children.
In North Carolina, a farmworker needs to pick and haul two tons of sweet potatoes just to make $50. At this rate, many workers don’t even make minimum wage. Nearly half of the people harvesting crops in NC are facing hunger because they aren’t able to bring in enough money to feed their families.
NC already has laws on the books that would help address some of these issues, but in many cases they're not enforced. For example, when an employer is fined for violations of housing and field safety laws, the fines are often automatically reduced. Safety violations in poultry plants, too, often result in automatically reduced penalties, and for many employers these fines are simply the cost of doing business.
For more information on the Harvest of Dignity campaign, visit www.harvestofdignity.org.
Toxic Free North Carolina is a member of the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN), a statewide coalition of organizations that work to improve living and workers conditions for field and poultry workers in North Carolina. For more information, visit www.ncfan.org.