Did you ever think about where your food comes from? That apple you had for a snack – who picked it? That glass of milk – who do you think milked the cow? We may know about the supermarkets we buy our food from. We may even know about the farmers that own the land where the food is grown. But too few know about the people who harvest the apples, milk the cows and work the farms.Over spring break we had the privilege to meet and serve several migrant farm workers in the Brockport area, a huge agricultural zone a mere 40 minutes away from this university. We had the opportunity to visit a migrant worker camp and see how they lived. The camp we visited was more than 15 minutes away from anything but farmland. So the migrant workers, most of who cannot drive, live in total isolation from society. A one story building held six apartments for six families, with only one bathroom in the building. A person that is not connected to the bathroom has to leave their apartment, and walk into another family’s home to relieve themselves. The apartment itself had a cement floor, openly shown rusted pipes and bugs crawling throughout. We were told that while some camps are in better condition, others are much worse. The vast majority of farm-workers are Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Migrant workers live and work in almost every county in New York. Although the common perception is that most farm-workers are illegal, in reality 48 percent of the migrants are documented. Nevertheless, they continue to work long hours for wages averaging $5.94 an hour. The Diocese of Rochester informed us that “one half of all individual farm workers earn less than $7,500 per year and one half of all farm worker families earned less than $10,000 per year, far below the 2001 U.S. poverty level of $17,650 for a family of four.”These wages alone constitute a grave injustice. However, on top of that, migrant farm workers are not considered “employees” by the state of New York, and are therefore excluded from almost all state labor laws. This includes such basic rights as a day of rest, which means that while most workers have a day off every eight days, migrant farm workers can be required to work indefinitely. They are also denied overtime pay, although most work 60-70 hours a week. Nor are they allowed to bargain collectively or join a union. It is our belief that this situation is unacceptable, and we urge you all to become informed on the issue. You can go to http:\www.ruralmigrantministry.org to learn more about the organization we worked with and the issues and people we have presented to you. We hope that you will come to the same conclusions we have. The New York State House has passed legislation granting labor protections to migrant farm workers. However, the leadership of the State Senate has blocked passage of the same bill. You can contact your state senator and let them know how you feel on the issue. Remember, migrant farm workers are not here to steal our jobs or invade our society. They merely want to live and work peacefully with the possibility of attaining the American Dream.Hung can be reached at email@example.com.Therier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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