Farmworkers are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, experiencing the worst of the increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns while struggling due to low wages, vulnerability due to immigration status, and dangerous working conditions. Here’s a rundown of five key concerns identified by farmworkers interviewed by Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), our partner organization for National Farmworker Awareness Week.
Farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die from heat related illnesses than any other civilian worker. So it’s no surprise that extreme heat is the biggest threat climate change poses to farmworkers, many of whom work long hours under an increasingly hot summer sun. Heat stress occurs when a body is unable to cool itself down. This well-documented physical condition has many symptoms including fatigue, cramps, nausea, and a weak pulse.
Drastic changes in water availability, soil quality, pest and pollinator populations, and weather patterns — especially special weather events like wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes — are transforming our country’s agricultural system. Farmworkers are finding themselves temporarily and sometimes permanently out of work due to changing weather patterns and extreme weather.
Extreme weather patterns are already affecting common farmworker-origin countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Farmworkers are growing concerned with how difficult migration for seasonal work has become.
56% of farmworkers have documentation authorizing their legal presence in the United States. For many, around 317,000 farmworkers, that’s the H-2A visa program, which ties workers to a specific farm for several months out of the year and requires that workers must return to their home country. The H-2A program does not currently provide a pathway to permanent legal residence of any sort, which is of growing concern given the growing difficulties of migration.
The average wage for a farmworker is between $20,000 – $24,999 per year. To make matters worse, farmworkers are not guaranteed a federal minimum wage because they are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a national minimum wage and overtime pay and prohibited child labor. Coupled with the concerns laid out above, these extremely low wages present even more difficulties in maintaining resilience during the climate crisis.
Learn about actions being taken by farmworker organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Equitable Food Initiative here.