California produces more food than any other state in the US and consequently also has the largest amount of farmworkers. There has been an ongoing history of racial, economic, environmental, and social injustice in the agriculture industry, especially in California, and it is of critical importance that more people understand this issue. I feel there is a major disconnect between urban and rural communities, and between major food producing communities and non-food producing communities. Social, cultural, and economic transformation must take place in order to foster healing and change in our society. To elucidate the situation of farmworker injustice in California, I want to begin with a few statistics from La Cooperativa Campesina de California:

  1. Between one-third and one-half of farmworkers in the United States reside in California, which is about roughly 500,000-800,000 people.
  2. California farm workers help produce over 350 commodities, including 1/3 of the nation’s vegetables and nearly 2/3 of the nation’s fruits and nuts.
  3. Approximately 75% of California’s farmworkers are undocumented.
  4. National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does not apply to farmworkers.
  5. Farmworkers are exempt from many Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) protections, including most minimum wage and hour guarantees, overtime pay, and mandatory breaks for rest and meals.
  6. Farmworkers are not protected from retaliation when engaged in labor organizing, according to federal law.
  7. Farmworkers are not entitled to receive compensation for attorney fees under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
  8. Around 30% of households with farmworker income fall below the poverty line, and 73% earn less than 200% of the poverty line (a threshold used in many public assistance programs).
  9. The majority of hired farmworkers in California (84%) were born in Mexico.
  10. Only 9% of California farmworkers lived in housing owned or administered by their current employer.
  11. Employer health insurance coverage for farm workers did not noticeably change with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) employer mandate, regardless of a farmworker’s documentation status or whether the worker was a direct hire versus a contractor.

Clearly, there are several levels to the injustices that farmworkers have experienced and continue to experience. It should also go without saying that farmworkers are critical as they provide the food that everyone depends on. Yet despite how essential and difficult their work is, they are systematically and wrongfully subjected to unsafe working conditions, environmental injustice, food injustice, unfair wages, and a litany of other injustices. The reality of this situation is that the people who are producing the food for the rest of the country are the ones who are experiencing injustice at an unprecedented and horrific level. In the words of Dolores Huerta, we “must honor the hands that harvest our crops.” People can support farmworker justice through activism, being informed about local, state, and federal policies that affect farmworkers, and being involved and or donating to organizations that support farmworkers and their communities, like the United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Ayundando Latinos a Sonar (helping latinos dream).


31 California Farmworker Facts You Should Know