Much of this country’s food production depends on foreign laborers who come to this country temporarily. The US contracts with other governments to bring workers here to do the “unwanted, unpleasant jobs” that Americans do want to do. These migrants perform jobs in the heat, or extreme heat as was the case this summer. Migrant workers pick and pull our vegetables and fruits, so that we can consume at summer parties with our families friends and neighbors many of us not know really where it came from or who picked it.
This summer, like the last three in Iowa, I had the privilege of working with workers from Mexico, who came here on an H-2A Visa, a special temporary agricultural visa. The US government approves these visas when growers or contractors anticipate a shortage of workers. Most of these workers are hired for detasseling corn (removing the pollen-producing flowers, the tassel, from the tops of corn (maize) plants and placing them on the ground), or picking watermelons and other vegetation.
While they are here they work 10 to 15 hours a day in the scorching sun with no air conditioning, and sometimes water is at least one mile away. Many of them report fainting due to heat exhaustion. This industry is supposed to be regulated, but many of the workers do not receive medical attention when they need it, and are generally at the mercy of the “Capatas” or supervisors.
Some individuals told me that many times when someone passed out, they were merely dragged over to the side to see if they would recover and could go back to work. They also said there were times when the supervisor and his friends would just laugh and did nothing for the workers in distress.
These jobs are extremely dangerous. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the nation.
Approximately 1,818,000 full-time workers were employed in agricultural production in the US in 2008. Fatal injuries constitute a significant burden on the agricultural sector, as indicated by the 456 farmers and farm workers who died from a work-related injury - a fatality rate of 25.1 deaths per 100,000 workers during that same year.
There is an effort led by a few politicians who to continue to bring temporary workers to the US, but at the same time not giving them any protection and really no benefits, Visit the United Farm Workers to read more about this issue and learn more about how you can help..
Many workers arrive here because they are recruited and told there are wonderful job that pay well, but for many the reality is quite different.
We need the government to regulate food production in this country. We can start improving our food system today by protecting those on the frontline—the workers that put food on our tables.