Agriculture is North Carolina’s leading industry – making almost $10 billion a year. The workers who pick our fruits and vegetables do some of the most dangerous, hardest work in the country. Workers travel thousands of miles to work on NC farms for the growing season and cannot afford housing based on their meager salaries. Growers often provide housing, which must meet certain legal minimum requirements.
Until 2007, it was legal to provide beds – without mattresses. In some ways, the housing code for workers was worse than the minimum standards required in prisons. In 2003, the Farmworker Advocacy Network began a successful campaign to update the housing standards. We worked with legislators and mobilized hundreds of grassroots activists across the state to get this right. Before amendments were passed to the Migrant Housing Act in 2007, the law had not been updated for 18 years.
Today, the law still isn’t perfect. Workers who deal with pesticides need better access to showers and laundry. And everyone has the right to privacy and dignity in their home. We need your help to get a fair share for people who work hard. We need a harvest of dignity. Visit harvestofdignity.org to get involved.
It's been 50 years since Edward R. Murrow's landmark documentary HARVEST OF SHAME that examined the lives of farmworkers. How much has changed since then? And how much remains the same?
Here is a look at the lives of farmworkers in North Carolina today.
Soon to be broadcast on public television.
Farm work is hard work. Workers often put in 14 hour days in bad weather - including extreme heat and rain. In NC, 7 farmworkers died of heat stroke in five years. They were literally worked to death. Heat stroke isn't the only problem in the fields.
Employers with 10 or fewer workers aren't required to provide toilets or clean water during the work day. And some employers ignore the regulations altogether, putting workers at risk. Workers have had to drink water from ponds containing pesticides when there is no other water source.
A quarter of tobacco workers experiences nicotine poisoning through the skin at least once in a growing season. In just one day, tobacco workers can absorb the amount of nicotine found in 36 cigarettes.
The workers who put food on our tables have paid for it with sweat, blood, and sometimes their lives. Farmworkers do some of the most dangerous work in the country, but they don't have the same protections as everybody else. We need to prevent more deaths from happening in North Carolina's fields.
We need a harvest of dignity instead of exploitation. Because people who work hard should be treated fairly. It's that simple.