Farmworkers’ Fight for a Livable Wage

Fair Farms Blog By Doreen Paster

Maryland made national news during the 2019 legislative session. The General Assembly passed, and then overrode the governor’s veto of a significant increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour over the coming years. Maryland is only the 6th state in the country to do so. The increase in the minimum wage is designed to lift people out of poverty and provide a living wage for hardworking Marylanders.

But the bill ended up leaving out some very important people—farmworkers. As the legislative session began in January, farmworkers were hopeful about an increase in the minimum wage. Fair Farms understands that we all depend on the workers who grow and harvest food from farms. Surely they are worthy of a decent wage to support themselves and their families!

Farmworkers often face many challenges that others do not. Hours can be long, heat can be oppressive. Both housing and working conditions might be substandard. Injury rates are higher than for many other professions—even including those normally thought of as high-risk, such as mining and construction[i]. All of these factors contribute to health problems. And economic insecurity exacerbates health issues by making it more difficult to access health care and medicine, take time off, and achieve a healthy lifestyle. An increase in the minimum wage would be especially helpful to this important part of our workforce.

Unfortunately, as the minimum wage bill progressed through the legislative process, farmworker pay was traded away. An amendment, made early in the committee process, exempted agricultural workers from the increase in the minimum wage. And when the final bill passed, it was clear that the people who grow and harvest our food would not benefit from the lauded increase in the minimum wage. (Other amendments left tipped workers and young workers out of the new minimum wage law, as well).

Fair Farms spoke with Leila Borrero-Krouse, an organizer and immigration specialist with our partner organization, CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee). She told us that in her decades of experience assisting farmworkers, she has seen firsthand the powerlessness of this community, which often results in accepting jobs with low pay. Farmworkers may face inadequate bathroom breaks or safety equipment, overcrowded living conditions, and the need for a second or even third job to make ends meet.

Next year, we’re hoping to work with elected leaders to acknowledge that the people who help put food on our table are worthy of the same wages that others are now entitled to. Our very sustenance depends on the work they do – it’s time to compensate them fairly.