Advocates launch drive to help N.C. farm and poultry workers

Posted on: November 15th, 2010 by Ned Barnett No Comments

Fifty years after Edward R. Murrow’s famous television report, “Harvest of Shame,” documented the wretched work conditions endured by America’s migrant and seasonal farm workers, advocates for those who labor on farms and in poultry plants in North Carolina are launching a campaign on their behalf called “Harvest of Dignity.”

Like the Murrow report which aired the day after Thanksgiving 1960, the opening of this campaign sponsored by the Farmworker Advocacy Network will be tied to the holiday. The connection is an effort to make North Carolinians and state lawmakers aware of the hardships faced by many who produce the nation’s bounty.

On Nov. 18, one week before the holiday, farmworkers and their supporters — including local chefs, farmers and faith leaders — will open the campaign at noon with a press conference and a Thanksgiving-style meal at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.

According to the North Carolina Farmworkers Project, North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in the number of migrant farmworkers with approximately 150,000 workers and their dependents in North Carolina each growing season. Ninety-four percent of migrant farmworkers in North Carolina are native Spanish speakers.

There are about 28,000 poultry processing workers in North Carolina. Their hazardous work conditions were described in a 2008 series produced by the Charlotte Observer.

Ana Duncan Pardo of Toxic Free NC, a group that fights pesticide pollution and is part of the Farmworkers Advocacy Network, said that while the demographics of farmworkers have changed from mostly poor whites and blacks to mostly Hispanics, the work conditions remain much the same as those Murrow documented.

The Harvest of Dignity campaign is tied to the Murrow report, Pardo said, to mark “the passage of 50 years since the documentary came out and to point out how little has changed.”

Neal O’Briant, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Labor, which oversees work conditions for farm and poultry workers, said his agency would have no comment on the campaign.

In its 2009 annual report, the department reported that it conducted farm worker housing inspections at 1,285 sites and 799 sites were in full compliance with state standards. The department’s Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau issued 240 violations, with total penalties amounting to $120,282.

The Farmworker Advocacy Network, a statewide alliance of organizations that work to improve living and working conditions of farm workers and poultry workers in North Carolina, has set three objectives for the Harvest of Dignity campaign:

* Safe places to work: field and poultry workers should be protected from injury, illness and toxic chemical exposure on the job. Poultry processing plants should be required to keep line speeds safe.

* Safe places to live: Employer provided worker housing should be safe, sanitary and ensure basic decency, such as privacy in bathrooms and locks on the doors.

* Smarter enforcement of existing laws: State agencies should work together to enforce our state’s current laws protecting field and poultry workers and to crack down on repeat offenders who ignore the law and put people in harm’s way.

There will be a showing of Harvest of Shame, plus a new film addressing the conditions faced by migrant & seasonal farmworkers in the U.S, at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus at the FedEX Global Education Center.

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/thebittenword.com)

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