From the tomato fields of California’s Central Valley to the apple orchards of Eastern Washington to the dairy farms of Massachusetts, the United States is an agricultural powerhouse. America’s agricultural industry contributes over $1 trillion to our economy and feeds families across our nation. We must acknowledge a simple fact: our farmworkers and food chain workers – those who harvest the crop, milk the cows, package the meat and stock the shelves – are the backbone of America’s food system.
Yet despite the crucial contribution that workers across the food chain make to our society, farmworkers and their families continue to face entrenched poverty, a lack of opportunity, and an unjust immigration system. In many cases, despite giant agribusinesses making millions in profits, wages for farmworkers are so low that they cannot consistently afford the same food they help put on the tables of others. Those same agribusinesses expose workers to dangerous working conditions and toxic pollution with little fear of consequences, driving down standards for the entire industry.
None of this is an accident. For decades, agricultural labor has been intentionally excluded from basic labor laws, such as the right to unionize, overtime pay, and child labor and safety standards. This exclusion was justified with explicitly racist reasons, one of the many ways in which Americans of color were excluded from the opportunities that built America’s white middle class. Generations of struggle have attempted to right this wrong and secure fair treatment for farmworkers. Activists like Maria Moreno, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Larry Itilong, and Gilbert Padilla won crucial victories and left a lasting example of how to organize farmworker communities.
Yet today, only about 2% of farmworkers are represented by a union. Housing and food insecurity, fear of deportation, and barriers to education continue to harm farmworker communities. Despite those obstacles, farmworkers have continued to fight back. Just last year, largely Mexican immigrant farmworkers went on strike from the mandarin orchards in California’s Central Valley to fight back against a proposed cut to their already low wages – and won against a multi-billion-dollar corporation. And in Vermont, immigrant dairy workers faced down intimidation from ICE, took on Ben and Jerry’s over poor working conditions in their dairy supply chain, and won.
It is time to treat the people who help feed us with dignity and respect. It is time that the workers in our food system share in the prosperity they help build. A life as a farmworker should not be a poverty sentence, but instead a path to the middle-class and a source of opportunity for their families. In a Warren administration, farmworkers across America will have an ally in the White House.
Empowering Farmworkers and Food Chain Workers
80 years after they were excluded from the New Deal, it is time to extend the full protections of U.S. labor law to some of the most marginalized workers in America. As president, I will fight for legislation ensuring that farmworkers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. And I will fully empower the Department of Labor to educate farmworkers about their rights, regardless of their immigration status.
Like all workers, farmworkers deserve fair wages for their hard work. I’ve committed to fighting for a fair and living wage for farmworkers, beginning with passing the Fairness for Farmworkers Act, championed by Senator Kamala Harris and Congressman Raul Grijalva. I will also empower farmworkers to combat endemic wage theft by amending the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act to allow agricultural workers who pursue legal action in cases of wage theft to be awarded attorneys fees. My commitment to adopting a broad joint employer standard also will protect farmworkers from wage theft and other abuses at a time when growers are turning to farm labor contractors to bring in farmworkers without hiring them directly. And I will ensure that agricultural labor is not excluded from the minimum wage as we fight to raise the wage to $15 an hour.
We must make these changes alongside broader reforms to build a new farm economy that makes sure everyone is paid fairly for their labor. It’s long past time to curb the power of the giant agribusinesses that exploit farmworkers and food chain workers for their own profit. Farmworkers, food chain workers, and independent family farmers are trapped in an economy that lets Big Ag suck up most of the profits, while driving down wages and leaving farmworkers and food chain workers with fewer choices and less independence. In the poultry industry, for example, the biggest companies have allegedly conspired over the past decade to suppress wages for slaughterhouse workers across the industry. But the Department of Justice has fallen asleep at the wheel while multinational companies seize control over key markets. That’s why I’ve committed to addressing the consolidation that is driving down wages in agriculture, including by reviewing and reversing anti-competitive mergers and breaking up giant agribusinesses that have become vertically integrated. Instead of subsidizing industrial agriculture, my plan for a new farm economy will guarantee farmers a fair price, reduce overproduction, and pay farmers for environmental conservation. By ensuring fair prices and fair wages for farmers and workers, we can give farmworkers, food chain workers, independent family farmers, and ranchers alike a shot at the American dream.
Safety on the Job
Agriculture is among the most hazardous industries in America. Farmworkers and food chain workers face threats like long hours of backbreaking work, working with dangerous machinery, and exposure to pesticides – typically without the protection of labor laws or unions. And as climate change continues to lead to more extreme weather – like hotter summers and drier winters – the danger of wildfires and heat stroke will only become worse. In California’s Sonoma County, for example, farmworkers went to work to save the grape harvest while wildfires burned nearby, breathing in dangerous pollution from smoke. And despite heat being a leading cause of on-the-job death or injury among farmworkers, only two states – California and Washington – require farmworkers to have access to shade and water. That’s why I will fight to pass the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, named in honor of a 53-year-old farmworker who died of heat stroke while working in the fields, to guarantee farmworkers access to shade and water while on the job, nationwide. And I will push to implement heat and air quality safety standards for agricultural labor, including protections against poor air quality due to wildfires, at the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
Heightened exposure to pesticides also puts farmworkers at grave risk. In Idaho, pesticides sprayed on a nearby field sent more than a dozen farmworkers to the emergency room, and in California's Central Valley, multiple incidents of pesticide exposure led farmworkers to protest the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. As president I will move forward with the Obama-era ban on chlorpyrifos – a pesticide the EPA previously deemed toxic – and I will roll back the Trump administration’s proposed rules that weaken federal labor protections for spraying pesticides. In a Warren administration, the EPA will not be run by industry lobbyists who are only looking out for the interest of corporate profits. Instead, my EPA will work on behalf of everyone to protect the health and well-being of people and the planet. That means making agribusinesses pay the full costs of the environmental damage they wreak and giving farmworkers the tools to protect their families from pollution.
Agricultural and other food chain workers also need protection beyond the fields. Dairy workers have suffered serious injuries on the job and some have even drowned in ponds of manure. Workers in meat processing plants have some of the highest rates of occupational injury and illness in the United States. Yet President Trump’s USDA has weakened government oversight, endangering workers as well as consumer safety. As president, I will hold agribusinesses accountable for labor and environmental abuses and increase OSHA oversight of working and safety conditions at CAFOs, dairies, and poultry and meat-processing plants. And I will reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken safety standards including the Trump administration’s regulations allowing giant meatpacking companies to use unsafe processing line speeds, I will also strengthen immigrant protections for whistleblowers who call out worker abuse or other criminality and corruption in the food system that endangers workers or the public.
I will also fight to protect particularly vulnerable farmworker populations. Agriculture is the deadliest industry for children in America, yet it is subject to some of the weakest child labor laws, allowing children as young as 12 to work in the fields. I will work to stop the exploitation of farmworker communities' children, like those who contracted nicotine poisoning working in tobacco fields. I will also end the exclusion of agricultural labor from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect farmworkers from the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in the fields. And my new approach to trade will help extend these protections to American trading partners by making improved labor standards a precondition to accessing American markets. This way, we can defend human rights for millions in our partner countries, while also stopping companies from shifting American jobs to other countries where they can exploit workers.
Our farm and food system is heavily dependent on undocumented immigrant labor. Around half of all farmworkers in the United States are undocumented. Farmers and growers acknowledge that the United States faces a farmworker shortage, with President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies worsening an already significant challenge for American agriculture. For farmworker communities, deportation is a constant threat. In Delano, California, a farmworker couple died in a car accident while attempting to flee ICE, orphaning six children, and in Mississippi, an ICE raid on poultry plants left an entire community devastated.
Immigration reform is necessary for justice in our food system. As part of my plan to create a fair and welcoming immigration system, I will make sure that a pathway to citizenship for agricultural workers is included in immigration reform. I will prohibit the deportation of any worker exercising federal rights to protest wage theft, workplace discrimination, unsafe working conditions, or other such disputes with an employer. I also support replacing the broken H2-A agricultural guest worker visa program, which is rife with issues of wage theft and abuse, with an immigrant worker visa, with full labor protections, for future agricultural workers needed to work on American farms. And I am committed to repealing the Trump administration’s public charge rule, which forces many farmworker families to choose between accessing basic services and staying together.
Invest in Farmworker Communities
Beyond protecting farmworkers from exploitation, deportation, and unsafe working conditions, we must also tackle the persistent poverty and lack of opportunity in farmworker communities. These communities struggle with food security, lack of access to clean water, and educational disruptions and barriers, particularly for the children of migrant farmworkers. At a time when President Trump has given away billions in taxpayer money to some of the richest farm owners in America, we can and should invest in the people whose work makes those farms run.
I’ve previously outlined my plan to support rural communities, including rural Latino and farmworker communities. The investments I will make in rural health care, broadband, child care, public education, and infrastructure will benefit farmworkers. Closing the digital divide will help farmworkers seek new opportunities, while universal child care will help parents working long days in the field. I’ve committed to increasing federal funding for Community Health Centers, where approximately 25% of farmworkers receive their primary health care, by 15% each year for five years, and I’ll establish a $25 billion capital fund to support a menu of options that will help people living in health professional shortage areas, including farmworkers, overcome common barriers to health care such as lack of transportation and long work hours. And with less than half of farmworkers reporting they have health insurance, we need Medicare for All so farmworkers across America can get the health care they need, regardless of immigration status.
Like so many families, farmworker parents push their children to succeed in school, and children of farmworkers in turn have proudly celebrated their parents’ profession and the generational sacrifice it takes to reach the American Dream. Yet these children still struggle with many obstacles, ranging from inadequate support for English Language Learners to discrimination at school. Many farmworker children face the economic pressure to leave school and instead go work to help their families. And for farmworker families that migrate seasonally, the disruption of constantly changing schools represents a special challenge. My wealth tax on the richest 75,000 Americans will fund $800 billion to invest in public K-12 schools, make two-year and four-year public college and technical school free for everyone, including farmworkers and their children, and provide universal child care and early learning for families who work in the fields, dairies, or meat and poultry plants. My Department of Education will ensure that English Language Learners and immigrant children have access to a quality public education, no matter their native language, national origin, immigration status, or educational history. I will also issue guidance on how to assist students whose families move according to harvest seasons as they transition to new schools throughout the school year and work with states and school districts to implement best practices and provide appropriate support. I will push to end high-stakes standardized testing, which children of farmworkers often aren’t prepared for, and encourage schools to use authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways. And I will ensure the Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education is fully staffed, funded and supported.
In many agricultural areas, a legacy of racism and intensive agriculture has left communities without safe water for basic necessities like drinking, bathing, and cooking. I believe access to clean water is a human right, which is why I have committed to investing in our nation's water systems. I will fight to fully capitalize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to refurbish old water infrastructure and support ongoing water treatment operations and maintenance, and will prioritize communities like rural farmworker communities. I will also fully enforce Safe Drinking Water Act standards for all public water systems and aggressively regulate chemicals that make their way into our water supply, including from agricultural runoff. I’ll restore all funding to water and wastewater projects the Trump administration has proposed to eliminate. And, for the thousands of people who rely on private systems for drinking water, a Warren administration will fight for adequate funding so that everyone can have access to safe water. I’ll also make giant agribusinesses pay the full costs of the environmental damage they wreak by closing the loopholes that they use to get away with polluting and by beefing up enforcement of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts against them.
We must also fight for safe, affordable housing for farmworker communities. Farmworkers have been forced to crowd together into small apartments, or even to sleep in their cars along the side of the road. Housing provided by employers is often sub-standard, while in some cases local residents have opposed the construction of farmworker housing, or even worse, allegedly set proposed farmworker housing on fire. We must do better. I’ve committed to investing $500 billion over ten years in building or rehabilitating over 3 million housing units, including in places like California’s Salinas Valley. My plan also incentivizes local and state governments to remove zoning requirements that needlessly drive up the cost of construction. I am also committed to protecting and empowering renters by tackling the growing cost of rent, strengthening fair housing law and enforcement, withdrawing HUD’s racist “mixed status rule,” and extending protections to end housing discrimination based on tenants’ immigration status and source of income. And I will fight for a nationwide right to counsel for low-income tenants in eviction proceedings and create a national small dollar grant program to help make sure families aren’t evicted because of financial emergencies.
Consolidation in agriculture may also be contributing to small business declines in the rural communities where many farmworkers and food chain workers live. My administration will bolster the small businesses that rural communities depend on. I’ll invest half a billion dollars a year over the next decade to build a sustainable farm and food system, including by funding food hubs, distribution centers, and points-of-sale that our rural and farmworker communities can use. These commitments will also help to address the crisis of food insecurity among the families whose work feeds America. And my $7 billion Small Business Equity fund will support the Latino businesses that are helping drive business growth in rural communities by removing the barriers to capital that disproportionately affect Latino, Native American, and Black entrepreneurs.
We must also reduce wait times at the U.S.-Mexico border, which can add hours of wait time at border checkpoints to already grueling days for farmworkers who cross the border to get to work every day. And I will be a champion and a partner for border communities, which are in dire need of investment.
The Fight Goes On
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From Farmworkers to Farmers
In addition to supporting farmworkers, America must also do better by Latino farmers. Despite making up over 80% of farmworkers, Latinos own just 3% of the farms in the United States. In the Rio Grande Valley, white farmers still own a majority of the land despite Latinos making up 90% of the population, and a legacy of broken promises and lost land saw Tejanos become farmworkers on land they once owned. The Department of Agriculture also has a long history of discriminating against Black, Latino, and other minority farmers. We must address the injustices of the past and secure opportunity for a new generation of farmers of color.
I have a plan to do just that, beginning with ending systemic discrimination at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’ll start by establishing an Equity Commission staffed by Black, Brown, and indigenous farmers, researchers, and activists to unearth the full range of USDA’s discrimination, and I’ll reform the agency’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights to actually protect the civil rights of underrepresented farmers and farmworkers.
The Trump administration, including his USDA, has taken a hostile approach to farmworkers, with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue even suggesting that farmworkers should be paid less. In a Warren administration, USDA will serve farmworkers as well as farmers. I’ll make sure the Economic Research Services (ERS) includes farmworkers and other food chain workers more prominently in their research, so that we understand the challenges they face – and work to fix them.
I will also create real access to land and credit for farmworkers and food chain workers – to open the door for a new generation of diverse farmers that reflects the diversity of our country. My administration will develop a land trust to put land in the hands of marginalized communities, including farmworkers and food chain workers. We will expand access to credit, and dedicate funding for education, training, and research for communities who have historically been excluded. Furthermore, I will dedicate a portion of the $5 billion in annual Farm Credit System profits to support farmworkers who wish to become farmers themselves, so that the farmworkers of today can be a part of a new generation of farmers.
The work that our farmworkers and food chain workers do is essential to the health of our agricultural economy – and we must ensure that farmworker communities have access to opportunity and are treated with dignity and respect. As president, I will be a partner to farmworkers and food chain workers and fight alongside them to secure the rights and justice that they deserve.