Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do it for the workers

We listened to a story this morning on the radio about immigrant farm workers in New York. Apparently, state labor laws do not apply to them: they are not entitled to overtime pay, have no right to a day of rest, and can not collectively bargain.

When will farm workers' wages be something us customers are willing to pay more for? I pay extra to buy organic seeds, organic food, free-range chickens. A lot of this extra cost is going to workers, precisely because there are some (organic farming is more labor-intensive than conventional farming). But why is it so difficult to get me to pay even more so the laborers who are planting and harvesting and packaging can earn a decent wage and a day off?

There are plenty of driven advocates working on this issue. But rather than tax incentives to farmers to encourage higher pay, I think we're in need of a cultural change. We all have to start paying more for our food. So farmers can make a living and their workers can, too.

But raising prices is not what most producers want to do. Perhaps we can start, market by market, with farmers collectively agreeing to charge a little more so they have more to give back to their staff. And we can continue, market by market, with creating educated consumers who learn to care more about the welfare of human laborers than a farmyard animal.

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