Labor Rights Group Helps VA Migrant Workers Unionize
Friday, August 4, 2023
Migrant farm workers in Virginia are organizing for better workplace treatment.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee has developed a union with two types of membership. The first is for people with H2A visas who come from other countries to work in the United States during agricultural seasons. The other is for community members or family members of farm workers. The group has relied on the immigrant community to alert people about this union.
Hilda Castaneda, an organizer for FLOC, said this has been needed for a long time.
"For 30 years we don't have, officially, any organization or something that can come in and help us and offer, because there's a lot in Richmond," she said. "But, they're not coming and continuing getting any kinds of programs to us."
Workers want relief from forced overtime and hope organizing will achieve that. It was almost handled at the state level last year when Virginia's General Assembly considered a bill giving farm workers the right to sue for unpaid wages. However, it was changed to exclude farmworkers before it was passed.
As the workers continue organizing, they are also hoping to overcome other disparities, such as favoritism among growers and issues with housing encampments, said Mario Vargas, lead organizer and coordinator with the committee.
"There's some houses that sometimes the refrigerator, the stove doesn't work, and it takes them a while before it gets switched," he said. "That's what we're here for. So, there's a lot of issues that they can encounter."
Unionizing workers who already have jobs has been a separate challenge since they don't see the need to organize. But Vargas said while some growers treat their workers well, others do not. Overall, he noted that the goal is to expand efforts across Virginia and begin setting up regular union meetings.
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