The Cesar Chavez biopic that is hitting theaters Friday highlights what the Mexican-American labor leader accomplished when he founded the United Farm workers more than 50 years ago. He fought for those often ignored – the people who do the back breaking work picking the fruits and vegetables we eat.
Because of Chavez, farm workers today have the amenities we take for granted at the workplace, such as clean water, toilets and sinks.
But there is still much more work to be done.
Today, migrant farm workers are still living in the margins. Many live in inadequate housing and they are still grossly underpaid. The vast majority are not paid hourly — instead, they are paid in piece rate or by the volume of produce they pick. They are among the nation’s poorest populations.
In the following series of stories, Fusion’s Investigative Unit travelled coast to coast to look at some of the issues farm workers face today: from the lack of access to healthy foods and clean water to underage children working in tobacco fields.
High Obesity rates among farm workers
We go to California’s Central Valley where Cesar Chavez led a 300-mile march from Delano to California’s capital. In this two-part series, correspondent Mariana Van Zeller and Producer Alissa Figueroa reports that farm laborers there are struggling with their health on and off the fields.
A few months ago Fusion Investigative brought you this story about drinking water contamination in California’s central valley. We profiled Berta Diaz, a farmworker who told us she spent 10 percent of her income on water. She was afraid to drink from the tap after receiving a notice warning of high nitrate levels in her drinking water.
Since we reported our story Berta’s gotten some good news. Thanks to efforts by residents like her, the local community water district, and other organizations, Berta’s town, East Orosi, was approved for a $50,000 grant to provide 15 gallons of free bottled water each month to each household.
The grant also funding research to see if building a new well could solve East Orosi’s water problems. More funding is going towards rehabilitating one of the two wells that currently serve East Orosi, clearing out sediment to reduce nitrate levels.
The 1939 Fair Labor Standards Act was responsible for getting us the 40-hour work week, the right to have a weekend and banned kids under 14 from working in hazardous industries like coal mining, manufacturing and grocery stores. But agriculture has always been an exception to the rule. Rayner Ramirez explains.
Kids as young as 8 years old working in tobacco fields
Fusion's Investigative Unit went to North Carolina to meet the children who work in a controversial and toxic crop: tobacco. What we found was startling — kids as young as eight working in tobacco fields. Rayner Ramirez reports. This story was produced in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
Related stories produced by our partners at The Nation:
- Leaves of poison - Why are children working in American tobacco fields?
- Dying on the Farm - Under pressure, the Obama administration withdrew rules barring children from dangerous agricultural work — a decision with grave consequences.