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Denver, Colorado
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Denver, CO:  Last week, Senator Jessie Danielson introduced Senate Bill 21-087, the Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill, into the Colorado Senate. The Bill will be sponsored by Representatives Karen McCormick and Yadira Caraveo in the House. 

For almost a century, agricultural workers have been excluded from many of this country’s most important and hard-fought labor rights, including the right to organize, the right to overtime pay, and in the case of thousands of Colorado farmworkers, the right to minimum wage. The origins of these exclusions, which go back decades, are explicitly racist–originally part of an effort to exclude Black workers from the New Deal’s most important labor protections. 

Especially now, after a year in which farmworkers have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic and toiled in wildfires and extreme heat to bring food to our tables, it is essential that we close these anachronistic gaps and provide basic protections and dignity to some of the State’s most vulnerable workers. This Bill, among other things, would: 

  • Provide basic health and safety protections during the pandemic;
  • Extend the right to organize to farmworkers; 
  • Ensure that service providers like doctors have access to farmworkers on employer provided housing; 
  • Ensure fair pay of at least the minimum wage and overtime based on rules enacted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment; 
  • Mandate rest breaks and other protections against overwork, especially in extreme heat; and
  • Provide powerful protections against retaliation for farmworkers who speak out about mistreatment. 

The Bill enjoys wide support among a range of Colorado groups, including labor unions, advocacy groups, and farmers committed to ensuring basic human dignity in the industry and dismantling structural racism in Colorado. Supporters include, among others: Colorado AFL-CIO, the National Young Farmers Coalition, Project Protect Food Systems Workers, FrontLine Farming, Towards Justice, COLOR (Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights), the Hispanic Affairs Project, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Colorado Jobs with Justice, Colorado People’s Alliance, and Conservation Colorado.

“For too long agricultural workers have been systematically exploited by being left out of basic workplace protections.  I am proud to bring this bill to ensure that all workers in Colorado, no matter the industry, are guaranteed the same protections,” said Senator Jessie Danielson D- Jefferson County.

“Due to the systematic exploitation of immigrants and people of color in the industry, agricultural workers face grueling conditions and long hours without basic workplace protections. Colorado must step in to ensure that all workers can exercise their rights to fair wages and safe working conditions, and SB21-087 will finally bring these long-fought protections to Colorado’s agricultural workers,” said Representative Yadira Caraveo D- Adams County

 “For years communities in Colorado and across the country have demanded equitable treatment of agricultural workers. In 2021 Colorado can finally get that done. Agricultural workers are essential workers and need to be treated as suchI’m proud to champion this bill,” said Representative Karen McCormick D- Boulder

“Too often, farmworkers are ignored and left behind when it comes to creating programs aimed at supporting workers and keeping our communities healthy. At a time when we talk about coming together to get through this pandemic, we cannot and must not leave behind the people who are harvesting the crops to keep us fed,”said Karla Gonzales Garcia, Policy Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).

“This bill is an opportunity to move thousands of families in Colorado out of poverty. By protecting these workers, we are also protecting their children who live in rural areas, sometimes in the middle of a field. This is a wake up call and reminder that social and economic exclusion are still very present today,” said Ricardo Perez, Executive Director of Hispanic Affairs Project.

“This bill is about providing the same basic labor protections for all workers. Farm workers have been forced to sacrifice their safety during this pandemic to put food on our tables. These exceptions to critical protections and basic wage rules are abhorrent and have existed for far too long. This bill is a powerful step towards justice and equity by ending racist wage exclusions that harm our communities” said Raquel Lane-Arellano, Policy Manager, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

“When this bill passes, agricultural workers will be brought in from the economic and social margins. They will be put on par with other workers in the state. It’s a pleasure extending the labor movement’s most hard-fought protections to these workers,” said Dennis Dougherty, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

“Protecting essential workers and attacking systemic racism must be more than just talk. The exclusion of farmworkers, among the most essential but also vulnerable workers in our state, from many of the basic protections provided to the vast majority of workers is a stain in our laws. It must be eliminated,” said David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice.

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