On Monday, November 7, Colorado Legal Services and an anonymous farmworker filed a motion to intervene in order to defend the constitutionality of a Colorado statute that provides access to vital protections and services for farmworkers, particularly those who live and work in rural communities. Colorado Legal Services is represented by Public Justice, Towards Justice, and Farmworker Justice. The individual farmworker is represented by the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services.
In 2021, Colorado enacted a farmworker rights bill which, among other things, prohibits farmers and ranchers from “interfer[ing] with an agricultural worker’s reasonable access to key service providers […] defined to include health care workers, education providers, attorneys, government officials, and clergy, among others.” Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, several agricultural employers filed a lawsuit challenging the key service provider access provisions, arguing that protecting workers’ access to health care, legal services and other essential services violates the right property owners have to exclude individuals from their land. Colorado Legal Services and the individual farmworker seek to defend the constitutionality of the key service provider access provision.
Colorado Legal Services’ Migrant Farm Worker Division provides comprehensive legal services to farmworkers on a variety of legal issues including wage theft, workplace safety, civil rights (including human trafficking and sexual harassment) and immigration. As part of their work, they meet with thousands of workers each year, including those who live in employer owned or operated labor camps, which are often located on employer property. Since the lawsuit, CLS staff has been harassed while meeting with farmworkers, including being physically threatened with a pistol.
“For the protection of the legal rights of agricultural workers, who are frequently isolated, speak little or no English and have limited ability to obtain the services they need, it is essential for CLS to have access to the workers,” said Colorado Legal Services Executive Director Jonathan D. Asher. “To deny necessary access is to deny agricultural workers their basic rights, legal information and the legal representation they frequently desperately need. The statute must be defended to protect the rights of the agricultural workers.”
“Because many farmworkers come from immigrant backgrounds, may be undocumented, and encounter language barriers, they are especially vulnerable to abuse by industrial agriculture operations and often face hazardous workplace conditions,” said Public Justice Food Project Litigation Director David Muraskin. “Colorado’s 2021 statute ensures safe workplaces for agricultural workers by safeguarding their access to key service providers, and challenging this important law puts farmworkers’ lives in danger.”
“Agricultural workers face unusual challenges in accessing critical health care and social services because it is nearly impossible to visit doctors, banks, and other key service providers when they are working during the hours those services are typically available,” said Towards Justice Attorney Valerie Collins. “It is imperative that agricultural workers have access to key services not only for the individual worker, but for their families and communities.”
About Colorado Legal Services
Colorado Legal Services (CLS) seeks to provide meaningful access to high quality, civil legal services in the pursuit of justice for low-income persons and vulnerable populations in Colorado. CLS has thirteen offices across the state and several statewide projects including its Migrant Farm Worker Division.
About Public Justice
Public Justice is a national public interest advocacy organization that fights against abusive corporate power and predatory practices, the assault on civil rights and liberties, and the destruction of the earth’s sustainability. Public Justice specializes in connecting high-impact litigation with strategic communications and the strength of its partnerships to fight these abusive and discriminatory systems and win social and economic justice.
About Towards Justice
Towards Justice is a Colorado-based nonprofit legal organization that advocates for and collaborates with workers and workers’ organizations to build worker power and advance economic justice.
About Farmworker Justice
Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.