Blocking farm workers from a federal right to organize unions would guarantee, “a continuance of virtual slavery until the day of revolt,” a New York politician warned his colleagues during a hearing in the 1930s.
Eighty years later, with Mexicans having largely replaced black Americans in the fields, farm workers lack the federal rights afforded to most laborers — even as they face some of the toughest working conditions in the country.
In several states, efforts to expand these rights are moving forward. California passed an historic law on Monday entitling them to the same overtime pay as most others, while New York faces a lawsuit for excluding farm workers from a right to organize and also a Senate bill that would change that. But the bulk of farm workers in the U.S. remain excluded from freedoms outlined in the National Labor Relations Act from 1935 and the Fair and Labor Standards Act from 1938 — exceptions said to be written by politicians who represented Southern plantation owners. ….