MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Aiming to raise public awareness about violations of farmworker rights on industrial livestock farms in the state, three Minnesota organizations will launch the Minnesota Farmworker Justice Campaign on Thursday, April 18, at 6:30 pm. The event will be held at the offices of the Service Employees International Union Local 26, 706 North 1st Street, Suite 110, in downtown Minneapolis.
Centro Campesino (the Farmworker Center), the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), and the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) have combined forces and are asking allies around the state to help document farmworker rights violations. The groups are also calling on the University of Minnesota and U of M Extension to dramatically increase their educational and research activities in the area of farm labor.
The organizations have been hearing of worker rights issues on a number of large-scale livestock farms the past several years. Two recent “wage theft” cases were disclosed this winter when the groups learned that two of the largest industrial farms in southeast Minnesota had not been paying overtime wages to hourly employees. In a January settlement with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, Hader Farms of Zumbrota, Minn., agreed to pay workers $17,000 in back overtime wages. In 2012, the Minnesota Appeals Court ordered Daley Farms of Lewiston, Minn., to pay $86,385 in back overtime wages to employees.
“We’ve seen cases like these, particularly on large-scale dairy and hog operations, for a number of years, and we continue to witness them,” said Ernesto Velez Bustos, executive director of Centro Campesino in Owatonna, Minn. “This is wage theft. Whether the farm workers are Minnesota natives or immigrant workers, not being paid your full wages is against the law in Minnesota.”
Barb Nelson of rural Lewiston, Minn., is a member of the Land Stewardship Project’s state policy committee that has pushed the U of M to be more responsive to the needs of small and mid-sized farms and the environment.
“The University is the institution that everyone looks to,” she said. “In this case, it’s their responsibility to make sure that farm employers are educated on the issue of worker rights. I’d bet that 80 percent of employers treat their employees well. The ones that don’t follow the rules put a black mark on those that do right by their workers.”
Nelson added that the wage theft situations give violators an economic advantage over the farms that do follow the wage and hour rules.
“If they’re in business, it’s their obligation to know the labor laws,” she said.
CONTACTS: Ernesto Velez Bustos, Centro Campesino, 507-456-9272
Barb Nelson, Land Stewardship Project, 507-523-2022
Doug Nopar, Land Stewardship Project, 507-523-3366 or 507-452-2403