Farmworkers In D_ County, California Define Their Labor Rights

Degree Name

MA in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations

First Advisor

Charles Curry-Smithson


Labor rights can be defined with different criteria and by different institutions or individuals. Farmworkers in the United States, as an example, may be told by wealthier members of the economic hierarchy which “rights” they may exercise or be entitled to, and they are often faced with the contradiction of having a differing definition of their rights as workers and as people. Within the research framework of promoting self-determination within a capitalist economic system, I posed the following question to a small number of horticulture workers in a focus group and series of one-on-one interviews: How do immigrant farmworkers laboring in D_ County, California define their rights as workers?

The participants varied in their views on the acquisition of labor rights, noting that while any worker automatically had certain rights just by working, workers “with money” and government permission to be in the U.S. had more rights than others. Along with immigration status, national origin and gender determined not only the rights applying to workers, but also the freedom with which workers could exercise their rights. The farmworkers said the rights they believed they had, in contrast to employers’ views, included time off, personal protective equipment at no cost, frequent breaks, overtime pay as required by California law, and respect from supervisors Barriers to exercising those rights, as seen by the workers, were lack of safe spaces to discuss work-related issues, a lack of camaraderie, and the threat of recrimination resulting in firing or deportation. Prospects for collective action in the community where participants live, and for many others around the country, include adopting a universal view of worker rights through more information access, creating leadership opportunities, and in the long term, creating direct paths to legalization or decreasing penalties for the workers without documents.


Agriculture | Inequality and Stratification | Labor Relations | Race and Ethnicity | Work, Economy and Organizations

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