Protect Your Farmworkers — and Yourself [Opinion]
When I read The Atlantic article that profiles the out-of-control crew leader and labor contractor featured in our cover story, “How to Avoid a Worker-Related Scandal,” I was horrified by the details. It was an eye-opener to realize just how vulnerable operations can be to unscrupulous contractors.
While this man was an outlier, the power he wielded was not. For medium to large growers, crew leaders who hire and manage teams are trusted to act in the operations’ best interests, including adhering to policy.
But how do you know when your crew leaders bend the rules? Can you be sure your field crews are treated the way you yourself would treat them?
The Atlantic reporter recounts how the woman who was victimized by the crew leader approached the farm owners about being paid less than promised and her pay being docked for every small expense. The owners told her to resolve it with the man she was complaining about.
After that one attempt to involve the farm owners, she faced worse conditions, from sexual harassment to death threats.
Make Sure It Doesn’t Happen to You
This was an admittedly extreme case, but there are likely less-lurid versions of this happening throughout the industry.
What can you do to ensure you never have a situation where your labor contractors are abusing your crews? There are some really solid tips in Ana Reho’s excellent article. But I will offer a couple more.
Take every complaint seriously. Every workplace seems to have that one employee that dramatizes everything. It’s the classic case of crying wolf. The problem is sometimes there really is an issue where your worker is in jeopardy.
Visit the fields regularly. Just because you’ve worked with your crew leaders for years and trust them doesn’t mean you should neglect your responsibility to workers. Do spot inspections to ensure working conditions are as you expect them. That there’s shade available on hot days. That breaks are occurring when you expect them to. That portable toilets are nearby.
Every grower I’ve met cares about how their employees are treated. And the vast majority of crew leaders and contractors are decent people. But ultimately, you must ensure that what you think is happening on your farm truly is happening.