Striking Migrant Farm Workers Win Settlement

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After about three weeks on strike, a group of migrant workers employed at a tobacco farm in Gerrard County, Kentucky have reached a settlement with the farm’s owner.

The workers came from Mexico under the H2A visa program, which allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for temporary or seasonal farm work. The Department of Labor program also sets a minimum wage for the workers and requires the employer to provide for costs associated with the work, such as work supplies and travel to and from the farm.

Stephen Bartlett of FLOC (left) with striking farm workers Lamberto Gonzales, Fernando Guzman, Francisco Gonzales, Hernan Quezada, Jose Gonzales, Cristian Santillan, Adolfo Osorio; and Felix Garza of the National Farm Worker Ministry. (Elizabeth Sanders)

But striking worker Francisco Gonazalez said he and his coworkers did not receive a large portion of the wages, reimbursements, and equipment they were guaranteed.

In Spanish, Gonzalez said he hoped that the strike will cause more people to “open their eyes and realize what’s happening in the world, what’s happening to people like us on this farm.”
The workers had support from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a union that has represented migrant workers on the H2A visa program. Field organizer Stephen Bartlett said the seven workers have received a settlement totaling $20,000. After legal fees, that covers about half of what the workers say they were owed.

“It was a good win for them to be able to come home with money for their families, and for the union to show our presence here in Kentucky and the organizing that we’re doing,” Bartlett said.

The union has been active for years in Ohio and the Carolinas, but just began organizing in Kentucky earlier this year. Their work is part of a growing effort to unionize migrant and immigrant workers throughout the United States.

Congress is considering proposals to change the H2A visa program, including a bill that would replace it with a different guest worker program described as “more flexible.”