Opinion: This year, Labor Day has new meaning for Colorado farmworkers
As Coloradans, we’re lucky to enjoy such exceptional local produce. Right now, it couldn’t be more evident with our Palisade peaches, sweet corn from all across the state, Rocky Ford melons, Pueblo Chiles, and more.
We are all proud of the multi-billion dollar agricultural industry in Colorado and the livestock, fruits, fibers, veggies, dairy, and eggs that it provides us. Indeed, as Americans we’re lucky to walk into a grocery store any day of the year to find shelves full of quality produce and plenty of options.
On this Labor Day, we’re grateful for the 40,000 Colorado farmworkers who spend grueling days growing, tending, picking, and transporting the products we’ve come to expect as a standard of our Colorado and American way of life.
But this year, these essential workers got more than just our gratitude. Earlier this year, we were proud to sponsor and pass the Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights through the General Assembly – a groundbreaking new labor law that provides tens of thousands of Colorado farmworkers with the same labor rights guaranteed to almost every other worker in our state.
Historically, farmworkers have been left out of the most basic of workplace protections, exploited for profit, and punished for speaking up about dangerous working conditions. For too long, these workers have been silenced and forced into dangerous circumstances with no protections and no representation.,We decided enough was enough.
Because of our new law, Colorado farm workers now are guaranteed the minimum wage, overtime pay, the right to organize, clean water, adequate breaks, health protections, safer working and housing conditions, and protection from retaliation.
It also prohibits the use of the short-handled hoe – a symbol of oppression and exploitation that already has been outlawed in Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico for its inhumane, unnecessary and hazardous nature.
The Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights also includes protections for whistleblowers and farm workers who sue over unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. Under the law, a farm worker or relative would be able to file abuse complaints with the Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Labor Standards, which could result in a further investigation or legal action. Without fear of losing their job, farmworkers will be included in conversations about improving their workplace as partners, rather than pawns.
With the passage of the Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights, we begin to restore the dignity and the respect that farm workers across Colorado deserve – and we can finally tell agricultural workers that we have their backs.
Our stocked shelves in our grocery stores have been a testament to the hard work of so many in our food-supply chains and distribution systems. Undoubtedly, we have our grocery store heroes to thank for this common luxury. What often is forgotten, however, are the people who work tirelessly to keep those shelves filled.
As we enjoy time with our friends and family this holiday weekend, many of us will be grilling up Colorado Beef, enjoying Olathe Sweet Corn, or serving up some of the countless other wonderful agricultural products our state has to offer. But this year we can also take pride in knowing that this food no longer will be the product of worker exploitation in Colorado.
With this new law, we brought new communities into the conversation, we worked for months with agricultural business owners and producers, and we gave a new voice to working people. We have begun to repair decades of harm and pain, but we know the work does not stop here.
As we mark the Labor Day weekend and honor hardworking Coloradans across the state, we must include those workers who labor so hard to put that food on our tables. We celebrate the Agricultural Workers’ Bill of Rights that will protect them, and look to the future with a renewed commitment to advancing the rights of hardworking Coloradans in every industry.
So next time you’re in the grocery store to pick up some steaks, or stop to buy a crate of peaches, remember the people who bring us that food – the 40,000 farmworkers in our state. They are the heart of Colorado agriculture and the fabric of our culture – today, and every day, they deserve our thanks, respect and appreciation.
State Sens. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, were the Senate prime sponsors of SB21-087, Agricultural Workers’ Rights
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