Grade 5 students are studying labor and migrant farmworkers, including the work of Cesar Chavez, and the book, The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez. On February 15, students had the opportunity to hear firsthand about the life of a migrant farmworker. The Hamlin School welcomed attorney Julian Sanchez, a man who picked apricots in California for three years, and now champions the rights of farmworkers.
Mr. Sanchez’s parents are in their mid-fifties, and still work in the fields picking crops. He described a day in their life.
They wake up at 4am; get to the fields around 5am, wearing long sleeves, a hat, and a handkerchief. Depending on the season and the region, they work picking onions, almonds, rice, tomatoes, or watermelons. They work for 12 hours a day with 30 minutes for lunch. They arrive home tired with their bodies hurting. In the summer my mother will work from 6pm to 6am to avoid the heat of the day. They have no sick days and no paid days off for vacation.
Mr. Sanchez asked students to come up with a list of rights for workers. The girls stated:
Sick leave, paid vacation, clean water, bathroom facilities, time for lunch/breaks, a living wage, health insurance, the right to speak up without being fired
Mr. Sanchez then went through the list. He shared that none of the stated rights were truly being upheld.
They provide one small water cooler and one bathroom. The water quickly runs out leading to dehydration and illness, and the bathroom is a porta potty that is far from the fields. If workers speak up they will be fired.
He added that employers provide substandard housing, farmworker camps are not visible, their conditions are hidden from the public, workers have beds with no mattresses.
At the end of the presentation, Mr. Sanchez asked the students what they could do to help farmworkers. They shared the following ideas:
Raise awareness, give workers their basic necessities, speak to your local congressperson about improving conditions, boycott food items, protest, strike, support unions and collective bargaining
To learn more about farmworkers please visit: https://www.saf-unite.org/content/united-states-farmworker-factsheet
Special thanks to Hamlin parent, Thip Ark, for arranging Mr. Sanchez’s visit.