New Mexico's agricultural workers face low pay, dangerous conditions, and have few laws to protect them from abuse. Those allegations are contained in a new report from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
According to the report, nearly 70% of New Mexico’s farm workers were victims of wage theft; over half of dairy employees reported being injured on the job; and about 46% of dairy workers said they didn’t raise complaints for fear of retaliation.
Maria Martinez Sanchez is an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. She says the survey also found that a fifth of workers said they had worked in a field where pesticides were actively being sprayed.
"This is totally illegal! There’s something called the worker protection standard, it’s a federal law that mandates pesticide application and how long farm workers should be out of the field while pesticides are being applied," says Sanchez. "That was something that was sort of surprising to me. I knew workers were exposed to pesticides because they complain of the symptoms, but I didn’t realize the fields were being sprayed while they were working."
However, agricultural advocates disagree and say employees are often treated like family. The report recommends a number of policy changes to improve working conditions.