Justice on Our Fields: Can 'Alt-Labor' Organizations Improve Migrant Farm Workers' Conditions?
46 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 2, 2018
This article examines how non-traditional labor organizations, also known as “alt labor,” can improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers in the United States and Canada. I consider the work of three labor organizations — the Agricultural Workers Alliance (Canada) (“AWA”), Justice in Motion (U.S.) (“JIM”), and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (U.S.) (“CIW”) — by focusing on the variety of “legal engagements” that these organizations have to create better working conditions for migrant farm workers. I argue that labor organizations engage with the law in numerous ways, including: improving the rights consciousness of workers; supplementing the work of regulators to increase compliance; undertaking private enforcement of their own; instituting new rights and entitlements through court challenges; building and coalescing social movements; and designing and implementing private regulatory system. I find that the AWA and JIM perform important work to build the rights consciousness of workers and improve compliance with existing legal standards in ways which public regulators are unable to do. However, most workers do not bring forth claims because they fear employer retaliation. The CIW, on the other hand, has devised a private regulatory system that overcomes some of the limitations of public regulatory systems, for example, by allowing farm workers to vindicate their rights regardless of their migration status. Most importantly, the CIW’s private regulatory system requires business entities at the top of the supply chain to take responsibility for working conditions on farms. This system engages with the political economy of the food system because those businesses at the top of the supply chain are best positioned to effect working conditions. I conclude by suggesting that labor organizations actively trying to achieve justice on our fields, like the AWA, JIM and CIW, may point the way for a rejuvenated labor movement.
Keywords: farm workers, migration, labor law, legal mobilization, agriculture
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