Farmworker Justice: A People’s Climate Movement Issue

As we gear up for the April 29th Portland People’s Climate Movement, we will elevate the front-line communities who are leading the day of action. The Portland Climate Movement will not just focus on carbon-reduction and sea level rise (though those issues are vital, and impact our communities first and worst), but on all the intersecting issues facing communities on the front lines of environmental and climate justice.

A group of advocates stands on the steps of the Oregon legislature. Many are dressed as bees. One holds a sign that reads "Keep Our Hives Alive"Beyond Toxics organizes leadership in working class rural communities throughout Oregon, including immigrant workers and urban communities in pollution-burdened areas. These individuals are highly affected by environmental racism, particularly those who are most vulnerable, such as seniors, people with disabilities, and children. These are people who don’t have the privilege of being born into wealth with recognized social capital. People in these communities help lead Beyond Toxics, plan events, and guide the organization in the adoption of strategic plans.

As part of Oregon Just Transition Alliance, Beyond Toxics is focused on building a statewide Environmental Justice movement. They are fighting for Right to Know legislation and policies so their communities are informed about Air Toxics and pesticides. Beyond Toxics is also working to stop aerial herbicide spray, a dangerous practice that leads to overexposure for the people who work the land.

“Beyond Toxics is pushing for community leadership at decision-making tables and places of power to ensure healthy communities,” says Beyond Toxics’ Executive Director Lisa Arkin. “The work of challenging environmental health disparities is deeply relevant to protecting all social and political rights.” 

“Social Justice movements rely on people and the relationships they forge,” Lisa says. “Beyond Toxics believes these relationships provide the foundation to enact change in the world. Beyond Toxics is excited to partner with the Oregon Just Transition Alliance at the People’s Climate Movement.”

A farmworker with gray hair in a baseball cap stands in a field, resting his arm on a crate of vegetables.Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (“Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United,” PCUN) was founded in 1985 to organize workers to speak up and to act against exploitation in the fields. “Working in an immigrant community requires methods that differ from traditional union organizing which focuses almost exclusively on specific workplaces,” says Ramon Ramirez, Executive Director of PCUN. “Immigrants operate in a different cultural and language context and have been shaped by a different political and economic system. In this country, they are cut‑off from reliable information, manipulated and exploited by unscrupulous elements, and rely on inaccurate assumptions about legal rights and remedies. The resulting isolation and disempowerment is intensified by the fear engendered by dealing with an often racist, anti‑immigrant society, its institutions, laws and practices.”

PCUN is organizing with the Equitable Food Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative that creates a certification label with meaningful worker rights standards. PCUN and partners in the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft have proposed four bills in the 2017 legislative session to stop Wage Theft.

Like Beyond Toxics, PCUN is working to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals. “We continue to collaborate with the Oregon Law Center and Farmworker Justice on documenting and combatting pesticide exposure,” Ramon says. “For the past year the work of the project has shifted toward identifying and training promotores (promoters) that can train other workers utilizing the materials that have been developed over the years. So far the promotores have trained over 60 workers.”

Farmworker labor, particularly that of immigrants, is some of the most exploited in the extractive economy. Many immigrants come to the US because militarism and climate change push them from their nations of origin. These communities of climate refugees face environmental injustices and exposure to unhealthy living and working conditions, like many people in rural areas. This exploitation and militarism are key components of the economy that drives climate change. Recognizing the intersecting issues that fall within the scope of climate justice, Beyond Toxics and PCUN advance campaigns for rural and farmworker justice as key pieces of the movement for a just transition. Join PCUN, Beyond Toxics, and other groups leading the Oregon Just Transition Alliance at the April 29th People’s Climate Movement March.

Posted in Against Exploitation, Against Militarization, Against White Supremacy, Air Quality, Coalition Building, Just Transitions, Policy Advocacy.