California Drought Leaves Farmworkers Hung Out to Dry

In These Times, 8/8/2014

The crops being harvested in California this summer are smaller than usual thanks to the record-setting drought that has reached the most extreme levels in more than half of the state. While that may be good news to the consumers and chefs who enjoy the more concentrated flavor of smaller fruits and vegetables, it’s another blow to California’s hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, that are struggling to survive in this third-straight year of drought.

“When the growers use a lot of water, the oranges are bigger,” says Antonio Cortes, an organizer for the United Farm Workers, a union representing farmworkers in California. “With less water, the oranges are smaller, and you have to work longer [to fill a bucket].” Most of the workers Cortes represents in the Central Valley are paid a piece rate for buckets of oranges, tomatoes, melons and other crops.