Farmworkers in California sent invitations to members of the U.S. Senate last fall, asking them to work beside them for just one day as part of a “Take Our Jobs” campaign. Of those senators, just two members, California’s Alex Padilla and New Jersey’s Cory Booker, accepted the invitations.
Padilla joined workers Friday, traveling to a United Farm Workers (UFW)-contracted company in Moorpark. He’s the first U.S. senator “to work in fields alongside farm workers as part of the #TakeOurJobs campaign,” the union said.
“Today I experienced just a small taste of the demanding work that farm workers do every day to keep millions of families in America fed,” Padilla said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “I was here for just one day, but the people I worked alongside are here every day toiling, often under the hot sun, to make sure there’s food in our stores and on our tables.”
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“Migrant farm workers put food on our tables & kept grocery stores stocked throughout a global pandemic. Their work is essential,” Padilla tweeted on Friday, noting his support for legislation that would provide a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers. Padilla’s very first piece of legislation after filling the seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris was the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would affect up to five million essential workers.
While the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act has not advanced, a second bill mentioned by Padilla, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, did pass the House of Representatives last year 247-174, with support from 30 Republicans. It marked the first time in decades that the chamber had passed an agricultural labor immigration bill.
But, like the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, it has stalled in the U.S. Senate. Throughout this inaction, farmworkers have continued feeding America, which Padilla witnessed firsthand on Friday.
“Harvesting radishes is exhausting work,” tweeted UFW. “It takes time to adjust & build muscle so that you can work at a faster pace. @SenAlexPadilla has been in the fields since 6am and he is still giving it his best, but it’s hard to match the workers who have yrs of experience.” In a second tweet from UFW, Padilla is seen harvesting parsley alongside skilled workers.
UFW noted in statement that it launched the “Take Our Jobs” campaign more than a decade ago, and has linked “unemployed persons during the 2008 recession with jobs in agriculture near their homes anywhere in America. Out of the four million-plus who visited the site, only 11 people responded to the UFW’s offer to work in the fields. “
Padilla during a 2021 Senate hearing on the vital role of immigrant farmworkers called it “fundamentally wrong” for the federal government to deem undocumented laborers essential, “yet deny them legal protections and status at the same time.” But that’s precisely what we’ve done throughout the pandemic. Undocumented workers who were already facing deportation risks then also had to face this virus.
UFW President Emeritus Arturo Rodriguez said during that hearing that farmworkers have “continued working, they showed up every day, they made sure our crops production continued here within this nation, dairy farms, working there and so forth. And they’ll continue to do so, despite the fact that they did all this at great risk.”
Gus, a UWF member and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, also met with Vice President Harris at that time to highlight the need for Democrats to act on their own to pass permanent relief. In the joint statement accepting the invitation last year, Booker said farmworkers “help sustain our agricultural and food systems even while many are still denied basic legal protections and employee benefits.”
“I am glad Senator Padilla took the opportunity to come and work alongside incredibly skilled farm workers like those he met today,” UFW President Teresa Romero said in the statement. “Farm workers have done the skilled and often grueling work to keep our food supply stable crisis after crisis. The Senate needs to work just as hard for them. I hope more members of Congress accept our invitation to join us in the fields and see for themselves just how much skill this difficult work requires.”
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