Health Care is a Human Right for All

Farmworker Justice believes that our nation’s farmworkers deserve quality healthcare that is affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate. The right to healthcare goes beyond access to health services.  It also encompasses safe housing and working conditions and access to healthy food.

Healthcare is internationally recognized as an essential human right.  According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. is a signatory,

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Article 25, Section 1)

Farmworkers are some of the most marginalized workers in the United States. They have fewer worker protections than other sectors and endure low-wages and isolation.  Many are also food insecure.  Their plight is invisible to most of us but that does not exclude them from the need for basic healthcare.

Take, for example, the issue of basic hygiene in the workplace. Everyone should have access to toilets and hand-washing facilities, and clean drinking water at work. Farmworkers are no exception. This is a matter of basic human dignity, in addition to disease prevention.  The health benefits of proper sanitation for farmworkers — especially in reducing the risk of heat stroke, pesticide poisoning, urinary tract infection, and parasitic disease — have long been recognized.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had for many years refused to issue any regulations concerning sanitation in agricultural fields. It was finally forced to do so by order of a federal court, which castigated OSHA’s 14 years of “intractable…resistance” as a “disgraceful chapter of legal neglect.”  (Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc. v. Brock, 811 F.2d 613, 614 (D.C.Cir. 1987).

Healthy farmworkers benefit all of us. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a positive step for the healthcare of farmworkers.  Provisions such as the Medicaid expansion and dedicated funding for community and migrant health centers will help create better health outcomes for many farmworkers and their families. Furthermore, the SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program), which provides tax credits to eligible small businesses, may encourage small growers to provide health insurance to their workers.  But more needs to be done.  Undocumented farmworkers will only marginally benefit from health reform and will continue to encounter enormous barriers to healthcare.

Healthcare is a human right for all, regardless of income, race, color or immigration status. While our nation reaps the rewards of their labor, farmworkers earn low incomes for physically grueling and hazardous work. They are deserving of fair, decent treatment and our respect.  All farmworkers and their families have the right to healthcare. Farmworker Justice supports the empowerment of our nation’s farmworkers to lead safe and healthy lives.