Protecting Farmworkers

Since it was passed in 1983, an important law aimed at protecting agricultural workers has significantly improved their working and living conditions, as well as their ability to collect proper wages. While these changes have been beneficial, a new report marking the 30th anniversary of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (the AWPA), also concludes that the law itself could be improved with even stronger labor protections and stronger enforcement by the Department of Labor.

The report, Unfinished Harvest: Agricultural Worker Protection Act at 30, considers the law a major step forward, compared to previous efforts to protect farmworkers. The report was produced by Farmworker Justice, an organization that seeks to improve working and living conditions for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, and a grantee of the Public Welfare Foundation.

The 1983 law requires agricultural employers to disclose to workers the terms under which they are being hired and to comply with those terms. It also regulates the use of farm labor contractors, in an effort to curb notorious labor abuses, and sets certain safety standards for some housing and some transportation vehicles.

But wage theft, as well as dangerous housing and transportation, are still routine for many farmworkers. Conditions could be better if more immigrant farmworkers could obtain documented status and if they could gain greater access to attorneys to challenge illegal employment practices. In the meantime, the report notes that farmworkers could benefit from more vigorous enforcement of AWPA as well as regulatory and other improvements to the law itself.


The Public Welfare Foundation supports efforts to advance justice and opportunity for people in need. These efforts honor the Foundation’s core values of racial equity, economic well-being, and fundamental fairness for all. The Foundation looks for strategic points where its funds can make a significant difference and improve lives through policy and system reform that results in transformative change. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter or on Facebook.

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