Pay our interns
(NEW YORK) – On hot days, some exceeding 100 degrees, workers spend hours harvesting fruits and vegetables for very little money – produce that ends up on the kitchen tables of people across the country.
Tens of thousands of these workers suffered heat-related injuries and hundreds more died from them, while earning an average of $25,000 to $29,999 a year in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, found the Economic Policy Institute.
Workers, the majority of whom are Latino and undocumented, are in a constant battle for fair and safe work practices.
However, the workers’ rights movement transcends industries, even though it may look quite different to others.
And in local and federal government agencies, interns have been at the center of a debate about unpaid work.
Only recently have some government offices started paying for their interns, creating a new avenue for people from low-income households to support themselves while gaining basic political and political experience. .
Pay Our Interns, created and led by two Latinos, fueled this change through their advocacy on Capitol Hill.
Latinos have been a major force in the workers’ rights movement for decades, with icons such as Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and Emma Tenayuca leading the struggle.
Farm workers harness the power of collective organization
On August 3, farmworkers began a 24-day, 535-mile “Governor’s Sign-On March” to urge California Governor Gavin Newsom to sign a farmworker’s rights bill.
The bill would make it easier for workers to vote for a union, without intimidation from supervisors, foremen and subcontractors. Farm workers say the vote, as it currently stands, discourages participation in union efforts.
“Currently the only way to do this is in person, at the employer’s premises, where supervisors look over their shoulders, where they engage security, where in many cases immigration has been called and farm workers were kicked out,” said Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers union.
However, Newsom expressed concerns about the bill.
“We cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks essential provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon told CalMatters.
Farmworkers face harsh working conditions, including low wages, unsafe conditions, and very few, if any, protections against abuse or wrongdoing.
Romero, who heads the organization, says many undocumented workers pay taxes but cannot collect Social Security and cannot retire. Some have to work long hours for years past the average retirement age.
“They work and feed us all,” Romero said.
She continued, “They move from culture to culture, moving their children from town to town so they can support their families. And if we knew that, we’d all be willing to pay a little more for our food, just so these people would get the respect, dignity, and pay they deserve.
Without them, she says, we wouldn’t have food on our tables.
Romero urges people to know where they buy their food, how workers are represented and how they are protected. She said the fight for fair labor practices should not stop and end with farm workers themselves. She said their union struggle is a collective struggle.
“It’s not just manual labor,” she said. “They are professionals who know exactly what to do when dealing with different cultures.”
Fighting for fair working conditions in the office
“Our society has become too accustomed to unpaid work,” says Carlos Mark Vera, co-founder of Pay Our Interns.
He and Guillermo Creamer Jr. started the group to end unpaid work primarily in the public service space. Prior to 2017, Pay Our Interns found that only 10% of congressional interns were paid.
The organization has since worked with Congress to allocate $48 million to lawmakers to pay for their interns.
“Since then that fund has actually grown every year, which is unprecedented, you know, programs don’t usually grow that quickly,” Vera said. “Now that Congress has invested in this, and they are very supportive of this, we have benefited from it for others. So last year we got funding for White House interns, State Department interns for the first time in history.
Unpaid internships push low-income or financially challenged students out of the race to gain experience.
Unpaid internships often force students to choose between finding a job that pays their bills or paying for an internship with their own funds — since Vera says internship expenses like travel or supplies often come from the intern’s wallet.
This primarily affects black and brown students and makes it harder for some students to enter certain fields if only unpaid internships are available.
“How do you grow wealth in this country? Often it is just a matter of getting in through professional channels. But when there’s a price to participating in these opportunities… We know a lot of black and brown families can’t afford to do that,” Creamer said.
They say they were raised in a culture where people had to “pay their dues” through unpaid work. However, they say the culture is changing and people are learning that their work should be valued at all levels.
Vera’s own sister, a sophomore at university, was interviewing for an internship when she asked if he was paid – and the employer said no.
She explained that her brother had an organization dedicated to eradicating unpaid work and declined the opportunity.
“They call the next day, and they’re like, ‘Okay, how about $18 an hour?'” Vera said, praising her sister for standing up for herself.
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