Essential Services for Colorado’s Farmworkers

Essential Services for Colorado’s Farmworkers

Everyone should be able to work with dignity and access resources that better their working conditions and lives. However, Colorado farmworkers’ right to access essential services where they work and live is being threatened.

Agricultural workers tend to be isolated – culturally, geographically, and linguistically. They often live in remote areas with minimal access to transportation and reside in rural communities where few resources are in languages other than English. Many live in employer-owned housing or migrant labor camps on or near the farm where they work, far from nearby towns or services. Sheepherders in Colorado, for example, work in the mountains and endure unreliable cell service and extreme weather conditions for long stretches of time. This makes it difficult for farmworkers to access essential service providers like doctors, teachers, clergy members, bank tellers, and attorneys, creating obstacles to a basic quality of life.

A 2021 Colorado farmworker rights bill ensures, among other provisions, that farmworkers can access these essential service providers. But several agricultural employers have filed a lawsuit challenging that right, arguing that workers’ access to essential services violates employers’ property rights. On behalf of Colorado Legal Services, Public Justice, Towards Justice, and Farmworker Justice intervened in the lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of the provisions ensuring access to vital services for farmworkers. Colorado Legal Services Migrant Farm Worker Division is representing an anonymous, individual farmworker in the same legal action.

The provisions in the farmworker bill of rights must be upheld, or else farmworkers will continue to be denied access to basic services. For example, the anonymous farmworker missed school programs, meetings with teachers, and visits to the doctor because she could neither leave work on her break nor invite her doctor or her child’s teachers to visit her where she lives. CLS, which provides legal services to agricultural workers in Colorado on issues including wage theft, workplace safety, human trafficking, sexual harassment, and immigration, has historically faced challenges accessing migrant workers at labor camps. The 2021 law has major implications for CLS being able to support Colorado farmworkers. But since the challenge to the law, agricultural employers have denied CLS staff access to workers at labor camps and intimidated them with guns.

Farmworkers – like all workers – should be able to access the basic services that improve quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Public Justice is proud to defend the constitutionality of the provisions that protect this basic right for Colorado farmworkers.

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