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Organic Consumers Association

Frequently Asked Questions about OCA's Whole Food's Campaign

  • Organic Consumers Associatioiin, 10/7/08

Why is the OCA getting involved in lab or issues?

OCA believes that a healthy and sustainable food system depends on respect for the workers, animals and the environment. Unfortunately, labor laws in the United States do very little to protect the nation's two million farm workers, some of the most exploited and vulnerable members of our society.

Much of the "natural" and organic food produced in the United States, particularly in the West, is produced on corporate factory farms, employing farm workers. "Country Natural Beef" comes out of feedlot in Boardman, Oregon, where pasture raised cattle are fattened up before being sent to the slaughterhouse. The majority of workers at this facility (as well as two other feedlots owned by the same company, Beef Northwest) have signed union cards indicating they want the company to enter into contract negotiations with the United Farm Workers. For the past two years Beef Northwest has stubbornly refused to enter into contract negotiations, despite pleas from the workers, the OCA, and high-profile political leaders including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

OCA is member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and subscribes to the vision that a "holistic approach of Organic Agriculture also includes principles, which are related to benefits for human beings: farmers, workers, traders, retailers, all should be part of a fair process, which allows everybody to survive in 'good' conditions"

Aren't farm labor standards already regulated by the federal and state governments?

Yes and no. First, the USDA Organic Certification does not address labor conditions.

Second, US labor law excludes and/or exempts agriculture labor (farm workers) from many of the key protections that other industries enjoy, like minimum wage, overtime pay, and the minimum age for farm worker children (currently 12). Even the United State's own General Accounting Office found that " farm workers are not adequately protected by federal laws, regulations, and programs; therefore, their health and well-being are at risk."

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was signed into law in 1935 at time when the country was dominated by small-scale family farms. Now, with the majority of the nation's food supply coming from factory farms, and not family farms. The NLRA is grossly out of date for farm workers, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency tasked with administering NLRA, is at present an inadequate forum for protecting workers rights.

  What is the Employee Free Choice Act?

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) respects that the right to join a union is a fundamental freedom, just like freedom of speech or religion, and that employees should be able to do so without interference from management.

 * Majority Rules: Under EFCA, if a majority of all employees sign cards indicating support for a union the employer is required to recognize the union so long as the workers' choice is certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The current process is not working because of a dramatic rise in coercive and hostile action by employers against employees trying to unionize.

 * Fair Resolution of Contract Disputes: When workers decide they want to be represented by a union, employers can drag out the contract negotiation process for years. EFCA creates a fair process for resolving contract disputes.

 * Strong Remedies to Protect Workers' Rights: Currently, employers face only minimal penalties if they violate employees' rights who are trying to form a union -- essentially a minor cost of doing business. EFCA would level the playing field by requiring the NLRB to take legal action to reinstate workers fired for union activity

Wha t about Fair Trade?

Though there are currently several domestic Fair Trade initiatives in the works, of which the OCA is collaborating, these initiatives are still several years away from implementation. While the OCA commends these important efforts, the plight of farm workers needs to be addressed immediately.

Why Unions?

Over the years, Unions have fought and organized in support of workers rights, often creating laws and policies as a result of their efforts. For example, thanks to the UFW's work, they were able to win the first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, protective clothing against pesticide exposure, banning pesticide straying while workers are in the fields, outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides, lengthening pesticide re-entry periods beyond state and federal standards, and requiring the testing of farm workers on a regular basis to monitor for pesticide exposure.

OCA believes that Unions, like the United Farm Workers, represent one of the few ways that workers can organize and advocate for worker justice in a system rife with abuse and exploitation. Organizations like the UFW, can not only improve workplace safety, offer representation and increase wages, but also provide retirement benefits, credit and educational opportunities.

Why Whole Foods?

Whole Foods is the nation's largest single buyer of Country Natural Beef, and could play a major role in positively influencing the ongoing union drive at Beef Northwest.

Whole Foods also recently signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)support the CIW's "penny-per-pound" approach for tomatoes purchased from Florida.

According to CIW and Whole Food's September 9th press release, "Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company's existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment."

What about the Farm Workers?


Migrant and seasonal farmworkers represent some of the most economically disadvantaged people in the United States. According to the most recent findings of the National Agriculture Workers Survey (NAWS), nearly three-quarters of U.S. farmworkers earn less than $10,000 per year and three out of five farmworker families have incomes below the poverty level.

Farm work is the second lowest paid job in the US (after domestic labor).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, farm workers consistently ranks in the top ten of most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Many farm workers are undocumented and particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace. 


Migrant and seasonal farmworkers represent some of the most economically disadvantaged people in the United States. According to the most recent findings of the National Agriculture Workers Survey (NAWS), nearly three-quarters of U.S. farmworkers earn less than $10,000 per year and three out of five farmworker families have incomes below the poverty level.

Farm work is the second lowest paid job in the US (after domestic labor).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, farm workers consistently ranks in the top ten of most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Many farm workers are undocumented and particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.

For more information on this topic or related issues you can search the thousands of archived articles on the OCA website using keywords: