Appalling conditions exposed at farmworker camps


South of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota farm workers harvest fruits and vegetables for some of the largest processors in the U.S., including Seneca Foods and Lakeside Foods. The food shows up in supermarkets under Green Giant, Birds Eye, and other labels.

In Montgomery, many workers live in the labor camp next to the Seneca Foods plant. Eight years ago, Centro Campesino, Minnesota's center for farm workers, helped Seneca workers force the company to provide better housing, and a kitchen where they could cook food. Before that, workers had to use the county park. In Faribault, Lakeside Foods has another big labor camp. There, Centro Campesino helped workers win a child-care center. Nevertheless, in both camps, privacy is at a premium, especially in bathrooms.

Other farm workers in the area live in trailer parks. Some in Montgomery say the rent on the trailers in one park doubles when the picking season begins and the workers arrive. In Faribault, immigration agents have held the workers prisoner in another trailer park, while they pounded on doors demanding papers.

It's hard to make ends meet for many trailer residents, many of whom come from Veracruz. Francisco Romero digs in his garden during his time off, and then puts in long hours in a local meatpacking plant. Patricia Vasquez has a hard time getting enough hours in the small factory where she works, and worries about whether her daughter Karen will be able to go on to college when she graduates from high school.

Centro Campesino organizes the workers in the trailer parks, according to its director Ernesto Velez, a native of Morelos. He says they've protested discrimination in towns like Owatonna, Montgomery, and Faribault. The center also administers a college access program designed to help the children of farm workers and immigrants get into college.

Photo: David Bacon/PW


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  • If you think this is bad you should see the appalling conditions of farmers trailers when they take them on PUBLIC ROADWAYS and their crappy trailers come loose and destroy lives and property. The State Of Michigan wants to MAKE THESE DANGEROUS FARM EQUIPMENT SIDE STEP ALL FEDERAL REGULATIONS!!!!

    Dear Mr. Muxlow...why do you mandate a back over camera that yes is even going to cost the farmer at least $400.00 so when he backs up his car he does not back over his own child but you let CRAPPY trailers and pick ups that destroy others.? You say you want to encourage business? Out of 240 Million vehicles backing over 272 people you are going to cost the auto companies $26.6 billion but yet you allow a homemade trailer that destroy others on PUBLIC ROADWAYS....With costs for the new regulation estimated at $2.7 billion a year or $200 per vehicle, that's $12 million per life saved if the regulation were 100 percent effective. Bloomberg Businessweek reports a more generous reduction in deaths, by 146 a year. But even then, the cost per life saved is still $18.5 million. That's almost five times the lifetime earnings of someone... with a professional degree, nine times the amount someone would earn with a bachelor's degree and fifteen times the amount someone would earn with just a high school diploma, based on data from 1999.

    The financial costs of this regulation would come in addition to the $1,300 per car from the Obama recent changes to the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) law; not to mention every local police department's favorite revenue generators, brake light and seat belt laws.

    Obviously people should be careful while driving, but all of these regulations add to the cost of production and ultimately make American-built cars less competitive. Besides that, Bloomberg reports that "back-up cameras are already a standard feature on 45 percent of 2012 passenger-car models, according to data compiled by, an auto-market research company," showing that voluntary enterprise was moving in this direction prior to the mandate. Furthermore, it's an inefficient solution:

    When the legislative session began last year, our No. 1 job was to create a climate in Michigan in which job creators could build their businesses. Through a variety of new laws and easing of restrictions and regulations, we have made significant headway in creating an environment where more jobs are available.

    I am honored to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, because agriculture is a key industry in both the state of Michigan as a whole and to the 83rd House District. The Thumb area also is home to many small businesses that must haul equipment over great distances.

    That’s why I am co-sponsoring House Bill 5228. This legislation recently gained passage in the House and was sent to the Senate.

    This bill exempts small-business vehicles from unnecessary federal regulations. This will not only be a boost for agriculture, it also will aid any small business that depends on the use of pickup trucks and trailers on a regular basis.

    Trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds currently are classified as commercial motor vehicles, and they are subject to federal regulations and inspection. State governments can exempt pickup trucks up to 26,000 pounds from the federal regulations under these conditions:

    • The vehicles only are driven within Michigan

    • The trucks do not transport hazardous materials

    • The vehicles do not transport 16 or more passengers

    This places Michigan farms and businesses at a severe disadvantage to those in neighboring states where the federal regulations have already been rescinded.

    For example, a Michigan farmer may have a three-quarter ton pickup truck and a livestock trailer for hauling livestock for sale. Under Michigan’s current definition, the vehicle combination is regulated as a commercial motor vehicle. If the same farmer was using the same pickup truck to haul a trainer for personal use, the regulation would not come into play.

    That’s simply not fair. That’s why I am supporting this measure to remove the unnecessary regulations that are hindering farmers and other job providers and level the playing field.

    This regulation could subject farmers to tedious roadside inspections which cut into planting or harvest time, vital periods of the year when time is of the essence. These hard-working taxpayers have enough to worry about without having concerns about regulatory burdens that could result in more expense.

    It’s time we let job creators put more people to work.

    I look forward to hearing your comments on these important issues and any other matters you consider high priorities. Please visit my website at for the latest information and updates or to sign up for my newsletter. You can also contact me at (517) 373-0835 or by email at

    State Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City, represents the 83rd House District.

    Posted by Ron Melancon, 04/16/2012 10:33am (3 years ago)

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