Photographs by Caitlin Bearden
Four speakers at FAN’s Day of the Dead event on Saturday, November 2, testified to the dangerous conditions in North Carolina farm and processing work and called on legislators and enforcement agencies to enact better conditions for workers. Speakers and supporters gathered in front of a Day of the Dead altar at El Centro Restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
Two workers who had traveled from Morganton to speak testified to the dangerous line speed in poultry processing plants, where workers are currently required to process up to 45 chickens per minute. Besides being dangerous, workers recounted that they are not treated with even a basic modicum of dignity; both poultry workers spoke of not being allowed to use the bathroom, even testifying to a case where a pregnant woman was not permitted to use the bathroom and was humiliated by supervisors and nearly fired.
Bacilio Castro, a former poultry worker who is now an organizer with the Western NC Workers’ Center, called on people to make the connection between working conditions and immigration reform. He encouraged those present to contact their congresspeople, since comprehensive immigration reform would allow workers to come out of the shadows and work legally, enabling them to report dangerous conditions without fear of being deported. Clermont Ripley of the NC Justice Center signaled the necessity of better enforcement of existing laws, calling on enforcement agencies to do their part to protect farmworkers in the state.
Volunteers from the audience read obituaries of three North Carolina farmworkers who have died in the last two years, and Nancy Petty, a religious leader from Raleigh, concluded the event with a prayer by Cesar Chavez:
Show me the suffering of the most miserable;
So I will know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others;
For you are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my own life;
So that I can feel free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others;
For in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience;
So that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration;
So that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow;
So that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice;
For they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us;
So we can change the world.
1. Take a minute to like FAN on Facebook and post a comment about these issues. For example: 'I'm outraged that lies and money got in the way of protecting farmworker kids. It's time for Labor Commissioner Berry to stop shirking responsibilities and catering to her special interest groups instead of her real consitutency: workers'. --Emily Drakage, Raleigh, NC
2. Host a short film screening at your church, community organization, or neighborhood pub. We have lots of great films available includingHarvest of Dignity, Our Forgotten Neighbors, and Uprooted Innocence.
3. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. These letters really matter - lawmakers take them very seriously. Here's a recent example from the Raleigh News & Observer and here's a toolkit to get you started.