ICYMI: In Senate Floor Speech, Padilla Calls for Labor Protections and Immigration Reform for Farm Workers￼
Speech follows Senator Padilla’s day in the field with farm workers in California
Calls on more Senators to participate in UFW “Take Our Jobs” Campaign
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, spoke on the Senate floor on his experience joining farm workers for a workday in the field, and called for action on labor protections and immigration reform. Padilla highlighted how farm workers strengthen our economy and urged more Senators to join the UFW “Take Our Jobs” campaign. Padilla also discussed his legislation to support farm workers, including the Fairness for Farm Workers Act which would support fair pay for agricultural workers and the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act.
- I learned how to pick radishes about three weeks ago, when I accepted an invitation from United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation to spend a day working alongside farm workers in California. I’ve said before that day in and day out, farm workers show up to some of the hardest jobs in America.
- They have labored through heat waves, storms, and wildfire smoke. Through a deadly global pandemic. They are the backbone of our economy, keeping grocery store shelves stocked and food on our tables. And yet, the majority of farm workers don’t have legal status to live or work here in the United States.
- Laws across the country leave farm workers in a position of uncertainty that few other employees have to face. If you miss a day, there’s no paid sick leave. If you’re injured on the job, you can’t get disability insurance. Living and working while undocumented means worrying constantly about your status.
- That’s why I introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act as my first bill in the U.S. Senate. We must move forward on a pathway to citizenship for the workers who we depend on… I’m also proud to introduce the Fairness for Farm Workers Act. This bill will support fair pay for agricultural workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- I was the first U.S. Senator to accept an invitation to work in the fields. My friend and colleague Senator Booker was the second. I urge you, and I urge each member of the Senate, to take this opportunity to work alongside the heroes who feed America. And then, let’s come back here, and let’s do our job. Let’s come together behind a solution so farm workers can finally live and work with dignity and without fear of deportation.
Senator Padilla is a strong advocate and leader on immigration reform. As Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Padilla has now led four hearings to highlight the urgency of taking action to fix our outdated and broken immigration system. Padilla’s first bill as a U.S. Senator was the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would create an expedited pathway to citizenship for the over 5 million essential workers, including farm workers, without permanent legal status. He is also an original cosponsor of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, legislation to overhaul the American immigration system, restore fairness and humanity to the system, strengthen families, boost our economy, and open a pathway to citizenship for millions. Earlier this month, Padilla introduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, legislation to update the nation’s labor laws to ensure farm workers receive fair wages and compensation.
Full video of Padilla’s speech can be viewed here.
A full transcript of Padilla’s remarks as delivered is below:
Mr. President, the first thing you need to know about picking radishes is that it is hard work. You have to work literally on your knees, and you pick each radish out of the ground by hand. No machines, no tools.
I learned how to pick radishes about three weeks ago, when I accepted an invitation from United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation to spend a day working alongside them in California.
I’ve said countless times that day in and day out, farm workers show up to some of the hardest jobs in America.
I’ve always believed that farm workers are essential.
But not until that day did I appreciate the physical demands of long hours on one’s knees under the sun.
Mr. President, many of the workers picking radishes are older than I am and have worked in the fields for decades.
They have labored through heat waves, through storms, wildfire smoke, and more.
They’ve labored through a global health pandemic.
They are the backbone of our economy, keeping food on our tables.
And yet, the majority of farm workers don’t have legal status to live or work here in the United States.
That includes those who I worked alongside picking radishes.
People like Efren, who has worked on American farms for more than 40 years, and Patricia, who has raised her children here.
Several told me that one of the hardest parts of being undocumented was being cut off from their families in Mexico and other countries.
Being denied the opportunity to see their mother or their father one last time before they passed away. Or to attend their funeral to pay their last respects.
Imagine that heartbreaking choice: never seeing your parents again because doing so means risking not being able to see your children again.
That is the fate that we are forcing on countless undocumented farm workers who fill our grocery stores with fruits and vegetables.
That is the choice we exacerbate every time we push immigration reform off for another month, another year, another session of Congress.
That is why we must pass legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for farm workers.
Mr. President, when you pick radishes, you get paid by the number of crates you fill.
It’s no surprise that I picked at a slower rate than the highly skilled and experienced farm workers who depend on speed to make their living.
Yet laws across the country leave farm workers in a position of uncertainty that few other workers have to face.
If you’re a farm worker, and you miss a day, there’s no paid sick leave.
If you’re a farm worker, and you’re injured on the job, you can’t get disability insurance.
Living and working while undocumented means worrying constantly about your status.
So when the Senate says that immigration reform can wait for another day, we are not seeing the people whose lives are at stake.
Isidro, Armando, Isabel.
Mr. President, as they pick radishes, these workers are not taking the jobs of American citizens. I repeat, they are not taking the jobs of American citizens.
In fact, the opposite is true. We don’t have enough farm workers to meet the demand.
Not just for radishes, but for countless other crops.
As different produce comes into season, growers need skilled labor on tight timelines.
Corporate leaders, small business owners, and economists agree—we need more immigrants, with more protections.
And the stakes for our economy are high.
Right now, American families are already suffering from high prices, not just at the gas pump but at the grocery store.
Our labor shortage is contributing to higher inflation. Over a trillion dollars of America’s GDP is linked to agriculture. All across the nation, we rely on immigrant farm workers.
In North Carolina, agriculture is the top industry, aided by tens of thousands of undocumented workers growing soybeans, corn, peanuts. In Idaho, agriculture accounts for 17 percent of economic output, including a booming dairy industry. Around ninety percent of Idaho’s dairy workers are foreign born, with the vast majority undocumented. In Texas, agriculture is worth more than 20 billion dollars each year. More than 100,000 immigrant workers, mostly undocumented, are employed on Texas’s ranches, farms, and fields.
I can go on and on, but I think the point is clear. This is truly a national issue. The majority of all farm workers lack legal status and growers say that more help is needed.
Congress can make a difference by passing the laws that farm workers need and deserve.
Our country can’t afford to wait.
That’s why as my first bill I introduced the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act as my first bill in the U.S. Senate.
The workers who keep us healthy, safe, and fed. The workers that we as a federal government have deemed essential. They deserve dignity. They deserve respect. They have earned a pathway to citizenship.
Today, I’m also proud to introduce the Fairness for Farm Workers Act.
This bill will support fair pay for agricultural workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Mr. President, in one day, I had just a small dose of the physically demanding life of farm workers.
Still, there’s so much more that I could tell you about the kind, funny, generous individuals who I worked alongside that day.
As we shared a lunch of homemade tortillas, beans, and carne con chiles, they told me about their hometowns that they miss, their favorite music, and their dreams for their children.
They also had one more message for me to deliver, that they implored me to deliver, to all of you: that you should come, too.
I was the first U.S. Senator to accept an invitation to work in the fields.
Last week, my friend and colleague Senator Booker was the second.
I urge you, and I urge each member of the Senate, to take this opportunity to work alongside the heroes who feed America.
And then, let’s come back here, as I have, humbled and inspired, to do our job.
Let’s come together behind a solution so farm workers can finally live and work with dignity and security. Thank you, Mr. President.