For most American workers, Worker’s Compensation is a basic right. If you are injured doing your job, you can file a claim. Not only do you have your medical care covered, but you can also claim for lost wages. Most states require employers to provide Worker’s Comp and have laws that ban employers from firing anyone who files for such claims. These programs are particularly important in labor-intensive industries, like construction, which often put workers in harm’s way.
Many people don’t realize that employers in some industries are completely exempt from providing full Worker’s Compensation. In many states, for example, seasonal farm workers are not entitled to such programs, even though they often work in dangerous conditions. The ugly truth, though, is that migrant workers are the ones who are worst-affected by such disparities in the law since they make up a huge chunk of the workforce in such industries.
Here are some reasons why it’s high time for the US to get its act together and provide full compensation to migrant workers.
Limited Compensation for Migrant Workers Is Unconstitutional
Well, that’s what New Mexico’s Supreme Court just decided in a case where two migrant farm workers were denied Worker’s Comp. Their injuries were pretty serious: One worker broke her wrist picking chilies, while another suffered a brain injury after being head-butted by a cow and falling on a concrete floor. However, because New Mexico had a Worker’s Comp Exemption for seasonal workers, these two workers got zilch. It’s not like their wages were very high to begin with — $1,200 to $2,000 a month for six-day weeks.
Thankfully, they filed lawsuits, and the New Mexico Supreme Court finally decided to end the Workers Comp exemption for New Mexican farms and ranches. Why? Simply because, as justice Edward Chavez deemed, they ran against the state constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.” The decision will benefit some 20,000 farm and ranch workers in New Mexico. That enraged New Mexico’s farm lobby, who said the decision would threaten the economic viability of farms in the state. But is that true?
Workers Comp Is Not a Huge Expense
Here’s the truth about Worker’s Comp: It’s cheap. Most employers spend slightly above one percent of their costs on such forms of compensation. It rises to around four percent in certain industries where injuries are far more common, like construction. Still, one to four percent is not a huge amount to be paying when it comes to your workers’ well-being.
The real reason so many employers don’t want to pay compensation for migrant workers is simply because it’s one more expense in industries dependent upon exploiting cheap labor. That doesn’t mean those workers don’t deserve more rights, though. Why should a white construction worker get paid medical leave if a beam falls on him when brown migrant workers don’t get squat for similar accidents?
Some Migrant-Dependent Industries Get Big Money From Taxpayers
Big farmers and ranchers will never stop complaining about how precarious their industries are, but it’s estimated that big agriculture in the US gets about $20 billion a year in direct federal subsidies. Almost no other industry gets such high levels of direct government support. Given how much taxpayers fork out for these guys every year, why should they be exempt from giving their workers a minimum of basic coverage?
In the end, migrant workers are workers all the same, and they deserve the exact same compensation other workers enjoy. Creating legal loopholes where they don’t receive such benefits is not only immoral, it also gives employers a warped incentive to hire more migrants, or even undocumented workers. This ensures they can keep exploiting workers while spending the least amount of money possible.
It’s the 21st century now, and it’s about time that all workers — regardless of skin color or national origin — are treated equally in the United States.