Colorado Senator Jessie Danielson has strong admiration for the farm workers who do back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work to get food to our table. With deep roots in Colorado agriculture, Sen. Danielson has seen firsthand how hard farm workers work and yet they aren’t afforded some of the basic protections provided to people working in other sectors.
Sen. Danielson’s father and grandfather both were farmers who raised lambs, hogs and beef. They also grew all of the feed for the livestock where they farmed in Ault, Colorado. Growing up, she was very aware of the struggles farm workers faced. The Chicano movement got its start in Colorado and Sen. Danielson remembers learning the stories of the incredible work of labor leaders, such as Ceasar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Jose Calderon, who went to school with her father.
The people who do these jobs work long hours with very few if any protections. “Yet agriculture workers have been carved out of labor laws and are not afforded the same protections as workers in any other industry—protections that I consider to be basic human rights.” Sen. Danielson says.
Last year, a coalition of nearly 90 labor, environment, beginning farmer, and immigrant-rights organizations came together to advocate for a bill that would raise farm workers’ wages up to minimum wage, provide overtime pay if they work more than 12 hours per day or over 40 hours per week and allow agriculture workers the right to unionize.
When Sen. Danielson heard about the draft bill language and that the coalition was looking for a bill sponsor; she knew she wanted to be a partner in the effort.
SB 87 would grant farm workers basic rights and protections such as overtime, breaks for meals, and the right to form a union. Thanks to its common sense, basic rights protections, the bill has gotten traction and is moving through the senate. Some 24 other states already have farmworker protection laws on the books, but currently Colorado has none.
In the 2021 session several other states moved to increase farm workers rights including Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts. Most recently Washington state passed a bill granting overtime pay to agricultural workers, a right they have not had access to since 1938. The bill passed with significant bi-partisan support and was supported by President Biden.
Sen. Danielson believes that the outlook for SB 87 is good. It will likely pass the Senate this week and if it passes, will head the house next week. There is a path forward in the House and the bill, with amendments, will likely make it to the Governor’s desk for a signature.
Last week, Sen. Danielson got a nice surprise when civil rights legend Dolores Huerta, who co-founded United Farm Workers with Ceasar Chavez, weighed in on her bill and in a video, asked the Colorado legislature to pass SB 87. The video further energized Sen. Danielson and she is as committed as ever to do what she can to improve the lives of farm workers.
.@DoloresHuerta, co-founder of UFW (@UFWupdates) with Cesar Chavez, calls on @GovofCO and all #coleg members to support #SB87: "It is time that we recognize them and respect them by giving them these basic human rights. We can do it! ¡Sí se puede!" #AgWorkersRights #copolitics pic.twitter.com/OtWPVd8n54
— Sen. Jessie Danielson (@JessieDanielson) May 5, 2021
“It’s time we do right by the people who put food on our table. They do the back breaking labor and those employers are able to skirt minimum wage law and profit off of the backs of those workers. When all workers have access to standard protections it makes our economy and communities stronger.”
The legislator: Senator Jessie Danielson; represents Colorado’s District 20; Been serving in the legislature since 2015.
Advice to other legislators: “Be bold. Take a stand. Do what’s right for the people you serve. The public supports and embraces you.”