At the table or on the menu
My dad once told me that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Never has that sentiment been more true than it is today in agriculture.
I listened to Sen. Jessie Danielson (D- Wheat Ridge) yesterday offer passionate pleas to her fellow Senators, urging them to vote for her Farm Workers Bill of Rights. Though none of the worker testimony she referred to was heard by members of the Senate agriculture committee because it was assigned to the Business and Labor committee, she drew a clear picture of agriculture employers.
She spoke passionately about the fierce retaliation ag workers experience if they dare complain about the back-breaking work, extreme weather conditions, and pay that is often $2 or $3 per hour. She spoke about farm workers experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Business and Labor committee members saw photos of farms surrounded by razor wire fences, not allowed to leave or receive medical care or supplies.
She spoke about her upbringing on a Weld County farm, insisting that she is a credible expert on the industry. It was, to the common observer, quite a show.
Few pieces of legislation dealing with the state’s multi-billion-dollar ag industry have been wrought with so many unintended consequences. Sen. Don Coram, a 73-year-old lifelong producer from Montrose didn’t let his voice shake with anger when he told his fellow Senators that he would take the producers behaving as she described to the U.S. Attorney himself for prosecution.
As Danielson pointed out, again and again, all the changes made to appease ag employers, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg from Sterling didn’t remind her that they didn’t have a seat at the table to begin with when this bill was written and introduced without a peep.
There’s not an industry that doesn’t have some members who won’t do the right thing whether people are looking or not. I agree with Danielson that employees need to be treated well, but I can’t imagine that marring and smearing the reputation of agriculture employers across the state from behind her podium is any type of fair treatment to the many quality ag employers in the state.
Colorado agriculture is incredibly diverse, and no one knows that better than The Fence Post Magazine readers. One size fits all legislation doesn’t work. Allowing Front Range voters to vote on feel good legislation without understanding the unintended consequences doesn’t work. Bruce Talbott, a peach producer from Palisade, did the math and knows how much money this legislation will take out of the pockets of his work force.
Today in agriculture, we’re facing down activist-driven ballot measures and the consequences of bills drafted without the expertise of those who will be most affected. No matter which commodity you grow, organization you pay dues to, production method you subscribe to, love or hate the check off, or corner of the state you call home, you must pull up a seat at the table.
If the industry continues to bicker among themselves or assume something damaging won’t affect them, or just plain ignore politics, there will be no seats at that table and there certainly won’t be any food on it either.
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