Essential Services for Colorado’s Farmworkers

Essential Services for Colorado’s Farmworkers

Everyone should be able to work with dignity and access resources that better their working conditions and lives. However, agribusiness interests have threatened Colorado farmworkers’ right to access essential services where they work.

Agricultural workers tend to be isolated and work long hours. Many live in employer-owned housing or migrant labor camps on or near the farm or range where they work, far from nearby towns or services. This makes it difficult for farmworkers to access essential service providers like doctors, teachers, clergy members, community aid workers, and attorneys, creating obstacles to a basic quality of life.  

A 2021 Colorado farmworker rights bill ensures that farmworkers can access these essential service providers free from interference by their employers. But agricultural employers and agribusiness interests have filed two lawsuits seeking to invalidate that right, arguing that workers’ access to essential services violates employers’ property rights. FarmSTAND, Towards Justice, and Farmworker Justice represented Colorado Legal Services in intervening in the suits, to defend the constitutionality and enforceability of the challenged provisions. Colorado Legal Services Migrant Farm Worker Division also represents an anonymous, individual farmworker in the same legal actions.  

After our intervention in the first case, the agribusinesses dismissed their lawsuit. But a Colorado livestock industry group soon after filed a new legal challenge mirroring the first, prompting the coalition’s renewed effort to defend the law’s vital protections. 

Without the provisions in the farmworker bill of rights, farmworkers were—and would be—denied access to basic services. For example, the anonymous farmworker missed school programs, meetings with teachers, and visits to the doctor because she could neither leave work on her break nor invite her doctor or her child’s teachers to visit her where she lives. Colorado Legal Services, which provides legal services to agricultural workers on issues including wage theft, workplace safety, human trafficking, sexual harassment, and immigration, has historically faced challenges, and even threats of violence, when accessing or attempting to reach migrant workers at labor camps. 

On May 10, 2024, Judge Martin F. Egelhoff’s ruling dismissed the second legal challenge on the basis that members of the Colorado Livestock Association did not have standing to bring the suit. On June 26, 2024, the Colorado Livestock Association appealed the ruling. 

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