In 2012 Friends of Farmworkers (now Justice at Work) launched the Voces de Trabajadoras/Voices of Women at Work (Voces) project. Voces addresses the need for targeted outreach to working women who are often more vulnerable to workplace abuses and exploitation.
Over the last three years we implemented specialized outreach methods to bring vital information to women in their own communities and in their own language, simultaneously expanding JAW's capacity to provide essential legal and support services.
JAW's outreach method centers around pláticas, or “chats,”: small meetings that provide women with the opportunity to learn from JAW and from their friends and coworkers and to comfortably share their own experiences. Hearing stories similar to their own normalizes their experiences and helps women more clearly place the blame where it belongs: on those who are exploiting and harassing them. This initiative empowers these women to resolve problems in the workplace, resulting in improved employment prospects and increased economic stability and freedom.
JAW has successfully represented many immigrant women who have experienced discrimination, sexual harassment, rape, intimidation and other horrific workplace abuses, recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars on their behalves and working to obtain immigration relief for them when necessary. For our work representing female agricultural workers, we have been honored by the EEOC as “Champions of Equal Employment Opportunity.”
Women working in the agricultural sector in the Philadelphia area, most of whom are Latina immigrants, disproportionately suffer from wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. These abuses and violations of the law go largely unchallenged because of a lack of relevant services in the counties surrounding Philadelphia, a lack of access to information about their rights, and fear of retaliation and immigration consequences. These significant job-related problems keep these women in poverty, exposing them and their children to unnecessary financial and psychological hardships.
A groundbreaking study of Iowa meatpacking plants revealed that over 80% of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, over 40% experienced unwanted physical contact, and over 25% had been threatened with being fired or demoted if they resisted a harasser’s sexual advances. Rape and threat of rape from male bosses or coworkers are common enough that most women in meatpacking live in constant fear.
Our experience reflects the Iowa data in suggesting that women working in Pennsylvania’s agricultural sector are exploited and assaulted at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the greater Philadelphia area is home to many industries that employ a large number of female immigrants in low-paying jobs, including Kennett Square, the world capital of mushroom production, and significant portions of both the 400+ meat processing plants in the state and the plant nursery industry.