A Long Struggle: Mexican Farmworkers in Idaho, 1918-1935

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Contribution to Books

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On Mar. 27, 2002, student activist and farmworker Leo Morales watched Idaho's Governor, Dirk Kempthorne, sign Senate Bill No. 1289—the Farm Labor Contractor Registration and Bonding Act—into law. "Defeated in 1995, 2000, and 2001, the bill picks up where the farmworker minimum wage struggle left off," Morales wrote in an Idaho Statesman guest editorial. The new piece of legislation would address "the problem of farmworkers being cheated out of wages by unscrupulous farm labor contractors." The minimum wage struggle to which Morales referred in his editorial had been won the year before after bitter, hard-fought battles waged over the course of four years. The minimum wage law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2002, extended the federal minimum wage (at the time, $5.15 per hour) to farmworkers in Idaho. There were exceptions—children younger than sixteen working with their parents during harvests, workers on cattle and sheep ranches, and seasonal harvesters living locally and spending less than thirteen weeks in farm labor. However, advocates of the bill estimated that about 95 percent of the state's farmworkers, most of Mexican heritage, would be covered. While labor activists (like Leo Morales, Adán Ramírez of Idaho Community Action Network, and Humberto Fuentes, then director of the Idaho Migrant Council), celebrated with Gov. Kempthorne as he signed the minimum wage bill into law at a Wilder farm labor housing complex on Mar. 22, 2001, they stressed the need for all farmworkers to be included.

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