When the United States began its most stringent COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March, America’s food supply workers – from grocery store clerks to farmworkers quickly became some of the country’s most essential laborers.
Cabrini University alumna Meghan Hurley ’07, who has served at CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee in southern New Jersey since 2012, farmworkers were essential personnel long before COVID-19 gripped the globe. Of her work helping mobilize farmworkers in the CATA network to advocate for improved labor conditions before legislators in New Jersey and Washington, D.C., she said, “What we are seeing is not new, but just refocused.”
Hurley said that labor legislation has often excluded farmworkers, who are largely people of color and immigrants – including permanent residents and workers on temporary work visas or without documentation. This Cabrini alumna is advocating for at least six pieces of legislation in New Jersey that would provide some economic relief for undocumented immigrants and expand labor protections for farmworkers and many other essential workers, including increased sick days and the right to refuse work in unsafe conditions without fear of retaliation or termination.
“Right now, we are focused on the immediate needs of Latino working communities and pushing for better protections,” Hurley said.
“We call these workers essential but treat them as though they are expendable,” she said.
Hurley credits much of her passion for immigrant advocacy work to the experiences she had as a Cabrini undergraduate studying English and Communication. She said Jerry Zurek, PhD, Professor, English and Communications, had a particularly profound impact, helping Hurley foster a passion for social justice and advocacy. Need another photo
“Meghan’s work now for immigrant farmworkers should touch our conscience,” Zurek said. “These farmworkers don’t earn minimum wage and, if undocumented, haven’t received a penny in COVID-19 protection and relief. What Meghan does now is what Mother Cabrini would do if she were here today.”