This year we have witnessed hundreds of women survivors who have detailed workplace abuse that infect all industries throughout the United States. Their supporters have marched in the streets, donned ribbons and changed the political and social landscape of our country. But what about women in the workforce who are less visible? The five-county Philadelphia area is home to thousands of low-wage workers, documented and undocumented, who are victims of injustice without having the means by which to resist. That is why Impact100 Philadelphia awarded Friends of Farmworkers a $100,000 grant in 2014: to expand the the Voces de Trabajadoras/Voices of Women at Work Project to help women combat workplace abuse including discrimination, sexual harassment and assault.
Meredith Rapkin, executive director of Friends of Farmworkers, reports that increasing numbers of Pennsylvania women are fighting back. As a result of our grant, more women are stepping forward, but it is still a challenge to reach a population that has been pushed to the margins of our society, and who are often overwhelmed by the daily responsibilities of keeping their families together, putting food on the table and maintaining a place to call home. Outreach is key. Friends of Farmworkers promotes flexible hours and locations so their constituents can be accommodated on weekends and evenings. The group is committed to meeting women where they live. Friends of Farmworkers removes as many of the logistical obstacles that protect predators and serve as barriers to justice for the most disenfranchised among us.
One of the most creative initiatives has been the partnership the organization has forged with Puentes de Salud, a medical clinic in Philadelphia, which serves the rapidly growing immigrant population by providing access to high quality health care. Friends of Farmworkers staffs a “clinic within a clinic” so that women seeking healthcare can also receive information about their rights in the workplace. Conditions and circumstances may be horrific. Rapkin details the story of a recent client who moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 17 years old to work in a factory in Philadelphia. She lived in a space above the factory floor with the other three workers. They slept on bare mattresses on the floor. They had no heat in the winter and bathed with a bucket and hose. She worked more than 72 hours each week but was paid only $200. Her employer promised her they would help her get a green card, so she kept working. They never helped her get legal status. When her employer sold the business, she was passed along to a relative of the factory owner to work in the restaurant he owned. At the restaurant she suffered regular sexual harassment and finally got away after an attempted assault by the owner. After meeting Friends of Farmworker staff through their partnership with Puentes de Salud, this woman has applied for lawful immigration status and has been connected to specialized social service providers who work with victims of labor trafficking. Attorneys are currently working with her to try to recover at least some of the unpaid wages and damages she is owed.
Impact100 Philadelphia’s most successful grant recipients have leveraged the funds we provide to expand their services, and Friends of Farmworkers is no exception. The pilot project funded by our 2014 grant led to a Department of Justice grant to combat violence against women throughout Pennsylvania and a multi-year Barra Foundation award.
Although their capabilities have blossomed, Friends of Farmworkers recognizes that the need for their services has also grown exponentially. Current events may have just thrust this issue into the national consciousness, but Friends of Farmworkers has helped women fight back for more than 30 years. Their mission and remarkable success has become part of the national discussion. They are truly leaders in their field and a credit to our community.
If you are interested in learning more about Friends of Farmworkers, click here: https://www.friendsfw.org/ Please note, the organization always needs bilingual volunteers.
If you are interested in learning more about Puentes de Salud, including the recognition they received through a recent HBO documentary, click here http://www.puentesdesalud.org/