People have cultivated the land now known as New Mexico for millennia. Throughout the last century, however, state law has denied important protections to agricultural workers and thereby contributed to the creation of an agrarian working class that is especially vulnerable to political majorities and powerful interests. For example, the New Mexico legislature explicitly exempted certain farm workers from the Workers’ Compensation Act in 1937, and from the Minimum Wage Act in 1966. Nationally, farm workers have faced exclusion from various labor, health, and safety laws. Consequently, farm workers have enjoyed few legal safeguards against the risk of injury and ubiquitous exploitative labor practices. To frame discussion of this issue, this Comment first briefly explores the historical rationale for exempting agricultural workers from labor laws nationwide. Then, it shifts its focus to New Mexico law, examining Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy, a landmark case that extended mandatory workers’ compensation benefits for farm and ranch laborers. In Rodriguez, the New Mexico Supreme Court determined that exempting certain farm workers from the Workers’ Compensation Act violated the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution. This Comment argues that the New Mexico Constitution provides similar avenues to overturn minimum wage exemptions for dairy and piecework laborers by following the rationale of Rodriguez. Finally, regardless of how courts consider challenges to the Minimum Wage Act, the legislature should reconsider these antiquated agricultural exemptions. Recent state legislation—in parallel areas of law—provides further support for extending statutory protections to farm workers.
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Surviving the Field: Providing the Bare Minimum for Farmworkers in New Mexico,
N.M. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/nmlr/vol52/iss1/7