Farmworkers and the Struggle for Humane Working Conditions

The history of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is closely tied to the rights of the farmworker movement. In the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy joined Cesar Chavez and over 6,000 migrant workers in Delano, California, to fight for improved compensation, education, legal protections, and other human rights. Decades later, Ethel Kennedy joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Florida to fight for the rights of agricultural workers who had long faced physical and sexual abuse while working for less than the minimum wage.

That work continues today and is explored in the lesson plan “Farmworkers and the Struggle for Humane Working Conditions,” through the lens of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta and Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) member Lucas Benitez. Students explore, compare, and contrast the specific issues, desired outcomes, tactics, and events associated with the two defenders before considering how they may contribute their own skills, passions, and strengths to increase and protect farmworkers rights. Students “become a defender” by transferring this knowledge to contextualize key issues affecting farmworkers today, considering how they can spend money more ethically and advocate for farmworkers’ rights on a national level.

Dolores Huerta is a labor leader, community organizer, and icon in pursuit of civil rights for all. In her nineties, she shows no sign of stopping. Dolores continues to work tirelessly on so many fronts — speaking to students and organizations; advocating for the working poor, women, and children; and traveling the country engaging in campaigns and influencing legislation — all to support equality and defend civil rights.

Lucas Benitez is a farmworker, front-line organizer, and CIW member. He’s a leader in the fight to end slave labor, human trafficking, and exploitation in the agricultural fields of America — restoring dignity to working lives.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates. Classes may choose to utilize RFK Human Rights resources, including Dolores Huerta’s Ripple of Hope Acceptance Speech or material on the CIW. This lesson is an excellent complement to the Lucas Benitez lesson.