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Rep. Joaquin Castro has suggested longtime farmworker advocate Arturo Rodríguez to be the next Sec. of Agriculture. Photo: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
Rep. Joaquin Castro has suggested longtime farmworker advocate Arturo Rodríguez to be the next Sec. of Agriculture. Photo: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Joaquin Castro recommends Arturo Rodríguez as next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Who is keeping the country fed during a pandemic? That’s right, Latinos. 

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Latinos are at least 83% of the nation’s farm workers, yet are only around 3% of the nation’s farm owners. 

There has never been a Latino Secretary of Agriculture, but in a recent op-ed, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) says the time is now for America to “step up” for essential workers that have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And there is no better way for the next president to express our nation’s thanks to farmworkers than by including them in the Biden-Harris administration,” Castro wrote. 

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, of which Castro is chair,  is urging President-elect Joe Biden to nominate Arturo S. Rodríguez, the former president of the United Farm Workers, as the next Secretary of Agriculture.

Rodríguez became president of the United Farm Workers after his father-in-law, farmworker leader, activist, and icon, César Chávez, died in 1993. 

Under his leadership, he helped farmworkers obtain contracts, farmworker wages in California rose, and his union also sponsored a state law that in 2019, guaranteed that California farm workers overtime pay. Rodríguez also led a fight for stricter workplace protections for farm workers amid heatstroke fears in 2005. .

Rodriguez’s allies say his experience in expanding union membership among workers and negotiating agreements with agricultural and farm groups that are historically against labor interests make him an ideal candidate for the position. 

On the other side, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested Biden should select a more moderate Democrat from the Midwest as next Agriculture secretary.  

“I realize this might hurt their chances but if Biden becomes pres he should select an Iowan or Heidi Heitkamp or [Rep.] Collin Peterson [D-Minn.] to be Ag Secretary,” Grassley wrote on Twitter, adding his picks would represent Midwest farmers, appeasing a divided Congress.

But such an appointment would not represent the majority of farmworkers, who especially in 2020, were disproportionately exposed to the inequities within the U.S.

“Despite all the progress the farmworker movement has made, much remains to be done. Covid-19 has exposed that farmworkers still have few rights and protections,” Castro continued in his Op-ed. 

To Castro and supporters, the majority of farmworkers are lacking representation, protections, and leadership.

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