Providing Key Protections for Agricultural Workers (Colorado)

Bill Would Help Protect Colorado’s Tens of Thousands of Farm Workers

Helps protect Colorado’s tens of thousands of farm workers by establishing whistleblower protections, fairer compensation for labor, and protections other workers already access through Colorado’s Labor Peace Act


June 29, 2021

Work Type




Humans and animals are each exploited for profit in industrial agriculture, often by enormous, multinational corporations. Farm workers — many of whom are members of vulnerable populations — earn poverty wages to perform dangerous and traumatic jobs. Improved conditions for and treatment of workers and animals are interconnected.

An Act Concerning Agricultural Workers’ Rights ( SB 87) would help protect Colorado’s tens of thousands of farm workers by establishing whistleblower protections, fairer compensation for labor, and protections other workers already access through Colorado’s Labor Peace Act. On June 25, 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed this legislation into law, effective immediately.

Farm workers in animal agriculture are exposed to serious health threats, including viruses like the bird flu and swine flu, as well as drug resistant bacteria. Bacteria — such as salmonella, E. coli, and staph — can jump from confined animals to workers, causing Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other difficult-to-treat infections. Farm workers in industrial animal agriculture also often breathe air permeated with noxious gases including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and with particulate matter — tiny particles made up of dried manure, bedding materials, animal dander, and chicken and turkey feathers — that can cause or contribute to several respiratory diseases.

In these hazardous environments, workers must perform jobs that are themselves dangerous, such as moving stressed and aggressive animals or performing amputations without anesthesia, and killing animals by crude means, such as manual blunt force trauma (e.g., slamming piglets’ heads on the floor or wall). On top of this, when emergencies occur — like the COVID-19 pandemic — slaughterhouses may slow down and halt processing, and farm workers may be forced to quickly kill and dispose of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of animals in environments that were never meant for such mass slaughter. Having to engage in these large-scale cruelties day after day, in dangerous and dirty environments, exacts a steep physical and psychological toll on farm workers.

This legislation will help establish important protections, benefiting both workers and animals.

“Colorado’s agricultural workers have been exploited for far too long in this state, and it’s well beyond time for us to provide them with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Senator Jessie Danielson (D-20th Jefferson), a lead sponsor of the bill. “Ensuring that these workers are able to earn a living wage, get overtime pay, have adequate access to breaks and water, and are protected against retaliation is simply just the right thing to do.”

“Colorado lags far behind other states when it comes to affording basic human rights to agricultural workers,” said Senator Dominick Moreno (D-21st Adams). “These workers are often exploited for cheap labor and they can’t even discuss workplace conditions with their colleagues without fear of retaliation. This law will ensure basic protections for ag workers that already apply to every other worker across our state.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks Senator Jessie Danielson (D-20th Jefferson), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-21st Adams), Representative Karen McCormick (D-11th Boulder), and Representative Yadira Caraveo (D-31st Adams), for introducing this bill. We are grateful to Senator Rhonda Fields (D-29th Arapahoe), Senator Brittany Pettersen (D-22nd Jefferson), Representative Monica Duran (D-24th Jefferson), Representative Chris Kennedy (D-23rd Jefferson), Representative Emily Sirota (D-9th Arapahoe, Denver), Representative Steven Woodrow (D-6th Denver), and Representative Mary Young (D-50th Weld) for sponsoring the bill. We appreciate the many advocates who contacted their legislators in support of this bill and the many legislators who co-sponsored the bill as well.

Co-sponsors include Senator Jeff Bridges (D-26th Arapahoe), Senator Janet Buckner (D-28th Arapahoe), Senator James Coleman (D-33rd Denver), Senator Stephen Fenberg (D-18th Boulder), Senator Leroy M. Garcia, Jr. (D-3rd Pueblo), Senator Julie Gonzales (D-34th Denver), Senator Chris Hansen (D-31st Arapahoe, Denver), Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-17th Boulder), Senator Chris Kolker (D-27th Arapahoe), Senator Robert Rodriguez (D-32nd Denver), Senator Tammy Story (D-16th Boulder, Denver, Gilpin, Jefferson), Senator Faith Winter (D-24th Adams), Representative Judy Amabile (D-13th Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson), Representative Jennifer Bacon (D-7th Denver), Representative Tracey Bernett (D-12th Boulder), Representative Shannon Bird (D-35th Adams), Representative Andrew Boesenecker (D-53rd Larimer), Representative Lisa Cutter (D-25th Jefferson), Representative Lindsey Daugherty (D-29th Jefferson), Representative Tony Exum, Sr. (D-17th El Paso), Representative Meg Froelich (D-3rd Arapahoe), Representative Matt Gray (D-33rd Boulder, Broomfield), Representative Leslie Herod (D-8th Denver), Representative Edie Hooton (D-10th Boulder), Representative Dominique Jackson (D-42nd Arapahoe), Representative Iman Jodeh (D-41st Arapahoe), Representative Cathy Kipp (52nd Larimer), Representative Susan Lontine (D-1st Denver, Jefferson), Representative Julie McCluskie (D-61st Delta, Gunnison, Lake, Pitkin, Summit), Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D-30th Adams), Representative Kyle Mullica (D-34th Adams), and Representative Alex Valdez (D-5th Denver).

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