After months of working closely with migrant worker women on this project, we are excited to launch our new report: Breaking the Shell: How Maryland’s Migrant Crab Pickers Continue to be “Picked Apart.” This survey-based report comes at an urgent moment when the pandemic is heightening health and safety risks for the women on H-2B visas who sustain Maryland’s crab industry– just this July, 50 migrant crab pickers fell ill with COVID-19 on Hooper’s Island.
We are grateful to the migrant worker women whose stories shaped this report and to our incredible co-authors: the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the American University Washington College of Law and the Federal Legislation Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center.
Breaking the Shell is a look-back to our 2010 report, Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry. In the last ten years, we have rallied migrant worker women and allies to ensure the prohibition of exploitative recruitment fees. Thanks to our joint efforts, migrant worker women are no longer paying to work as crab pickers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — this is a huge win.
But, Breaking the Shell reveals that regardless of this change, the structure of guestworker programs continues to push crab picking women to make an impossible decision: tolerate abuse or return to Mexico and risk never being hired under the program.
Here are some of our key findings:
- Workers live in crowded housing, work in cramped conditions, and have limited access to medical care.
- Workers are routinely exposed to asthma-inducing fumes through the crab-steaming process and lack of protective equipment.
- Employers and recruiters discriminate against migrant worker women, channelling them into lower-paying jobs versus their male coworkers.
- Employers fail to provide accommodations for pregnant workers, forcing them to quit and return to Mexico.
These findings strengthen our reason to fight for change. In Breaking the Shell, we include recommendations, such as federal and state legislation that tackle abuse in recruitment, ensure emergency standards during COVID-19 and eradicate discrimination.
In the wake of Picked Apart, we made some strides with support of allies like you — and we can do it again. And in the context of the pandemic we must do it again. Will you stand with migrant worker women on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on social media? By showing your public support, we can pressure state and federal governments to improve working conditions for crab pickers now! Here’s a sample post:
I stand with migrant worker women on MD’s Eastern Shore — workers’ health and safety shouldn’t depend on employers’ goodwill! @OSHA_DOL & @GovLarryHogan must issue an emergency standard that protects ALL workers.
Check out @CDMigrante’s #BreakingTheShell: https://cdmigrante.org/breaking-the-shell/
Join us in fighting for migrant justice!