New Mexico Workers’ Comp Laws May Exploit Dairy Workers

The injury occurred on the job. A bull mounted a cow, and the worker was pinned against the stall. That led to a bloody and severe shoulder injury, surgery, and an inability to work.

“I went almost one month without work, and then after that, they called me back, but I was in no condition to work,” said this worker. He’s asked us not to use his name because it could jeopardize his ability to find future work in the small New Mexico town of Portales. “I would bleed at work, and that’s how they had me working at the dairy.”

Doctors told him not to work after his first and second surgery, but he claims his employer told him he would lose his job if he didn’t come back. Then shortly after his return, he was fired anyway.

“Every day I have the same pain in my shoulder,” he said. “The last time I saw the doctor he said he’d need to do another surgery, but they took away my job and I couldn’t do anything.”

In cases like this, there are a few key points to keep in mind: the agriculture industry is grouped into the Agricultural, Forestry & Fishing sector. It has a fatality rate about eight times the national average for all industries, and the rates of non-fatal injuries are also high.

It’s estimated that just less than 90 percent of dairy workers in the country are a mix of documented and undocumented, non-English speaking laborers. In New Mexico, dairies aren’t paying workers’ compensation because state law exempts ag workers from getting it.

Listen to the story here at the Fronteras Desk.

Tristan Ahtone

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and serves as associate editor for tribal affairs at High Country News. He has reported for PBS NewsHour, National Native News, Wyoming Public Radio, NPR, Al Jazeera America, Indian Country Today, and National Geographic, and more. Tristan’s stories have won multiple honors, including investigative awards from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Gannett Foundation. He additionally was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University in 2017. He is president of the Native American Journalists Association.

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