Photo by Natasha Kerr
The Migrant Farm Worker Division has developed a Sheepherder Project that focuses specifically on the workers who herd sheep, cattle and goats in Colorado. The Project provides education to herders about their legal rights, as well advocates on behalf of herders who have issues related to housing, pay and working conditions.
These herders come temporarily to the United States on H-2A visas to work on Colorado ranches. Many come for three years. They come from many countries, but the vast majority of herders come from South America.
They are typically isolated and must endure extreme weather conditions out on the range. They are expected to be "on call" 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. They are exempted from both state and federal minimum wage laws. The vast majority of these herders live in small mobile housing units, known as "campitos," without electricity, running water or a bathroom. Most herders are completely dependent on their boss for their provisions of food and water, as well as for communication with the outside world. Some herders unfortunately experience abusive conditions such as: lack of access to telephones; lack of access to medical care; insufficient food; confiscation of personal documents; and holding of pay until the end of the contract.
Here is a look at the legal rights of herders under federal law.
On January 14, 2010, the Sheepherder Project released a report called "Overworked and Underpaid: H-2A Herders in Colorado" related to the working and living conditions of herders in Colorado (para leer el informe en español, haga clic aqui). Central California Legal Services similarly released a report on herders in California, as well as a follow-up report five years later. The Denver Post, Associated Press and The New York Times have also reported on the lives of herders in Colorado and Wyoming.