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Farm Worker Conditions Likened to Modern Slavery (VIDEO)

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Leonel Perez said working conditions on American farms are often
Leonel Perez said working conditions on American farms are often "substandard" and pay very low wages.

For every 32 pounds of tomatoes Leonel Perez picks on Florida farmlands, he says he receives a piece rate of 50 cents.

"That's a piece rate that has not changed in over 30 years," the migrant worker noted.

A report issued this month by The Center for Progressive Reform highlights declining labor conditions in the United States. Among its findings, the report states that the farm industry's over-reliance on "contingent labor" -- or short-term contractors -- has allowed employers to pay low wages and skirt regulations. This while Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that one farm worker dies on the job every day and hundreds more are injured.

Perez is part of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of immigrant farm workers in Florida that's fighting for fair wages and improved working conditions. Speaking to HuffPost Live's Jacob Soboroff, Perez said that he and his fellow migrant workers are forced to endure substandard working conditions, all for an average annual salary of just $10,000.

"Everyone has found a way to make it work, to make it survive, because there's really no one else that's doing this work," Perez said via a translator.

A coalition of farm worker advocates filed a complaint with the United Nations last December, alleging that migrant workers have been denied access to legal aid, health care and other basic needs. The 62-page complaint argues that "the United States is complicit in violating the human rights of this vulnerable population."

More than half of U.S. farm workers are undocumented immigrants. But according to a report from the University of California-Davis, that work force is decreasing as Mexico gets richer and farms there increases their own wages for farm workers.

The farm lobby is reportedly hoping that the immigration reform overhaul proposed this week will make it easier for American farmers to hire the workers they need. But some immigrant rights groups are concerned it could just make conditions worse.

Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, told HuffPost Live that the industry doesn't need immigration reform as much as it needs agencies like the Department of Agriculture to more aggressively monitor working conditions and give workers the resources they need.

"The Department of Agriculture too often is respondent to what the Farm Bureau and what corporate farms want," Steinzor said. "They interfere with other parts of the government. The Obama administration has tremendous authority to make these problems better. I'm not talking about immigration reform … I'm talking about getting these agencies out in the field and doing their jobs and enforcing the law."

Watch the Full Segment on HuffPost Live.

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