The article “Ag issues crop up in Gardner’s tour” quotes a farm operator who suggests that problems in the H-2A agricultural guest worker program should be solved by turning the program over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA has no infrastructure, expertise, or history administering guest worker programs, in agriculture or in any other sector.
The U.S. Department of Labor has the longstanding responsibility for several guest worker programs. Taxpayer money would be wasted in such a restructuring.
Although H-2A program delays are being addressed, we agree that there should be more resources to administer the program and enforce the modest labor protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers. The fees charged to employers for this program’s services are woefully low, inadequate to the task, and should be raised. The more important solution is for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes an opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers, who make up the majority of the agricultural workforce.
Washington, District of Columbia
Today, the Supreme Court ruled against the Obama Administration’s executive action on immigration. The Court announced that the eight Justices were split 4-4 in U.S. v. Texas, and consequently the lower court rulings against the Administration remain in place. The one-sentence opinion simply says that the lower court decision is affirmed. The injunction against the programs remains in place while the litigation proceeds.
The decision means that the Obama Administration may not implement the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). More than 700,000 farmworkers and family members would have been eligible to apply under these programs, which would grant a temporary reprieve from deportation and temporary work authorization.
“We are extremely disappointed and saddened that hard-working farmworkers and their family members who contribute to this country will not have the opportunity to apply for DAPA or the expanded DACA initiatives,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. “The majority of the people laboring on our farms and ranches lack authorized immigration status; these programs would have provided some of them with temporary protection from deportation and authorization to work.”
He added: “We will continue to help farmworkers fight for immigration reform to bring greater justice to the fields and to ensure a prosperous, productive agricultural sector of the economy. We count on farmworkers for our food and they should be able to count on us for fair treatment. Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate for Congressional action to grant a path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and other undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.”
The newest Farmworker Justice Newsletter contains timely updates on our immigration work, a new skin cancer prevention project, an update on the progress of the Equitable Food Initiative and much more.
Farmworkers in California achieved a major victory on September 12, 2016, when Governor Brown signed into law overtime protections for farmworkers. We congratulate the United Farm Workers, their allies and the California leaders who worked hard to achieve this historic success. Importantly, we also thank all of the farmworkers who took time out of their busy schedules to fight for this victory.
The passage of the overtime law, AB 1066, ensures farmworkers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. Rooted in discrimination against African American workers, the Fair Labor Standards Act excludes farmworkers from overtime and other protections. During the past forty years, California has gradually added farmworkers to employment-law protections from which they have been excluded by Congress and other state legislatures.
Under the new law, California farmworkers will be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for working more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours in a week in agriculture. The bill phases in overtime pay over a period of 4 years beginning in 2019; for employers with 25 or fewer employees, the phase-in will be delayed by three additional years. Double time pay will be required for 12 hours of work a day beginning in 2022. Under federal law, farmworkers and their employers are excluded from overtime pay; and under prior California law, overtime need only be paid if farmworkers work more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours in a week.
For decades it has been recognized that businesses which require more than forty hours of work in a week should pay a premium wage. Overtime pay offers extra compensation to workers but also acts as a deterrent against employers’ imposition of excessively long work days and weeks. Consistent, excessive hours can be physically damaging, especially to workers who make their careers in strenuous jobs. Farm work has long been recognized as physically difficult, strenuous work. Excessive hours interfere with time needed to raise children, care for elderly parents, take classes, enjoy leisure time and get needed rest. Farmworkers’ low pay means that they usually cannot afford to pay for extended daycare hours for their children or other services that are needed to address the effects of working excessive hours.
Overtime pay has been controversial and opposed by many businesses as too costly and as being globally anti-competitive for over one hundred years. Yet, most people in working class jobs have been covered by time-and-a-half pay since passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Complaints by agricultural employers are no different from complaints by employers in other occupations who face increases in the minimum wage or overtime requirements. The exception for agriculture was never fair and we commend California for moving away from the discriminatory history experienced by farmworkers to grant overtime pay to agricultural workers.
The U.S. Congress needs to learn a lesson from California and end numerous exclusions of farmworkers from labor protections that apply to other workers. California is the most successful agricultural production state; about one-third of the nation’s farmworkers are employed there. Not only do farmworkers outside California deserve an end to discrimination in labor laws, but agricultural businesses in California should not have to compete with growers that save money on labor costs because the federal law and their state laws discriminate against farmworkers in employment laws. As UFW President Rodriguez said, AB 1066 "would give license to farmworkers in other states fighting for the same thing.” We all want to feel good about the food we purchase and consume, and the continuing discrimination in employment laws against farmworkers – the people who produce our food – perpetuates a stain on our food system that should be eradicated.
On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.
Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.