FJ Blog

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

[Editor’s note: This guest blog post comes from Migrant Clinicians Network’s blog, “Clinician-to-clinician: A Forum for Health Justice.” The original blog post can be found here. Migrant Clinicians Network is a nonprofit focused on health justice for the mobile poor.]

By Amy Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health, and Claire Hutkins Seda, Writer & Editor, Migrant Clinicians Network

Last week, the Labor the picture is even more complicated. They typically labor in jobs that regularly post the highest numbers of injuries each year, like farming, fisheries, industrial food processing, dairies, and construction. On top of that, they often have very low pay rates and job insecurity, due to the often temporary nature of their work. Consequently, their basic economic security is often in jeopardy, even without an injury at work. This critical segment of our country’s workforce -- the immigrants who build the roofs over our heads, harvest the vegetables on our dinner plate, and head to work to clean our office buildings while we head to bed -- is in dire need of sufficient protection considering their financial concerns and likelihood of injury. And, for some of those workers, the system doesn’t provide any protection at all.

While state-based workers& Department put out a report on state-based workers’ compensation rules. The report calls for an increased federal role in workers’ comp to ensure that injured workers are provided with adequate insurance benefits to keep them afloat while they heal -- the original intent of workers’ comp. “Recent years have seen significant changes to the workers’ compensation laws, procedures, and policies in numerous states, which have limited benefits, reduced the likelihood of successful application for workers’ compensation, and/or discouraged injured workers from applying for benefits,” the report reads, calling out denial of claims that were previously compensated and a decrease in cash benefits as examples of the weakening of workers’ comp around the country. Such changes challenge the insurance system’s effectiveness in providing a timely return of the worker to work and may diminish the ability for public health officials to understand trends in injuries in order to address ongoing hazards, through a review of workers’ claims.

For immigrant workers,rsquo; comp laws have existed in the US since 1911, the laws when first enacted didn’t cover all workers; those employed in agriculture were mostly excluded from most workers’ comp laws, leaving them out of the insurance system entirely.

Today,14 states require employers to provide agricultural workers the same workers’ compensation insurance as workers in other industries. (See MCN’s Pesticide Reporting and Workers’ Comp in Agriculture Map to see state-by-state requirements.) So, for farmworkers, who have been excluded by the state systems, federal involvement may be the only way to gain more inclusion. For those farmworkers who are covered, the increasingly weak and broken workers’ comp system is two steps forward and one step back.

We at Migrant Clinicians Network applaud the Labor Department’s report in calling out the weakening state workers’ compensation systems. We call on states across the US to both augment its rules to allow for farmworkers to benefit from workers’ comp, while simultaneously fortifying its safety net to assure that workers’ comp can effectively protect injured workers of any industry.

Learn more about workers’ comp for farmworkers, state-by-state on Migrant Clinicians Network’s Workers’ Comp and Pesticide Exposure Reporting map, here.

Read the Labor Department’s report, here.

Learn more about workers’ comp in the US today in ProPublica/NPR’s 2015 investigative reports, here.


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Friday, 30 September 2016

Historic California Overtime Legislation
On September 12, California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation that gives farmworkers the same overtime protections as all other workers in the state. This is a long overdue victory for farmworkers in California, and one that we hope can lead Congress to end the discriminatory treatment of farmworkers under our federal labor laws. The exception of farmworkers from the federal overtime law passed in 1938 stems from historical discrimination against African American workers, and it is time for employers in agriculture to operate under the same rules that apply to employers in other sectors, including those with seasonal jobs. Gaining the political will in Congress may depend on additional states first ending their discriminatory laws. One might think that the California growers would not want to compete against growers in other states who have lower labor costs due to exemptions from labor protections.

To read more, see this blog post.

Familias Unidos por la Justicia Wins Union Vote, Will Represent Farmworkers at Sakuma Bros.
A labor dispute spanning three years at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington State has reached a new stage with the berry farm’s workers voting overwhelmingly to form a union with Familias Unidos por la Justicia as their representative.

Farmworker union elections are not protected or governed by the National Labor Relations Board, which is just another example of discriminatory employment laws faced by farmworkers. In practice, the lack of a formal structure for union representation elections makes farmworker union campaigns incredibly difficult. Yet, in spite of this obstacle, these workers were able to mount an enduring and effective campaign to pressure their employer to hold an election. Although by striking they won some important gains, now the union and the company, if it acts in good faith, will negotiate a comprehensive agreement. The Union, which is led by immigrants from indigenous communities in Mexico, ended its boycott against Driscoll’s strawberries, which sells Sakuma’s berries.

FJ President Bruce Goldstein Featured at Food Tank’s Farm Tank Conference
Before heading to speak at the first annual Farm Tank Conference - Sacramento, Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein sat down with Food Tank to answer 10 questions about food and agriculture. See his responses to the biggest challenges and opportunities facing farmworkers and the future of agriculture here. Bruce was a panelist at the conference, which included speakers and attendees from many corners of the food and agriculture systems.
It is critical that the perspectives of farmworkers and their advocates be heard in forums such as the Farm Tank Conference. Far too often, conversations around sustainability in agriculture overlook the important role farmworkers play in our food system.

Washington Post op-ed on Visa Reform for Dairies
The executive director of the National Immigration Forum, Ali Noorani, recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for an update to our various systems for awarding visas. Farmworker Justice is well-known for its support for progressive immigration reform but is concerned about the focus of the op-ed. Specifically, he mentions the need for year-round labor in the dairy industry and how this makes employers ineligible to bring in workers through the H-2A guest worker program, which is only for seasonal jobs.

The dairy industry plays an important role in our agricultural economy and our nation’s health. But the fact remains that it is a year-round industry and most dairy workers work on large farms. Granting temporary visas to fill potential labor shortages is an inappropriate solution. The industry can and should be doing more to lift wages, benefits, and working conditions to attract and retain workers. In addition, any workers brought in from outside the U.S. to fill actual shortages should be given legal immigration, not guestworker, status and put on a path to citizenship.

Fox News Immigration Poll
An August 2016 poll from Fox News shows that 77% of registered voters support granting legal status to those immigrants who are undocumented, while only 19% favor deporting “as many as possible.” This is an encouraging trend; in July of 2015, 30% favored mass deportations.
While the language of the poll question does not delineate between a path to citizenship and other means of granting status, it is clear that the vast majority of the American public is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

Although it is highly unlikely that Congress will act before the election or during the lame duck period, it is paramount that the next Congress and Administration prioritize a path to citizenship for the undocumented. In the meantime, undocumented farmworkers and temporary foreign workers under the H-2A program, which is expanding, are vulnerable to unfair and illegal employer practices. We must continue to help these workers improve conditions on farms.

Please support Farmworker Justice with your tax-deductible donation.

by Matt Clark
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Monday, 19 September 2016

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.

by Adrienne DerVartanian
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