FJ Blog

Friday, 09 December 2016

Presidential Transition Appointments

DHS Secretary
General John Kelly has been nominated by President-Elect Trump to be the Secretary of Homeland Security, a position that could have a far-reaching impact on the nation’s immigration policy. Kelly, who retired from the military earlier this year, led the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in much of Central and South America. Though he worked extensively on cross-border issues in this role, much is still unknown about his views on specific immigration policies and how his military experience will translate to leadership in a civilian agency. Whomever Kelly eventually chooses to direct the different sub-agencies within DHS will likely play a key role in shaping the agency’s immigration policies and enforcement actions.

DOL Secretary
President-Elect Trump has named fast-food executive Andy Puzder as his nominee for Labor Secretary. Puzder favors repealing workplace regulations and has a record of pro-business and anti-worker values. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food franchises, which are currently the subjects of various ongoing DOL investigations. Puzder has also been a vocal opponent of raising the minimum wage and providing overtime pay, and has advocated automation as a way of avoiding financial and legal obligations to workers. He has also expressed support for guestworker programs, appearing to prefer temporary work visas over the opportunity for workers to obtain immigration status. FJ is currently collaborating with other organizations across the country to call for a thorough investigation of Puzder’s past labor practices and possible conflicts of interests. We are committed to ensuring that the position of Labor Secretary is held by someone whose first priority is protecting the rights of workers.

Labor Transition Team
Another controversial member of President-Elect Trump’s DOL transition team is Veronica Birkenstock, the president of a recruiting agency that specializes in connecting employers with temporary guestworkers from Mexico and other countries. Guestworker programs are rife with abuse of both U.S. workers and foreign workers on temporary work visas. Though Ms. Birkenstock’s firm specializes in the use of H-2B visas, the use of recruiting agencies has proved problematic in the H-2A context as well.

H-2A Visa Use May Increase amidst Immigration Uncertainty
Many employers are concerned that a crackdown on illegal immigration by the Trump administration could affect their ability to retain their workforces. Farmers have been increasingly turning to the H-2A guest worker program for their temporary labor needs, with the number of applications for H-2A workers growing substantially during the last decade. In the South, for example, demand for farm labor continues to grow, with a majority of these workers entering through the H-2A program. In Florida, approximately half of the state’s strawberries are harvested by H-2A workers, while Pennsylvania fruit growers are increasingly turning to the H-2A program as well. This trend of increasing use of the H-2A program will likely continue amidst the current uncertainty about Trump’s immigration policies.
If use of the program does increase, there will be enhanced pressure on the already limited resources available for investigation and enforcement by government agencies. Unlike the H-2B program, the H-2A program does not have a cap on the number of visas that can be issued per year, which means there are no limits to the program’s potential increase.
Employers will also likely continue to advocate for a scaling back of the requirements and protections present in the program. A recent Civil Eats article quoted FJ President Bruce Goldstein on his concern that a Trump administration could change the current guest worker program in a way that erodes worker rights. Specifically, he stated that the Trump Department of Labor adopt policies “slashing wage rates and reducing government oversight.” FJ will continue to ensure that any discussion of guest worker programs includes farmworker voices and will oppose anti-worker changes.

What Will Happen to “Dreamers” Deferred?
On the campaign trail, President-Elect Trump pledged to revoke President Obama’s 2012 deferred action directive, DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children the opportunity to study and work legally in the country. There are currently more than 740,000 “Dreamers”, with about 7,000 additional applications for the program each month. Since his election, Trump has been facing mounting pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to keep the program in place. There are also concerns that if the program is ended, the personal information submitted by Dreamers may be used to initiate deportation proceedings against them. There is widespread fear in immigrant communities about the threat of deportations.
However, in a sign that he may be re-considering his pledge, Trump recently told a Time magazine interviewer that he’s “going to work something out” for Dreamers. He added: “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here; they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
We remain optimistic that President-Elect Trump will consider the devastating effects that revoking this program will have on both immigrant communities and the broader communities in which these young people live and work. The bi-partisan efforts underway to protect the program are a testament to its significance.

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by Adrienne DerVartanian
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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Impact of the Presidential Election on Farmworker Communities
Many farmworkers and their families face an uncertain fate due to the results of the U.S. presidential and Congressional elections. There are nearly two and a half million seasonal farmworkers in the U.S., at least 50% of whom are believed to be undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump invoked rhetoric disparaging immigrants, including those from Mexico. Trump also infamously proposed to build a border wall paid for by the Mexican government, to end DACA, and to engage in mass deportations. As discussed in this Huffington Post piece, President-elect Trump’s words have instilled fear among immigrant farmworkers and their families.

See also, these pieces regarding the election’s potential effects in the states of Washington, New Mexico and Idaho.

Post-Election Uncertainty. It is not yet clear whether and how the Trump Administration will carry out these dire threats against immigrants. Trump’s mass deportation plan and border wall are unrealistic and even the Trump campaign has acknowledged that his campaign promises may not be put into place as described. Some information can be gleaned from a recent interview on “60 Minutes,” where Trump stated that he plans to deport 2-3 million undocumented individuals who are “criminal[s] and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers…” He further noted that after securing the border “and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about — who are terrific people.” Trump’s advisors have also indicated that he will likely reinstate workplace raids, which would terrorize immigrants in the workplace.

Agribusiness Concerns and Goals. Clearly, immigration enforcement will impact employers who depend on experienced, hard-working undocumented immigrants. Several media reports have suggested that growers will seek to reduce regulations in the H-2A program to ease business access to guestworkers. We’ve seen this before and know that what the growers seek is reduced government oversight and sharp cuts to wages and other worker protections. The Bush Administration’s H-2A regulatory changes diminished government oversight, lowered wages and reduced protections leading to sharp wage cuts and other financial losses for farmworkers. Prior to the Obama Administration’s restoration of the earlier, Reagan-era regulations, the overall loss and increased costs for H-2A workers in 2009 as a result of the Bush regulations was roughly $121.2 million dollars in lost wages, $4.7 million in unreimbursed transportation costs and the payment of approximately $17.3 million in visa and border crossing fees. Farmworkers cannot afford to shoulder these costs. H-2A workers and the U.S workers who work alongside them already suffer far too many abuses; we need to strengthen protections and enforcement, rather than to cut them. In a video message released yesterday, Trump stated that as one of his first actions, he intends to “direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.” The H-2A agricultural guestworker program contains labor protections that are intended to prevent displacement and undermining of the wages and other labor standards of U.S. farmworkers due to the hiring of vulnerable H-2A visa guestworkers who are dependent on their employers for their continued ability to work in the U.S. There are extensive violations of both U.S. workers’ and H-2A guestworkers’ rights that DOL must investigate and remedy.

The need for meaningful solutions. One-sided H-2A reform does not address the situation of the many undocumented farmworkers contributing valuable work to our food system. Some growers have also recognized the need for broader reform that includes legalization for their workers, as suggested in the Huffington Post piece above. We do not yet know how the Trump administration and Congress will move forward to address these issues. Growers did have a voice in Trump’s campaign, with several grower representatives, including Tom Nassif, President of the Western Growers Association and Chuck Conner, CEO of National Council of Farmer Cooperatives on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee. Chuck Conner is also rumored to be a possible pick for the Secretary of Agriculture. In the past they have supported legal status for undocumented immigrants as part of compromise immigration legislation, but have also insisted on major changes to the H-2A program or its replacement future agricultural guestworker programs.

Developing Trump Administration Brings Many Concerns
President-elect Trump’s transition team and picks for key positions are reinforcing his hard-line message on immigration. His immigration transition team includes Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who is notorious for his anti-immigrant views and role in pushing anti-immigrant legislation in states such as Arizona. Last week,President-Elect Donald Trump announced that he has chosen Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) as his pick for the position of Attorney General, a position that must first be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Farmworker Justice is deeply concerned about the selection of Sessions, who has long been a vicious opponent of immigration and reasonable immigration reform and has a history of racially insensitive comments. Other Administration picks, such as Stephen Bannon as chief of strategy, also send troubling messages about the goals and direction of the Trump Administration in terms of its respect for America’s diversity and respect for human rights.

Our Work Ahead
Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, provides an inspiring reminder, “We have confronted and overcome political adversity many times before. … As the challenges increase so does our commitment to and determination to afford all farm workers and low-income working families the opportunities and respect they deserve.” Indeed, farmworker organizations have faced adversity before. During its 35 years, Farmworker Justice has fought against adversity in Administrations and Congress many times.

Farmworker Justice will track and report on developments at the intersection of immigration policy and labor rights. Collaborating with our partners, we will fight against any efforts to reduce farmworkers’ protections and to harm farmworker communities. We will fight for meaningful, fair immigration reform. In our watchdog role we will monitor immigration enforcement and labor rights enforcement by government agencies and intervene as needed. Through our extensive relationships with farmworker organizations around the country, we will help farmworkers address the fear and uncertainty this election has instilled, and protect the rights and dignity of the farmworkers who cultivate, harvest and process the nation’s food.

The challenges faced by farmworkers should be especially present in our thoughts as we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving this week. As we express gratitude for the bounty on our tables, it is worth remembering that our meals are made possible by the labor and contributions of our nation’s farmworkers. Your support enables us to provide the services that farmworkers and their organizations seek from Farmworker Justice. We ask for your support. If you make a donation to the Shelley Davis Memorial Fund, it will be matched dollar for dollar up to $12,000, so please take advantage of this great opportunity. Thank you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

by Adrienne DerVartanian
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Friday, 18 November 2016

Yesterday, 6 ½ years after proposing rules to update protections for workers from slip, trip, and fall hazards, OSHA issued a final fall-protection regulation that excludes workers on farms, ranches and dairies. Farmworker Justice is extremely disappointed that the final rule excludes agriculture from these important safeguards.
Worker injuries and deaths related to falls in agriculture are among the highest in all industries. OSHA’s explanation of the regulation repeatedly refers to the submission by Farmworker Justice as well as other worker advocates of extensive evidence to show the prevalence of falls in agriculture and that these injuries are easily preventable.

OSHA declined to include agricultural operations in the final rule, stating that the agency has not gathered and analyzed data and information necessary to support a rule. The agency had ample time – years -- to study farmworkers’ injuries and deaths resulting from falls from ladders and machinery and other hazards.
The agency did attempt to narrowly define what is covered under the agriculture exemption, stating that “if an operation performed on a farm is not an “agricultural operation” or integrally related to an agricultural operation, such as a food manufacturing or other post-harvesting operations, then the final general industry rule applies.”
Farmworker Justice will continue to help farmworkers advocate to end the history of discrimination in occupational safety standards and improve occupational safety and health in their workplaces. The full text of OSHA’s standard on “Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems)” is available here. The comments submitted by Farmworker Justice are here

by Virginia Ruiz
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