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.
Many farmworkers in the United States are paid the minimum wage and therefore will benefit from the minimum wage increases that California and New York plan to adopt. Farmworker Justice applauds California’s and New York State’s actions and all of the workers and advocates who fought hard for the increases. However, we are somewhat disappointed with the shortcomings in the New York legislation and even in California there is more policy change needed.
Farmworker Justice is pleased that the California legislation will boost wages for workers statewide from the current $10.00 an hour to $10.50 in January and gradually up to $15.00 by 2022 and will be adjusted annually for inflation after that. While some farmworkers earn more than the minimum wage, the increase will affect tens of thousands of California farmworkers.
California legislators should now pass the bill extending overtime pay to agricultural workers, who deserve equality with other workers.
While workers in New York will also receive a sorely needed minimum wage increase above the current $9.00 per hour, Governor Cuomo compromised on the minimum wage for upstate New York, where the minimum wage will increase by $0.70 a year going up to only $12.50 by 2021. There are many farms, as well as urban areas, in upstate New York. New York City’s minimum wage will increase to $15 by the end of 2018. New York City’s suburbs will be given a few more years to reach the $15 minimum.
According to media reports, the New York budget deal also “includes $30 million set aside to help farmers pay the higher wage to workers.” That money could be better spent improving farmworkers’ conditions and enforcement of their rights.
The NY Farm Bureau expressed strong opposition to the bill, even after the subsidy was announced. Growers’ claims of the effects of wage increases on food production are overblown. Agricultural labor economist and professor at UC-Davis Philip Martin, predicts that if farmworker wages go up by 47%, household grocery bills would go up just $21.15 a year, or $1.76 a month. Moreover, California is by far the most successful agricultural state and has a higher minimum wage, collective bargaining rights for farmworkers and other labor protections.
New York farmworker advocates and allies have come close to passing legislation to grant farmworkers rest breaks, collective bargaining rights and other protections that workers in other sectors have. The state legislature should pass the farmworker bill of rights.
The NY compromise is disappointing due to its limitations, but it is a significant increase, that will help many farmworkers in the state’s substantial dairy industry, apple harvests and other produce farms. NY’s current minimum wage of $9 and California’s current minimum wage of $10 already are substantially higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and that of other states with major agricultural sectors.
We at Farmworker Justice hope that the worker organizing that led California and New York to increase their minimum wages will help pave the way for a federal minimum wage increase as well as improvements in other states.
Farmworker Justice is celebrating National Farmworker Awareness Week from March 24 to March 31st.
Follow our blog as we highlight issues farmworkers face. We will be featuring guest bloggers and videos on 8 different themes.
Farmworkers feed the world- 85% of our fruits and vegetables are handpicked. There are an estimated 2-3 million men, women, and children work in the fields in the United States. Farms are in every state, including yours, yet farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in dangerous conditions.
Monday, April 18th, 2016 marked a historic day for the immigrants’ rights movement, when thousands of advocates nationwide traveled to the Supreme Court to rally in support of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which would grant temporary relief to millions of undocumented parents, and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (expanded DACA) program. Inside the Supreme Court, the justices heard oral arguments in United States vs. Texas, the case that has temporarily suspended the implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA.
The Rally in Front of the Supreme Court of the U.S.
The brisk early morning air quickly warmed up once Kica Matos, the Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change and the MC for the day, took the stage and electrified both the massive crowd and atmosphere with excitement, hope, and perseverance. The steps of the Supreme Court were crowded with immigrant families and advocacy groups from over 26 states who filled the air with passionate chants, cheers, and music to send a clear message to the Court – treat our families with the respect and dignity we deserve. Read one attendee’s New York Times Op-ed titled, What I Will Do When I Get My Papers.
The powerful rally was fueled and propelled by inspirational speeches, heart-wrenching stories, and powerful music that symbolized the diversity of the larger movement. Speakers included immigrant and labor rights activists, members of Congress, and most importantly, undocumented youth and parents, who shared personal stories and urged the Supreme Court to vote to keep families together. The collective energy at the rally was at a constant high as fellow advocates met one another and rallied together in solidarity.
Many advocates and affected community members camped outside the Supreme Court the night before so they could attend the oral arguments. An estimated 45 immigrant families attended the oral argument, as did many lawyers from immigrants’ rights organizations.
The Oral Argument in the Supreme Court
In addition to hearing from lawyers for Texas and the Federal Government, the Justices heard from Tom Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who represents 3 mothers who would be eligible for DAPA and are intervenors in the case. Counsel for the US House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) was also given time to argue on the side of Texas that the programs should be permanently blocked.
Attorneys who attended the arguments have said that the Solicitor General and MALDEF did a good job defending the legality of the programs and arguing against Texas’s standing (right to sue based on a tangible harm) in the case. Most of the time during oral argument was spent discussing standing. There was also significant legalistic discussion around whether deferred action is a “status” and the meaning of “lawful presence” that highlighted just how confusing and complex immigration law is.
In an apparent dramatic development in the Supreme court, Texas seemed to have shifted its argument away from arguing that the Federal Government lacks authority to grant deferred action to a large number of people. Now it is arguing primarily that the Government doesn’t have authority to offer work authorization. One major problem with this argument is that the regulation that allows people with deferred action to apply for work authorization has been on the books since 1987. In addition, many other classes of people under immigration law receive work authorization under this regulation such as people with Temporary Protected Status or applicants for asylum. Invalidating that regulation would upend the immigration system and affect millions of other immigrants. For more information on the issues discussed during the oral argument, listen to AILA’s webcast or read the American Immigration Council’s blog.
It’s very hard to predict outcome of this case. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan appeared to be squarely on the side of the Federal Government. In one potential outcome, the five or more justices will decide that Texas and the other states lacked standing, the case will be thrown out and the programs would be likely to move forward sometime this summer. Since Justice Scalia passed away, there is another likely scenario, where there will be a 4-4 tie among the justices. In this scenario, the lower court decision suspending the programs would not be overturned and the case would be remanded – or sent back -- to the appellate court and district court for further litigation over the issues, which could last for another year or more. We expect a decision by the end of June. If there is a 4-4 decision, it may be released sooner.
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.