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Featured Blog

December 12, 2019

 

Farmworker Justice thanks the Members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038, which passed the House today.       

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) resulted from lengthy, complex negotiations led by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), a farmer and former Director of Washington State’s Department of Agriculture, and additional colleagues.  To help reach agreement, Members of Congress involved farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice, as well as agricultural employer trade associations and other stakeholders. 

“Achieving compromise on complex, polarizing labor-management and immigration issues was possible because of the wide recognition that farmworkers are essential to our nation's food and agriculture systems,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and results in great unfairness, as over one-half of the 2.4 million people who labor on our farms and ranches to feed us are undocumented immigrants.  This bill, despite shortcomings that are inevitable in any compromise, is a responsible effort to fix our broken immigration system and enable many farmworkers and their families to gain a greater measure of justice.”       

The large majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are immigrants, and a majority lack authorized immigration status. Undocumented farmworkers and their family members live in fear of arrest, deportation and the breakup of their families. Many farmworkers are reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair treatment in their workplaces and their communities.  At times, they cannot go to work or their children’s school functions due to the presence of immigration enforcement agents.  “The country’s farms and our food system depend on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and they deserve a greater measure of justice,” Goldstein added.

 The Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill provides a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  Removing the threat of immigration enforcement would help farmworker families and farming businesses. “With legal status, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and seek enforcement when their limited labor rights are violated,” said Goldstein. These improvements would result in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.  The earned legalization program’s requirements are more rigorous, lengthy and expensive than we preferred, but are acceptable in the effort to reach a realistic, bipartisan compromise,  

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address farmworker and employer concerns with the program. 

Farmworker advocates have pressed for reforms to reduce widespread abuses under this flawed program, while agricultural employers have lobbied heavily to remove most of its modest labor protections, claiming that the program is unduly expensive and bureaucratic.  “The bill’s lengthy provisions on the H-2A guestworker program include important new protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers, as well as changes to address agricultural employers’ demands that Farmworker Justice has historically opposed,” said Goldstein. Compromise was necessary to achieve legislation that could become law and address serious harms imposed on farmworker families by our broken immigration system. 

Farmworker Justice supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because it would help hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members improve their lives.  Our fact sheet on the bill is available on our website’s Resource Center under Legislative Proposals/116th Congress.

December 06, 2019

 

On November 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (FWMA), H.R. 5038, out of the Committee by a roll call vote of 18-12, with all Democrats present voting for the bill.  The vote followed debate on the bill that took place on November 20.

The FWMA is a bipartisan compromise reached as a result of months-long negotiations between worker representatives, including the UFW, Farmworker Justice and UFW Foundation, and agricultural employers. The bill currently has 26 Democratic co-sponsors and 23 Republican co-sponsors. Farmworker Justice supports the bill. You can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here.

The mark-up of the bill in the Judiciary Committee lasted approximately four hours. During the mark-up, two Democratic amendments were proposed to the bill. The first, which was adopted, was an amendment by Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX) allowing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) status holders to apply for Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. Rep. Jayapal (D-WA) introduced a second amendment, which would ensure the eligibility of CAW individuals and their dependent family members for the ACA's plans, tax credits and cost-sharing reductions; however, in recognition that further education is needed in order to reach a consensus on this issue, Rep. Jayapal withdrew the amendment prior to a vote. Rep. Jayapal also read aloud several stories that Washington farmworkers shared with her during a visit to her office in support of the bill. Rep. Correa also welcomed the UFW and UFW Foundation farmworkers who traveled to DC to support the bill and were in the audience during the proceedings.

Republican members also offered amendments, all of which were voted down by large margins, with all Democratic committee members opposing the amendments. Rep. Lofgren and other Democratic members, such as Reps. Nadler and Raskin offered strong arguments against many of these amendments. The amendments focused on anti-worker and anti-immigrant issues such as lowering wages, undermining the legalization program, limiting workers’ access to legal remedies, and reducing other key protections for workers. Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) offered two amendments attacking key protections obtained for H-2A workers in the legislation: 1) the right to coverage under the principal federal employment law protecting farmworkers, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) and 2) creating a “right to cure” for employers after a complaint is filed.

Rep. Lesko (R-AZ), Rep. Chabot (R-OH), and Rep. Buck (R-CO) also offered amendments that would have limited the ability of farmworkers to participate in the legalization program and path to lawful permanent residency. In addition, Rep. Steube (R-FL) introduced a variety of amendments to provide additional anti-worker reforms to the H-2A program in the bill, such as lowering farmworker wages and having USDA administer the H-2A program rather than DOL. The compromise already included significant wage concessions from farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice appreciates the Judiciary Committee’s vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because the bill, if passed, would enable hundreds of thousands of farmworker families to improve their living and working conditions and their participation in our economy and democracy.

December 04, 2019

 

Immigration Policy: House Judiciary Committee Approves Farm Workforce Modernization Act  

            On November 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (FWMA), H.R. 5038, following debate the day before. The bill would make substantial revisions to immigration law regarding agricultural workers and their employers. The bill was the product of negotiations among Democrats and Republicans as well as farmworker advocates and employer trade associations. The bipartisan bill currently has 27 Democratic co-sponsors and 24 Republican co-sponsors. The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 18-12, with all Democrats present voting for the bill and all present Republicans voting against. 

The challenges to achieving a compromise that passes Congress are evidenced in the proposed amendments submitted during the Judiciary Committee’s markup of the bill. Some proposed amendments would have imposed unacceptable obstacles in the bill’s path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.    Some Committee members sought to lower wage rates and make other anti-worker changes in labor protections in the provisions revising the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. All of these harmful amendments were defeated by strong margins. While some supporters of the bill expressed their desire to improve the bill by making it more helpful to farmworkers, they voted for it as written because they recognized that the bill is the product of complex, delicate compromises.

            Farmworker Justice, which helped the United Farm Workers negotiate the bill, strongly supports this legislation. You can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here. Although the bill has extensive support among stakeholders in agriculture, there are some farmworker organizations and agricultural employer associations that, for various reasons, are opposing or remaining neutral on the bill. You may wish to read a critique by a longtime pro-farmworker journalist, David Bacon.    

USDA Releases Farm Labor Survey

            On November 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the annual results of its Farm Labor Survey. The FLS is based on surveys of farm employers. The findings regarding wages paid during FY 2019 are of particular interest because they will be used by the Department of Labor (DOL) to set the 2020 “adverse effect wage rate,” which is one of the minimum required wage rates under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The survey category used by DOL is the annual average wage for field and livestock workers combined. At the national level, the rate was $13.99, up 6 percent from the 2018 average of $13.25 per hour. The DOL issues wage rates for each state based on regional survey results, which ranged from $11.71 per hour to $15.83. States with the lowest rates included Florida and Georgia; the highest rates were in Oregon and Washington; California was at $14.77.

Employers of Sheepherders Will Only Be Eligible for Temporary H-2A Workers

On November 21, the Hispanic Affairs Project and Towards Justice announced a settlement reached with the federal government to protect sheepherders. In the case, Hispanic Affairs Project, et al. v. Scalia, 15-cv-01562 (D.D.C.), Hispanic Affairs Project challenged the practice of bringing sheep and goat herders to fill a permanent labor need under the H-2A program, which is limited to temporary or seasonal work. Under the terms of the settlement, DHS and DOL agreed to modify the rules governing the use of guestworker visas for foreign sheepherders working in the United States to ensure that the program is not being used for permanent employment. On November 14, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a policy memo stating that effective June 1, 2020 sheep and goat herders can no longer be brought in under the H-2A temporary foreign worker program if they are being hired for year-round jobs. Comments on the new guidance are due December 14.

Farm Must Pay for Failing to Provide Safe Housing and Transportation

            On November 21, an administrative law judge found New Jersey farm, Sun Valley Orchards, guilty of labor violations. As a result, the farm must pay workers around $556,000 in back wages and penalties. Some of the violations included failure to provide sanitary housing, transporting workers in unsafe vehicles with unlicensed drivers, charging workers for meals, and firing workers without cause after they refused to sign false statements. Sun Valley Orchards continues to deny the claims and states that they will appeal.

Appropriations Deadline Pushed to December 20th

Congress recently extended the continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2019, which was set to expire on November 21, to December 20. The CR was sent to President Trump on November 21, and he signed the extension that evening. Many expect arguments over border wall funding to play a significant role in passing a full FY 2020 budget.   

Correction from 11/12 Farmworker Justice Update - In the last update, regarding the H-2A program, we stated, “This year saw only 57 denials of the 1,974 applications submitted;” however, that information was for Quarter 4 of the H-2A data not 2019 as a whole. The percentage of applications approved for FY 2019 was 96%.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Children Working in Agriculture Unprepared for Risks

            Research from a variety of sources outlines the dangers children face in agricultural work. They do not receive adequate safety training, and as a result, more children die in agriculture than in any other industry. On June 20, Rep. Roybal-Allard introduced the “Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety of 2019’’ or the ‘‘CARE Act of 2019,” H.R. 3394, with the hope of improving conditions for children and closing some of the discriminatory exemptions from child labor rules available to agricultural employers.

Latest News

November 21, 2019

 

Farmworker Justice Statement on Vote to Approve Agricultural Worker Immigration Bill by House Judiciary Committee

            Farmworker Justice appreciates the markup and the vote by the House Committee on the Judiciary on November 21 to support passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038.  We thank the Committee Chair, Rep. Nadler, for the markup of this important bill regarding our agriculture and food system.

October 30, 2019

Farmworker Justice Statement on House Agricultural Immigration Reform Bill

(Washington, DC)   Today, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), introduced the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.”  This bipartisan legislation was the result of complex negotiations between members of Congress, farmworker advocates, including the UFW, UFW Foundation, and Farmworker Justice, and agricultural employer organizations.

September 27, 2019

On September 24, Farmworker Justice, on behalf of 42 organizations, submitted to the US Department of Labor a 165-page comment and numerous exhibits responding to the DOL’s proposed changes to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program. 

            Farmworker Justice staff coordinated the comment process and, with several farmworker advocacy groups around the country, co-wrote and edited the detailed comment.  We also drafted shorter model comments which many farmworker-supporting organizations used to write their own comments.