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July 06, 2018

Farmworker Justice Update: 07/06/18

Sen. Harris and Rep. Grijalva Introduce Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

On June 25, the 80th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Sen. Harris (CA) and Rep. Grijalva (AZ) introduced the “Fairness for Farm Workers Act” (S 3131/HR 6230), which would amend the FLSA to include agricultural workers in its overtime provisions.  It would also remove most of the remaining exclusions of farmworkers from the minimum wage. As stated by Sen. Harris, the bill “is a matter of basic fairness and justice.” The bill has 9 original co-sponsors in the Senate and 51 original co-sponsors in the House. Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, as do over 100 labor and civil rights organizations. More information about the legislation, including a summary and a factsheet, are available on our website.

On June 21, Members of the House sponsored a briefing on FLSA’s 80-year history. Speakers included FJ’s Bruce Goldstein as well as members of Congress and representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Employment Law Project, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the National Child Labor Coalition and labor unions.  In addition to FLSA’s exclusions of farmworkers from overtime and other protections, Bruce discussed the challenges posed to enforcement of the minimum wage due to farm labor contracting, mandatory individual arbitration and workers’ fear of retaliation.

Second House Vote on Immigration Fails, Future Action on Immigration Uncertain  

On June 27, the House of Representatives voted on the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018,” HR 6136, known colloquially as the Ryan “compromise” immigration bill. The bill failed by a vote of 121-301. Although Rep. Goodlatte submitted a proposed amendment to the Ryan bill containing his “Agricultural Guestworker Act” (AGA), the amendment was ultimately not included in the bill. However, House Republican leadership has reportedly promised to bring a  bill related to agricultural workers to a vote before the August recess. That bill’s terms are likely to be based on the Goodlatte AGA. The issue of family separation, discussed in more detail below, is another topic that may be the focus of Congressional action on immigration in the weeks to come.

California Judge Issues Family Separation Injunction

On June 26, a federal judge in California issued an injunction ordering the Trump administration to stop separating families at the border. The injunction also mandates that separated children under five (5) must be reunited with their parents within 14 days (by July 10), and all other children must be reunited with their parents within 30 days (by July 26).  The judge’s order also states that adults may not be deported from the U.S. without their children unless they “affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily decline to be reunited.” In spite of the order, there are recent concerning reports that immigration agents are forcing parents to choose between leaving the country with or without their children in an attempt to coerce parents to drop their asylum claims.

ICE Raids May Further Silence Undocumented Workers

A recent immigration raid in Ohio has renewed concerns that immigration enforcement may make it more difficult for workers to denounce unsafe workplace conditions. Last month’s raid in an Ohio meat processing plant occurred just a few weeks after the company was fined for failing to provide proper guards for one of its machines, which resulted in the death of a worker in December. As stated by FJ President Bruce Goldstein, many workers are too afraid of retaliation to challenge unfair or illegal conduct, especially in light of the increase in immigration enforcement.

USDA’s Legacy of Discrimination against Black Farmers

A recent article explores the history of discrimination against black farmers by the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are approximately 44,000 black farmers in the U.S. today, making up less than 2% of the farmer population. By contrast, in 1920, black farmers made up approximately 14% of all farmers in the U.S. Advocates say this decrease is the result of active discrimination. For example, farmer Michael Stovall was repeatedly denied a USDA loan for lack of experience, despite the fact that his family had owned their farm for four generations. After more than a decade of litigation, Stovall was eventually awarded a settlement of $250,000. Stovall’s story is not unique. A class action brought against the USDA in 1999, Pigford v. Glickman, alleged racial discrimination and eventually resulted in payouts to over 80,000 individuals totaling more than a billion dollars. Currently, two of the biggest threats to black farm ownership include pressure from corporate farms to buy land for soybean and corn production and the ageing of black farmers without adequate estate planning to ensure the property stays in the family. More recently, Latino, Native American and women farmers sued the USDA for discrimination. Former USDA Secretary Vilsack established claims procedures and funds were set aside to pay successful claims.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Death from Heat Stress

Farmworker Justice expresses its condolences to the family of Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez, who died on June 21 from apparent heat stroke. Guzman Chavez, aged 24, had arrived in Georgia from Mexico on an H-2A temporary work visa just a few days earlier. He fell ill and collapsed while picking tomatoes. The temperature at the time was 95 degrees, with a heat index of up to 104 degrees. Several organizations are offering assistance to the family.

Need for Government Action to Prevent Heat Stress Deaths

Unfortunately, injuries and deaths from heat stress are not uncommon among farmworkers and yet they are almost always preventable. Farmworker Justice has sought federal safety standards to protect agricultural workers and is renewing our effort. In fact, Public Citizen, the United Farm Workers, and Farmworker Justice will soon petition the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to shield some of the most vulnerable U.S. populations, including farmworkers, by adopting heat stress protections. The petition will initiate the launch of a campaign to win a federal heat stress rule and encourage actions by state governments, as well as educate the public on the dangers of heat stress and the need to mitigate climate change. If your organization would like to sign on to the petition, please click here (the deadline for sign-on is July 10). For more information on this initiative, please contact FJ’s Director of Occupational & Environmental Health, Virginia Ruiz, at [email protected].  

Child Labor in Tobacco Fields

Recent articles in both The Guardian and The Atlantic detail the prevalence of child labor in the tobacco industry. Workers in tobacco fields are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness, in addition to general health risks faced by farmworkers including heat stress, injuries and pesticide exposure. The lack of adequate child labor protections in agriculture, coupled with the broader exclusions of farmworkers from key labor protections, create a situation that is ripe for child labor. The widespread use of labor contractors in agriculture also exacerbates this issue, as farm operators claim ignorance regarding the presence of children in their fields or supply chains.   

Oral Arguments in Chlorpyrifos Case Set for July 9

On July 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the agency’s decision to reverse a planned ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Farmworker Justice is a plaintiff in the case. Chlorpyrifos was banned for household use two decades ago, and the EPA was set to ban the chemical for agricultural use as well, based on the agency’s own science. However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course after pressure from Dow Chemical – the nation’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. The agency’s next safety review of chlorpyrifos is currently set for 2022.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Resigns

On July 5, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tendered his resignation. Pruitt was facing a series of ethics scandals and federal investigations related to his use of taxpayer funds for first class travel, security and other expenses, as well as use of his position to try to secure a job for his wife, among various other controversies. Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, will now be the acting EPA Administrator

April 27, 2018

Farmworker Justice Update: 04/26/18

H-2A Program Statistics for Second Quarter of FY 2018 Show Continued Expansion

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification recently published statistics on the H-2A program for the second quarter of FY 2018.  Over 80,000 positions were certified during this quarter, bringing the total number of H-2A positions certified to 112,214, an approximately 15% increase over the same period last year. This latest data shows the continuing trend of increased use of the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program, in spite of employers’ complaints that the program is unworkable. Last year (FY 2017), over 200,000 positions were certified under the program.

Tobacco Workers: FLOC Expands Boycott of Reynolds

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), which represents thousands of farmworkers in North Carolina, announced expansion of its boycott of Reynolds American Inc. (now owned by British American Tobacco)’s VUSE e-cigarette brand.  Seeking Reynolds’ signature on an agreement to ensure farmworkers’ rights to organize and improve their working conditions, FLOC and supporters held over 40 demonstrations around the country this month. For more information, visit the FLOC website.

Farmworker Women Call for Improvement of Protections against Sexual Harassment

In the wake of the #MeToo movement to combat sexual harassment, farmworker women from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women) are calling for the improvement of Title VII protections against discrimination, including sexual harassment. The issue of sexual harassment and gender based violence was one of the main topics discussed at Alianza’s recent national convening held in Washington, D.C. Some of the other priority topics discussed included immigration, labor conditions and pesticides. For more information on Alianza and its work, please visit their website.

Workplace Raid on Tennessee Meat Processing Plant Results in Nearly 100 Arrests

On April 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the Southeastern Provision meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee. During the raid, ICE arrested nearly 100 people, making this the largest workplace raid in a decade. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is representing approximately 50 of those arrested, working alongside the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). Many of those detained are parents, and the raid has had a significant impact on this small rural community. The day after the raid, hundreds of children were absent from school. A vigil was held shortly after the raid to show support to the families of those detained, and the community has also raised over sixty thousand dollars for the families. The raid has shown the terrible human impact of immigration enforcement and has caused some conservative voters in this rural area to re-assess their views on immigration policy.

ICE Arrests New York Dairy Worker, NY Governor and Senators Calling for Investigation of Incident

On April 18, ICE agents forcibly arrested a dairy worker in upstate New York in front of his wife and children. The dairy farmer who owns the property witnessed the arrest and demanded that the agents provide a warrant, asking them to leave when they did not. The agents did not leave, however, and when the farmer tried to record what was happening on his mobile phone, an ICE agent smashed his phone and briefly handcuffed him. The Workers’ Center of Central New York is aiding the family of the detained dairy worker. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for an investigation into the incident and asked the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to look into what occurred. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also denounced the incident. On April 25, Gov. Cuomo sent ICE a “cease and desist” letter threatening to sue the agency for its disregard of the rule of law.

DOJ Reverses Decision to Halt Legal Orientation Program

On April 25, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is reversing course on its previous decision to halt the Legal Orientation Program (LOP). The program, which was launched in 2003, provides funding to a number of organizations across the country to educate immigrants about their rights. Last year, the program helped approximately 53,000 immigrants in over a dozen states. A 2012 DOJ study found that immigrants who participated in LOP completed their court proceedings more quickly and spent less time in detainment. The decision to halt the program had been criticized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as a way of eviscerating due process rights and eliminating transparency in the immigration system and various senators sent a letter to the DOJ last week asking the agency to restart the program. Sessions stated that the decision to resume the program was made in deference to Congress.

Data Shows Sanctuary Policies Encourage People to Report Crime

A recent article in the Washington Post notes that contrary to the Trump administration’s narrative, sanctuary policies can actually increase public safety by making undocumented residents feel secure enough to cooperate with law enforcement. Research indicates that sanctuary counties have either similar or lower rates of crime than counties without sanctuary policies. A recent study by the article’s author helps to explain why this is the case. When told that local law enforcement might be working together with ICE, participants’ responses showed that they were 60% less likely to a report a crime, 42% less likely to report being a victim of a crime, and 68% percent less likely to participate in public events with a police presence. 42% also said they were less likely to place their children in an after school or day care program.

Recent DACA Court Decision Could Eventually Lead to New Applications

On April 24, a D.C. federal judge was the latest to find the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program unlawful. The decision resulted from a lawsuit brought by Princeton University (including a Princeton student who is a DACA recipient), the NAACP and Microsoft. The judge has given the government 90 days to provide better reasoning for its decision to end the program. If the government fails to do so, it must begin to accept and process new and existing DACA applications. Although two previous cases had already ordered DHS to accept renewal applications for current DACA recipients, this recent decision is the only one that may allow new applicants to participate in the program, which could benefit tens of thousands of young Dreamers who are currently unprotected.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Justice Sues EPA for Information about Agency’s Decision on Worker Rules

On April 17, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to turn over information pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. FJ and Earthjustice submitted a FOIA request in December 2017 asking for information on the EPA’s meetings with industry representatives and other materials relevant to the agency’s decision to revise and potentially weaken crucial protections in the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rules. The EPA did not comply with the deadline for responding to the FOIA request and has not provided any of this information. The lawsuit asks that the court order the EPA to provide the documents within 20 business days.

Global Warming Already Having an Impact on Texas Farmworkers

A recent article in Scientific American explores the impacts of global warming on farmworkers’ living and working conditions. Focusing on the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, the article notes that the increasing heat caused by global warming has already cut into farmworkers’ work hours, resulting in less income. It also exacerbates farmworkers’ already difficult working conditions, making them more susceptible to heat stress and dehydration. This problem is not just prevalent in the fields – workers in packing sheds can also suffer from these effects, especially if the sheds are not air-conditioned, which they rarely are. Furthermore, as detailed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s director of farmworker programs, Daniela Dwyer, farmworkers’ housing conditions also make them vulnerable to global warming’s impact, as they often live in crowded conditions, without air conditioning. Farmworkers may also have limited access to clean running water. These challenges are likely to worsen as global warming increases, making this an important topic for farmworker health.

Remembering Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993)

April 23 marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers and forever changed the nation.  For more information about him, visit the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
 

April 11, 2018

Below is a copy of a letter to the editor by Farmworker Justice president Bruce Goldstein, published in the Washington Post. A link to the letter can be found here

The article “Dairy farm meets tech revolution” [Economy & Business, April 6] did not address the reality for farmworkers. In recent years, dairy farms have consolidated into large operations. About one-half of dairies have 1,000 or more milking cows. These larger farms, even when using robots and artificial intelligence, need labor, and they increasingly hire immigrants.

Conditions for workers on many dairy farms are poor and often dangerous. In 2014 there were 49 reported fatalities in dairy cattle and milk production. Occupational death and injury rates in agriculture, livestock production and dairies are disproportionately high compared with other sectors. Yet federal employment laws often don’t apply to dairy farms. Even large farms are exempt from paying overtime and thus have little downside to requiring 70, 80 or 90 hours in a workweek, which can be dangerous and interfere with family life. Most federal occupational safety standards don’t apply to farms, and the few that do cannot be enforced in agriculture unless a farm operates a labor housing camp or employs at least 11 workers.

Dairy workers have been pressing for changes in labor practices and employment laws, as well as seeking collaborations with the dairy industry to improve wages and working conditions. Robots and artificial intelligence can reduce the need for labor and improve efficiency on dairy farms, but there is still a need for improvements when it comes to dairy farmworkers.

Bruce Goldstein, Washington

The writer is president of Farmworker Justice.

Latest News

June 25, 2018

Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Fairness for Farm Workers Act introduced today in the Senate and the House by Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona with numerous cosponsors. Farmworker Justice and our partners have been working with members of Congress on this important step toward treating agricultural workers with the respect they deserve.

April 27, 2018

For Immediate Release— April 9, 2018          

Contact:

Virginia Ruiz, Farmworker Justice director of occupational and environmental health, 202-800-2520 [email protected]

Carrie Apfel, Earthjustice staff attorney, 202-667-4500 ext.4310

Washington, D.C.— Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to turn over communications between EPA and interest groups related to the anticipated gutting of pesticide safeguards that protect farmworkers, families, and communities from toxic chemicals.

The lawsuit demands the release of documents reflecting communications between EPA and representatives of the agricultural and chemical industries that occurred after the Trump Administration took office, as well as notes from a meeting of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Program’s Federal Advisory Committee that preceded EPA’s decision to revisit crucial protections in the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA Rule).

“Scott Pruitt’s EPA has shown time and time again a complete disregard for rules and regulations that we know protect farmworkers and their families. These documents may be key to understanding why EPA suddenly decided to reject safeguards that it took decades to study and approve,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “The fact is, there is no justification for delaying common-sense measures to prevent pesticide poisonings and deaths.”

Last December, Trump’s EPA signaled it would review recent improvements to the WPS and CPA Rule, particularly updates that prohibit employers from requiring children to work with pesticides, provide farmworkers with better access to information about the pesticides to which they are exposed, and protect untrained workers from direct exposure to pesticides. Farmworker and public health organizations expect EPA to officially propose gutting these safeguards later this year.

Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA for the records in late December, days after EPA announced its intention to revisit these protections. The request went unanswered. Now, these groups are asking the court to order EPA to provide the documents within 20 business days.

“The WPS and CPA Rule are tremendously important safeguards that will protect 2.5 million farmworkers, nearly 1 million pesticide applicators, and countless families from pesticide exposure. Yet EPA is planning to gut them,” said Carrie Apfel, staff attorney for Sustainable Food & Farming Program at Earthjustice. “Farmworkers and their families have a right to know who EPA met with and what was discussed leading up to this terrible decision.”

The updated WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for most workers who mix, load, and apply pesticides, provides farmworkers the right to request pesticide information via a designated representative, and mandates that pesticide application stops if an untrained worker is likely to be hit by pesticide spray or drift. The revised CPA Rule improves the quality of training materials, and says unless exempted, certified pesticide applicators must be at least 18 years old.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, comes less than a month after the same district court ruled EPA had illegally delayed implementation of the CPA Rule last summer.

 

April 27, 2018

Farmworker Justice  March 22, 2018

In a major win for farmworker and health groups, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Wednesday, March 21, 2018 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Administrator Scott Pruitt illegally delayed implementation of key pesticide safety rules regarding “restricted-use pesticides” (RUP’s) – the most toxic class of pesticides -- applied by certified pesticide applicators.

Virginia Ruiz of FJ is co-counsel with Earthjustice attorneys.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Farmworker Association of Florida, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Pesticide Action Network North America.  The case is PCUN v. Pruitt, 17-cv-03434.

The revision by the Obama Administration of the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) Rule prevents minors from applying restricted-use pesticides and also improves the quality of training materials, and says certified pesticide applicators must be able to read and write. The main purpose of the CPA rule is to protect workers and the public from poisonings, by ensuring that those who handle the most dangerous pesticides are properly trained and certified.

After years of reviews, EPA published the revised CPA Rule in the last days of the Obama Administration.

But the then-incoming Trump Administration quickly delayed the rule, as it placed a mandatory freeze on all regulations coming out of federal agencies. The move prompted health-promotion and farmworker organizations represented by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice to file suit.

The federal judge, Jeffrey S. White, agreed that there was no valid justification for delaying common sense measures to prevent pesticide poisonings and deaths and that the agency and Pruitt violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which concerns federal regulatory actions, including by failing to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking.

The court declared the original March 6, 2017 effective date of the CPA rule as the effective date, making its ruling effective immediately.  The ruling comes three months after the EPA said it wants to revise crucial parts of the CPA rule (to weaken it) It’s still unclear when the EPA will open the proposed changes for public comments.

According to the EPA, there are about one million certified applicators nationwide. Before delaying implementation, the agency said the revised rule could prevent some 1,000 acute poisonings every year.

Now the EPA must work with state agencies to revise the certification processes for applicators of restricted use pesticides to implement the new safety standards.  The defendants have the right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

We continue our advocacy and litigation on other actions by the Trump EPA and Pruitt to weaken pesticide safety standards that prevent pesticide exposure to farmworkers and their children.