Participamos activamente en litigios para promover los derechos laborales de los trabajadores agrícolas y remediar los abusos laborales sistémicos a los que se enfrentan.
Justicia Campesina, desde su creación en 1981, ha presentado demandas en nombre de los trabajadores agrícolas y sus organizaciones, a menudo en colaboración con otros defensores y abogados para maximizar el impacto. Algunos de los casos abordan abusos laborales sistémicos cometidos por empleadores agrícolas y buscan establecer un precedente que protegerá o beneficiará a los trabajadores agrícolas y sus familias en todo el país. Muchos de nuestros casos son demandas contra organismos gubernamentales federales por adoptar políticas ilegales que perjudican a los trabajadores agrícolas y a sus familiares. Estos casos tienen que ver con la inmigración, los derechos laborales, el programa de trabajadores agrícolas invitados H-2A, las normas de seguridad laboral y las normas de seguridad de los pesticidas. También apoyamos casos presentados en tribunales estatales y participamos en escritos de amicus curiae (amigo del tribunal) en el Tribunal Supremo de EE. UU. y los tribunales de apelación para educar a los jueces sobre los trabajadores agrícolas y los desafíos que experimentan. Nuestra lista de casos recientes está disponible más abajo:
Colorado Livestock Association v. Polis No. 23CV495 (Denver County District Court)
In August 2023, an organization representing several ranchers in the state of Colorado, the Colorado Livestock Association (“CLA”), filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, alleging that the camp access provisions of the newly enacted SB 21-87 (“Farmworker Bill of Rights”) amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation as outlined in the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid,141 S.Ct. 2063 (2021). The Farmworker Bill of Rights enshrines the right of access of key service providers, including legal aid attorneys, health and welfare workers and union organizers to speak to farmworkers outside of their work locations on a limited basis and creates a right of access to the workers on employer property only in emergency situations.
In October 2023, Farmworker Justice joined with Farmstand in filing a motion to intervene on behalf of Colorado Legal Services and an anonymous worker to oppose Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief to prohibit key service providers from exercising their right of access to farmworkers to supply them with necessary information and services. On November 1, 2023, the district court granted Colorado Legal Services and Jane Doe’s motion to intervene. The State of Colorado has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, claiming that Colorado Livestock Association is limited to an ward of actual damages under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and because it has not alleged that it has suffered any actual physical intrusion onto its properties, it is not entitled to any relief.
Campos v. Lamm Farms et al No. 23-cv-00417 (E.D. N.C. 2023)
On July 28, 2023, Farmworker Justice in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Farmworker Unit (“FWU”) filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina against Lamm Farms, LLC, Alvarado’s Harvesting, LLC, and other defendants for human trafficking and state and federal minimum and overtime wage violations on behalf of a 2022 H-2A worker from Mexico. The complaint states that Lamm Farms and other Defendants confiscated Plaintiff’s and the other workers’ passports upon their arrival to North Carolina, and did not provide them with details on the locations or farms where they would be working. The complaint also states causes of action for Defendants’ fraudulent inducement of employment, breach of contract, and unlawful retaliation. The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages for Defendants’ violations of law.
In his Complaint, Plaintiff states that he and his co-workers were subjected to horrific working conditions, where they worked upwards of 60 hours a week under constant threat of deportation and harm to their family members. Plaintiff alleges that he and his co-workers never received the wages Defendants promised to them that were required to Be paid under the United States Department of Labor’s H-2A visa regulations. In addition, Plaintiff was forced to pay off to the recruiter and supervisor hired by Lamm Farms for debts imposed upon him for his travel to North Carolina.
The filing of the case drew considerable media attention from several outlets, leading to articles that were published in the Raleigh News and Observer, the Charlotte Observer and Investigate Midwest Reporting. Three of the four defendants have failed to respond to Plaintiff’s Complaint, and Plaintiff has accordingly moved for entry of default against those defendants.
Rojas v. First Pick Farms, LLC, No. 1:23-00604 (W.D. Mich.),
Farmworker Justice, along with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Committee (MIRC) and Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan (FLS-MI) filed a case on June 9, 2023, on behalf of two farmworkers who were brought to North Carolina on H-2A visas, but who were then later trafficked to Michigan to perform work outside of the permission of their job orders. While in North Carolina, the workers were awakened by their supervisor in the middle of the night and were told they were being taken to Michigan to work on another farm. The farmworker-plaintiffs were subjected to horrific working and housing conditions while in Michigan, where they were forced to live in a barren two-bedroom house with no furniture along with 30 other workers. Defendants required the Plaintiffs and their co-workers to work 12 hours a day with no breaks and work 7 days a week. The complaint asserts causes of action for violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Upon filing of the complaint, the case received significant media attention, including coverage in print, radio and tv publications. In particular, Farmworker Justice Staff Attorney Trent Taylor provided comments on the case and the H-2A program on Grand Rapids, MI local ABC affiliate. Four of the six defendants named in the complaint have filed an answer in the case. The remaining two defendants failed to file a timely answer, and after Plaintiffs’ filed a motion for entry of default, the two defendants filed a motion to set aside the default. That motion is currently pending before the Court.
Rangel-Vitale v. Colorado Dept. of Labor and Employment, Case No. 22-cv-30353 (Denver County, Colorado)
In February of 2022, Farmworker Justice joined a coalition of farmworker and labor advocates in Colorado to challenge a recently-promulgated rule that set overtime standards for Colorado’s agricultural workers. The lawsuit alleges the rule is inconsistent with the authorizing statute, violates Colorado’s administrative Procedure Act, and is contrary to the guarantee of equal protection of the law under the Colorado Constitution. The regulations currently set the overtime threshold at 60 hours a week, and are riddled with various exceptions, whereas the overtime threshold for most all other hourly wage workers in Colorado is set at 40 hours of work per work week.
On March 10, 2023, Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a court order that Colorado’s newly promulgated overtime regulations violate the administrative procedure act and the equal protection clause of the Colorado constitution. In July of 2023, the parties completed their briefing on Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment with Plaintiffs’ filing of their reply brief. The parties are currently awaiting the District Court’s ruling on the motion for summary judgment.
Lopez et al v. Mastronardi Produce-USA, Inc. et al, No. 22-cv-00448-RJJ (W.D. Mich.)
Farmworker Justice and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) filed a class action lawsuit on June 1, 2022, on behalf of a putative class of approximately 1,200 farmworkers who worked in a greenhouse facility in Coldwater, Michigan. The lawsuit alleged that the workers were exposed to frequent and continuous fumigation of pesticides in the greenhouse facility while performing work there, and suffered injuries such as continuous nose bleeds, skin rashes, headaches, nausea, eye irritation and fainting. The workers also alleged that the employer engaged in deceptive payment practices and other forms of wage theft.
On May 12, 2023, the parties reached a settlement agreement in principle to settle their federal law claims. Defendants have agreed to compensate Plaintiffs in an amount of $178,000 in exchange for Plaintiffs’ dismissal of all claims.
On September 1, 2023, Plaintiffs initiated their mailing of notice to the putative class members. Follow-up notice has be sent via email and text message. Class members have until November 30, 2023 to exercise their right to submit a claim form, opt-out of the class, or object to the proposed class settlement.
Garcia et al v. Pioneer Hi-Bred, Inc., No. 3:20-cv-03322 (C.D. Ill.)
In another pesticide exposure case, Farmworker Justice is serving as co-counsel in a federal lawsuit along with Legal Aid of Chicago, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid where the organizations represent approximately 30 farmworkers and their family members who suffered illnesses and injuries as a result of being sprayed with or having contact with pesticides administered via aerial application on two subsequent occasions (once by plane, the other by helicopter). The affected workers, who were recruited as migrant workers from Texas, were detassleing corn near Champaign, Illinois. Defendants are the grower (Pioneer Hi-Bred, Inc.), two aerial applicators (RAS and Curliss Flying Services) and the farm labor contractor.
The aerial applicators sprayed the Plaintiff workers with toxic pesticides as they worked, even though the Workers were plainly visible. After each incident, Defendant PHI (1) failed to provide adequate decontamination measures to the Workers to mitigate the toxicity of the pesticides to which Plaintiffs were exposed, and (2) failed to provide truthful information and necessary medical attention to the injured workers.
Moreover, after the second incident, Defendant PHI (1) immediately ordered the workers to return to work in the field, despite the still-ambient pesticides, where the Pesticide Applicators then sprayed the Workers a second time; and then (2) claimed the spray had been smoke, and refused to provide known information about the pesticides involved.
In their lawsuit, Plaintiffs have raised causes of action under tort law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) and the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Plaintiffs have entered into a settlement with Defendant PHI on their Fair Labor Standards Act and contract violation claims and are currently engaged in discovery with respect to their remaining causes of action.
Torres & Familaias Unidas Para Justicia v. United States Department of Labor, Case No. 1:20-cv-03241-SMJ, (E.D. Washington 2021):
Farmworker Justice joined this action on August 18, 2021, which challenges the Department of Labor’s procedures for conducting prevailing wage surveys in agricultural employment. For decades, payment of cherry, apple, and pear harvest workers in Washington state has been based on piece rate compensation. This practice benefits both the growers and farmworkers, because piece rate compensation rewards farmworkers who work assiduously to pick as many fruit as they can by paying them well above the minimum wage, and simultaneously ensuring that highly perishable crop are picked on time, thus rewarding growers by maximizing their profit margins.
The case challenged the employer practice of falsely interjecting hourly-wage guarantees tied to lower statutory minimum wage rates to undermine the piece rate compensation system under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), as well as the Department of Labor’s arbitrary failure to utilize worker surveys to verify statements of wage rates indicated by employers. Finally, the lawsuit contested the Department of Labor’s allegedly unlawful practice of certifying H-2A job orders which promised to pay on an hourly Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), even when there is a higher established prevailing piece rate for the same crop activity. The lawsuit argued that these three factors violated the limits on the H-2A program: that the employment of foreign migrant agricultural workers should only be used as needed, and if used, should not adversely affect the wages or employment of U.S. workers. Co-counseling with FJ in the case are Columbia Legal Services and Iglitzin & Lavitt, P.A., a union-side labor law firm based in Seattle, WA.
In July of 2023, the state workforce agency (SWA) released its 2023 prevailing wage rate survey results, Subsequent thereto, DOL moved to dismiss the majority of Plaintiffs’ existing claims, claiming that the claims had been rendered moot by the SWA’s newly conducted survey and its survey results. Unfortunately, the District Court found in favor of the United States Department of Labor on nearly all causes of action, except for Plaintiffs’ AEWR only claim, Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs requested a final judgment on this claim, arguing that the claim was purely legal in nature, and judgment as a matter of law was appropriate under the given circumstances.
Shortly thereafter, The District Court granted final judgment in the favor of United States Department of Labor on the Plaintiff’s only remaining claim, Plaintiffs promptly filed their notice of appeal and brief in support of their appeal, shortly thereafter. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed to expedite the appeal. On October 19, 2023. Plaintiffs filed their appellate brief with the court and are currently awaiting Defendants’ response thereto.
Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. et at v. EPA, 1:20-cv-10642 (S.D.N. Y.):
In December of 2020, Farmworker Justice along with co-counsel Earth Justice, representing several farm worker advocacy organizations, challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision in December 2020 to weaken the Application Exclusion Zone, a specific regulation included in the Worker Protection Standards on pesticide usage and application, which is key to protecting against pesticide spray drift. In January, of 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a temporary restraining order and the government agreed to an extension of the bar against the new regulation.
In March 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency published a notice of proposed rulemaking which seeks to reinstate the provisions of the Application Exclusion Zone regulations that the Trump administration intended to eliminate, which the plaintiffs had challenged in their lawsuit. The notice of the proposed rule represents a significant victory for farmworkers and their families who often are at risks of exposure to toxic pesticides.
Plaintiffs recently agreed to a six month extension of the stay of the proceedings to allow EPA to draft and publish its final rule on the issue.
Amicus Curiae Briefs
United Farm Workers v. Lynn-ette & Sons, Inc., Case No. CU-6699 (NY Public Employees Relation Board),
Farmworker Justice along with a coalition of farmworker advocacy organizations and labor groups have drafted an submitted a brief on behalf of the United Farm Workers, who are seeking to certify a bargaining unit comprise of both domestic and H-2A farmworkers.
In 2019, a New York State Appeals court found the exclusion of farmworkers from collective bargaining rights provided to other workers to be in violation of the New York Constitution. The court’s ruling made New York one of only a handful of states to grant collective bargaining rights to farmworkers. Following the court’s decision, the New York state legislature then formally granted farmworkers the right to organize their workplaces and engage in collective bargaining. The United Farm Workers have filed 5 petitions for certification of different farmworker bargaining units. Three of these petitions for certification have been challenged by the employers of the respective bargaining units. In each of the there cases, the employers have objected to the eligibility of H-2A workers to avail themselves of collective bargaining rights under New York state law and to be included in the same bargaining unit as non-H-2A workers.
Farmworker Justice along with several other farmworker advocacy organizations co-drafted an amicus curiae brief. The brief was submitted to the New York Public Employees Relations Board on June 28, 2023. The parties are still awaiting a ruling in that case.
Florida Growers Association v. Su, No. 8:23-cv-00889 and USA Farm Labor v. Su, No. 1:23-cv-00089
In these two parallel cases where a growers association and a farm labor recruitment organization have challenged the Department of Labor’s newly promulgated regulation which revises the methodology for calculating the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR) to be paid to H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment. In relevant part, the new rule bases the determination of the wages paid to H-2A workers and their domestic counterparts who perform non-crop care or livestock related work on the Occupational Employment Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey instead of the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Labor Survey (FLS).
The result in the changed methodology is that the wages of H-2A workers performing non crop care or livestock related work, but who instead perform work incidental to a farming operation, such as construction (building of barns and fences), truck drivers hauling grain or farm commodities, or agricultural machinery mechanics, will be determined through a survey, the OEWS, which compares the wages of these workers who perform incidental farm labor with all workers in similar occupations in the United States, rather than applying the same wage rates applicable to other farmworkers engaged in dissimilar activities. The difference in the wage rates as established between these two methodologies can amount to as much as $7/hour for a given H-2A worker.
Farmworker Justice along with Public Citizen has submitted an amicus curiae brief in each case in support of the Department of Labor’s defense of its newly promulgated rule. In their brief, amici argue that reversion to the determination of wages of these non-traditional farmworkers based upon the Farm Labor Survey will lead to a depreciation of domestic workers within their respective industries and violate the guiding principle underlying the H-2A program: that the introduction of foreign guest workers should not adversely effect the wages or working conditions of U.S. workers. No ruling has been issued in either of the cases as to date.