Farmworker Justice Update: June 18, 2021

David Weil Nominated to be Wage and Hour Administrator

The Biden administration has nominated David Weil to lead the Department of Labor‚Äôs Wage and Hour Division, where he would be in charge of enforcing federal minimum wage and overtime law. Weil, who is a professor and university administrator, previously served in the same position from 2014 to 2017. He has long been an advocate for effective enforcement of workers‚Äô rights and an outspoken critic of labor abuses associated with the ‚Äúfissured workplace‚ÄĚ in which businesses use employee misclassification, staffing agencies, labor contractors and other intermediaries to shift legal responsibility away from themselves. During the Obama Administration, then-Administrator Weil bore the brunt of conservatives‚Äô ire for his employment-law enforcement efforts, particularly in agriculture.

 

USCIS Updates Policy to Expedite Work Authorization for U Visa Applicants

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued new guidance updating its policy for granting employment authorization and deferred action to U-visa applicants. U visas are available to noncitizens who have been victims of certain qualifying crimes and/or who are helping law enforcement prosecute or investigate such crimes. The U visa, and the protections it provides, is essential to allowing noncitizen victims and/or witnesses to report crimes, including certain labor crimes, without fear of being deported. Under the new guidance, USCIS will make an initial discretionary determination as to whether an individual‚Äôs application is bona fide, i.e., ‚Äúmade in good faith and without intention of deceit or fraud.‚ÄĚ According to USCIS, this will allow the agency to grant U-visa applicants work authorization and deferred action while they await adjudication of their visa application, a process that currently takes about 5 years.

 

States Consider Expanding Worker Protections Post-Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what workers and advocates have long known‚ÄĒour country‚Äôs current system of laws¬†and regulations are too weak to fully protect workers from exploitation and mistreatment. In response, several states have considered adopting labor legislation to ensure unscrupulous employers cannot take advantage of workers without repercussions. Many states are modeling their proposed legislation on California‚Äôs private attorney general law, which allows mistreated workers to file suits on behalf of co-workers against employers, as if they were a public agency, after the agency has not pursued a claim.¬† The workers can seek civil penalties, 75% of which goes to the state. California‚Äôs law also protects workers from mandatory arbitration agreements, helping to ensure that workers with valid legal claims can get their day in court.

New Jersey, New York, Maine, and Connecticut are all considering variations on California’s law, but they face fierce opposition from management-side groups that wish to avoid accountability for employers. The private attorneys general laws are needed because government employment-law enforcement is inadequate. FJ encourages states to act swiftly in enacting laws to protect the workers who have risked their own health and safety to help the country amid the deadly coronavirus crisis.

 

Farmworker Bill Passes Colorado Legislature

            The Colorado legislature passed the Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill (SB 87) in June, paving the way for the state to bring farmworkers under many of the same labor protections that guard the state’s other workers from dangerous and exploitative work conditions. The Governor is expected to sign the bill. The bill would remove the farmworker exemptions from the state’s Labor Peace Act, thereby protecting their right to join labor unions, strike, and engage in collective bargaining. It would also grant farmworkers the right to the state minimum wage, overtime pay, and meal and rest breaks. Finally, the bill would create a stronger pathway for farmworkers to vindicate their rights in court without fear of retaliation. FJ congratulates Towards Justice and the many other farmworkers and advocates who have worked to build support for this important legislation. As other states move forward toward equal protection for farmworkers, the pressure builds on Congress to do so as well.

 

Report Shows Economic Benefit of Immigration Reform

            The Center for American Progress has published a new report, Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants Would Boost U.S. Economic Growth. The report considers four possible legislative scenarios for immigration reform: (1) a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, (2) a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS-eligible individuals, (3) a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant essential workers, and (4) a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS-eligible individuals, and essential workers. The researchers found that every scenario resulted in tremendous benefits for the US economy. For example, providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented essential workers would boost the nation’s GDP by a cumulative total of $989 billion over 10 years and create 203,200 new jobs.

 

ICE Issues New Interim Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion in Deportation Cases

On Friday, June 4, ICE issued a new interim prosecutorial discretion memo for ICE attorneys in charge of prosecuting deportation and bond cases. Generally, an ICE grant of prosecutorial discretion means a decision not to pursue enforcement (arrest, detention, and/or deportation) in a particular case. The memo identifies five groups of people whose cases ICE should generally dismiss if they are not enforcement priorities and if they do not have serious negative factors. Two of these groups may be particularly relevant for immigrant farmworkers facing ICE enforcement. The first group is people who have compelling humanitarian factors. This group includes those with a serious health condition; those who are elderly, pregnant, or minors; those serving as the primary caregiver to a family or household member with a serious illness; victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other serious crimes; those who came to the U.S. as a young child and lived here continuously since; or those involved in a serious lawsuit like family court, civil rights, or a labor dispute. The second group is people who are witnesses, confidential informants, or otherwise assisting law enforcement, including for labor and civil rights investigations/cases.

 

FARMWORKER HEALTH AND SAFETY

 Supreme Court Rejects Efforts to End Affordable Care Act

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† In its third ruling on the law, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court‚Äôs opinion did not go into the merits of the case. Instead, it held that the plaintiffs, Texas and 17 other states, lacked standing to bring their challenge because they did not suffer any injury. This ruling protects the health care coverage of millions of people, including farmworkers and their families. Had the Court chosen to strike down the ACA, millions of people‚ÄĒprimarily low-income adults‚ÄĒwould have lost their health care coverage, even as the country continues to see thousands of new COVID-19 cases every day. Enrollment in healthcare.gov, the ACA federal marketplace, is currently open under a COVID-19 special enrollment period, which ends August 15.

 

OSHA Leaves Farmworkers Out of COVID Safety Standard

On June 10, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally published a COVID emergency temporary standard (ETS) for the workplace. Although the agency created mandatory rules for the health care sector, it issued only recommendations for all other sectors, including agriculture. OSHA has abdicated its responsibility to farmworkers and their families. FJ calls on the Biden administration to immediately issue an ETS with mandatory rules for agricultural employers.

 

OSHA to Consider Heat Illness Prevention Standard

            The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it will begin exploring the potential for rulemaking around a heat illness prevention standard. As a first step, the agency will publish a Request for Information so that stakeholders may provide feedback on the need for a standard and what such a standard should include. This action comes after several advocacy organizations, including Farmworker Justice, repeatedly petitioned OSHA to protect outdoor workers from increasing temperatures. From 1992 to 2017, heat stress killed at least 815 U.S. workers. As climate change leads to increased temperatures, the risk to agricultural and other outdoor workers continues to grow. It is long past time that OSHA take action to protect workers.

 

Court Halts Use of Toxic Pesticide

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The D.C. Circuit held in June that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it approved the use of aldicarb on Florida citrus without first making an ESA effects determination. The ruling means that aldicarb‚ÄĒwhich is banned in 125 countries and classified as ‚Äúextremely hazardous‚ÄĚ by the World Health Organization‚ÄĒwill not be used on 100,000 acres of Florida fields as had been originally planned. This victory comes after several farmworker and environmental groups filed a complaint challenging the EPA‚Äôs decision to approve use of the toxic pesticide. Although the EPA originally made this decision under the Trump administration, it did not reverse course when President Biden entered office and instead continued litigating the case.

 

Lawmakers to Introduce Bill Banning Child Labor in Tobacco Fields

On June 14, 2021, Congressman Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Durban (D-IL) announced that they will soon reintroduce the ‚ÄúChildren Don‚Äôt Belong on Tobacco Farms Act.‚ÄĚ The bill, which was previously introduced in 2019, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to classify work in tobacco fields or where workers come into direct contact with tobacco as ‚Äúoppressive child labor‚ÄĚ and prohibit the employment of children under 18 in such jobs. Current law permits children 12 and older to work in tobacco fields, where they are exposed to serious health risks when they harvest and cultivate the deadly crop, including nicotine poisoning. These risks are exacerbated by the other oppressive conditions of farm labor, including high heat, long hours, and toxic pesticides. Passage of this bill is urgently needed to protect children from dangerous work.

 

WHEJAC Releases Environmental Report

            On May 13, 2021, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) released its interim final report. WHEJAC was created through President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 to advise the Council of Environmental Quality and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how the federal government should address environmental injustice. The interim final report includes several recommendations related to the health and safety of farmworkers, such as (1) strengthening and better enforcing OSHA’s field sanitation standard, (2) establishing heat illness standards for outdoor workers, (3) investing in farm labor housing and improving housing standards, (4) repealing the Trump Administration’s changes to the Worker Protection Standard’s Application Exclusion Zone, and (5) consulting with farmworkers and farmworker-serving organizations on pesticide mitigation efforts.

 

Maryland Passes Law to Protect Worker Health

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† This month, Maryland passed the Maryland Essential Workers‚Äô Protection Act (HB 581), making it the third state to enact legislation requiring workplaces to take certain precautions during a ‚Äúcatastrophic health emergency,‚ÄĚ such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act applies to essential employers in industries that must remain open even during public health emergencies, including agriculture. Covered employers are required to adopt and maintain written safety protocols, ensure that working conditions comply with federal and state safety standards, provide necessary safety equipment, report positive test results, and provide paid leave where needed. The Act also includes provisions to prevent misclassification and retaliation. FJ applauds Maryland for taking this vital step to protect its frontline workers.

The Role of Community Health Centers in Promoting Health Care Access and COVID-19 Prevention for Agricultural Workers

Community health centers (CHCs) play a key role in increasing health care access for agricultural workers across the U.S., providing much-needed preventative and primary care that might otherwise be unaffordable or unavailable to many.  CHCs, nonprofit clinics that provide services to medically-underserved communities, are an essential component of the health care delivery system for this population, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made their services even more vital. Migrant health centers (MHCs) are CHCs that provide health care services to migratory and seasonal agricultural workers (MSAWs) and their families. MHCs served over 887,000 patients in 2018, or about 20% of the nation’s agricultural workers.

Agricultural workers encounter many barriers to accessing health care. Fifty-three percent of them lack any form of health insurance, and only 18 percent have comprehensive health insurance through their employer. Given that the mean income for an agricultural worker family is about $20,000, health care costs are unaffordable for a large number of these families. MHCs help bridge this financial need by making medical care available on a sliding-fee scale based on ability to pay. However, even those who have insurance face additional obstacles that may prevent them from obtaining care. Being employed in agriculture means they often live in underserved rural areas with insufficient numbers of clinics, hospitals and health professionals. Lack of transportation, long work hours and language barriers compound these problems. By offering supporting services such as transportation, mobile clinics and language interpreters, MHCs help break down these barriers.

Access to COVID-19 testing has been a constant challenge for agricultural communities. As far back as May, 90 percent of health centers offered COVID-19 tests. Some MHCs have found ways to bring testing to agricultural workers, using mobile testing sites in communities and farm sites. As agricultural areas have seen increasing numbers of infections, MHC personnel have been on the front lines performing tests and educating workers and employers on COVID-19 prevention. They have also expanded their telemedicine services in response to the pandemic and performed contact tracing to reduce the spread of disease.

Farmworker Justice works with MHCs to promote agricultural worker access to health care. As a member of the Farmworker Health Network (FHN), FJ brings together community health center staff to share best practices, ascertain needs, and identify resources  to better serve their communities. In addition, FJ provides training and technical assistance (T/TA) to migrant health centers on issues concerning federal policy and occupational health and promotes collaboration between health centers and community-based organizations, including legal services organizations and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. Complementing these efforts are publications aimed at health center staff, such as clinician guides, and outreach materials designed for outreach staff and agricultural workers. These materials cover subjects such as occupational health, diabetes prevention, and health insurance, and are available in the Health section of our Resource Center.

As part of our COVID-19 work, we  created a page on our website listing resources for farmworker-serving organizations, such as COVID-19 information in Spanish and indigenous languages, as well as state policies on COVID-19 prevention in agricultural workplaces. As we continue our advocacy efforts, we will also develop worker outreach resources and provide T/TA to CHCs on COVID-19 policies and regulations. These activities will support MHC’s efforts as they provide services to the agricultural community and address the impacts of the pandemic.

During this National Health Center Week, we thank the dedicated community health center staff, who make health care access possible for medically underserved communities around the country, including America’s agricultural workers.

Farmworker Justice Update: 06/04/2020

High COVID Risk Among Farmworkers

Farmworkers¬†face a threat¬†of high numbers of COVID-19 infections among their community. On one Tennessee farm all two hundred workers tested positive, and throughout the country farmworker communities are seeing high numbers of infections due to, among other reasons, an inability to isolate from one another at work or in employer provided housing.¬†Little is being done¬†to prevent infections. Social distancing guidelines are not being implemented by many employers, and the safety precautions being taken are often inadequate. However, it is impossible to know the true extent of the crisis because no one is collecting the number of infections among the farmworker population specifically and testing is still not widespread. Additionally, despite the ongoing crisis, there is still no national standard to protect farmworkers, and instead, each state has been left to decide whether to implement protection standards. The¬†CDC recently issued¬†some federal guidance regarding farmworkers and COVID, detailed in our ‚ÄúHealth and Safety‚ÄĚ section below. However, the guidance just recommends, rather than requires, steps to be taken by employers. Some states have similarly issued voluntary guidance, but many have not. The food supply relies on these workers, and they should be treated like the essential workers they are.

USDA and FDA Claim Power to Order Farm Production to Continue

On May 19, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a joint statement announcing that the USDA could use its authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to force farms to continue production. The FDA will continue to work with farms and other entities that do not fall directly under USDA authority according to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two agencies, which follows an April 28 Executive Order on the food supply. The agencies claim that the DPA and the Executive Order could be used to override state and local health authorities, require farms to operate and force workers back to work even if safety conditions have not improved for workers. The MOU does not establish safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19.

Senators Introduce Bill with PPE Funding

Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI) recently introduced the¬†‚ÄúFood Supply Protection Act,‚ÄĚ which aims to bolster various sectors in the food supply chain¬† The bill includes grants and loans to purchase PPE as well as test kits and cleaning¬†to protect workers (including farmworkers).¬†Those same grants and loans can also be used to upgrade equipment so that small and medium sized processing plants can run more efficiently. Additionally, the bill provides funding to food banks and nonprofits to increase their ability to serve more individuals. Farmworker Justice supports this bill.

Washington Farmworkers Protest Working Conditions

Starting May 7, workers began striking over safety conditions at produce warehouses in the Yakima Valley in Washington. The county faced the second largest COVID infection rate in the state, and workers want more protections. Workers are calling for paid sick leave, hazard pay, safer working conditions and protection from retaliation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers tried to report their concerns and fears to supervisors, but they felt dismissed and ultimately ignored. On May 26, workers delivered around 200 petitions and declarations from workers to the Washington Department of Labor. These documents have stories from farmworkers outlining inadequate safety standards and asking for more protections. UFW and Familias Unidas por la Justicia filed a lawsuit in order to force the hand of the Washington state government, and the government responded by implementing new Washington state farmworker protections.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

CDC Issues Interim COVID Guidance for Farmworkers and Employers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued joint interim COVID-19 guidance for agricultural workers and employers. The guidance includes recommendations for the screening and monitoring of workers, disinfection and sanitation, provision of masks and personal protective equipment, housing, and transportation. The guidance can be found on the CDC website.

OSHA Revises Its Enforcement Standard

On May 19, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was revising its enforcement standard during COVID-19. The agency announced that they will once again start in person inspections. Employers will be responsible for keeping records on positive COVID cases amongst their employees and whether the infection was work related. While it may be difficult to ascertain whether a case is work related or not, an employer must use the tools in their power to try to make a determination. Employers with 10 or fewer employees do not have the same reporting requirements. Instead, they need only report if there is a death or injury related to the COVID infection.

EPA Releases Guidance on Respiratory Protections for Pesticide Applicators

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a temporary respiratory protection standard for pesticide applicators during COVID-19. The agency provided this guidance because respirators used during normal times are in low supply due to the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in other sectors. The EPA lays out alternative options including: using alternative respirators than those required on the label, hiring commercial applicators who have the correct PPE available, using pesticides that do not require PPE and waiting to do the application. However, the agency also provides another list of possible alternatives if the previous solutions are not feasible. These extra alternatives could put workers at risk as they allow use of  expired masks,  reusing and extending use of available  masks and waiving certain requirements for mask fit testing.

Oregon and Washington Implement Farmworker Safety Standards for COVID

On May 28, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced required safety protections at agricultural worksites to protect farmworkers from COVID-19. Employers are required to document and maintain a COVID-19 response plan. They must provide masks, additional handwashing stations, temperature checks at the beginning and end of a shift, timely access to testing for symptomatic employees, and education and training. The provisions went into effect on June 3, 2020.

Similarly, Oregon Governor Brown announced on May 29 that the state would be investing $30 million in protections for farmworkers. The state will be offering masks and hand sanitizer to employers for workers’ use, COVID mitigating efforts like a quarantine budget, and funds for workforce housing, field sanitation and employer provided transportation.

Washington and Maryland Governors Veto Chlorpyrifos Bans

After their respective legislatures historically passed bills to limit chlorpyrifos use in their states, Maryland and Washington governors vetoed the legislation allegedly due to COVID-19 budget impact concerns.

On March 10, the Washington state legislature had passed E2SSB 6518. The legislation directed funds to the Department of Agriculture to study the impact of the pesticide and ultimately develop rules to limit its use, and additional funds were to go to Washington State University to research effective alternatives to chlorpyrifos. However, on April 3, Governor Inslee vetoed those funding provisions citing the need to lower costs due to revenue lost during COVID.

On March 18, the Maryland legislature had passed a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos in the state.  Farmworker Justice supported this ban and testified in the Maryland legislature in favor of the bill. The ban would have gone into effect on January 1, 2021. However, Governor Hogan chose to veto the bill in favor of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s proposal that it would take steps to prevent chlorpyrifos use. The proposed steps are much weaker than those suggested in the bill. Advocates are asking the Maryland legislature to override the veto and enact this historic legislation.

Farmworker Justice Update: 05/04/2020

COVID Crisis Continues to Impact Farmworkers 

Farmworker communities remain in crisis as COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States and around the world. As essential workers, farmworkers continue to labor in conditions ‚Äď at work, during transportation and in housing — that expose them to the risk of COVID-19. Farmworkers around the country report that many workplaces do not comply with CDC recommendations regarding social distancing, hand washing and protective equipment. Farmworker Justice is collaborating with farmworker-serving organizations and many other organizations across the United States to help farmworker families confront the very serious challenges caused by COVID-19. We are gathering information and devising strategies to help farmworkers and their organizations advance solutions for the health and well-being of farmworkers, their children and their communities. We are also supporting legislative efforts to protect farmworkers and other essential workers during this crisis, including, but not limited to, a¬†COVID worker bill of rights¬†championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA). Farmworker Justice‚Äôs ¬†statement on the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on farmworkers can be found¬†here, and additional resources, including coalition letters to Congress and the Administration, can be found¬†here.

 

COVID and the H-2A Program

The Trump administration has made some changes to the H-2A program in the name of granting flexibility to employers amidst the COVID crisis that have brought added uncertainty for workers without addressing their risk of infection. As previously reported, the Administration continued processing H-2A agricultural guestworker visas at U.S. consulates abroad, despite ending other immigration processes, and refuses to issue special safety and health protections against the risks these guestworkers face due to crowded transportation, housing, sanitary facilities and workplaces. On April 20,  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a temporary final rule that allows H-2A program employers to more easily share H-2A guestworkers. The new measures will last 120 days, but could be extended further.

Meanwhile, a recent news story states that new White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, is working with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to potentially lower farmworker wages by eliminating or reducing the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) under the H-2A program. There have been previous efforts by the Trump administration and members of Congress to eliminate the AEWR, which Farmworker Justice and other advocates have been pushing back against.

Farmworkers and their organizations are concerned about this proposal.  Farmworker Justice staff have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones and other outlets about the wage-cut proposal and the harm it would cause to both guestworkers and U.S. workers. One worry is that the cut in guestworker wages would also depress domestic farmworker wages. Such wage cuts would be devastating to workers who already receive low wages, but would be especially inappropriate as Congress grants billions of dollars to agricultural employers and farmworkers are expected to continue to work as essential workers without adequate safety and health protections.

During the crisis there have also been calls to expand the H-2A program. Last month,  the National Milk Producers Federation asked the USDA and the DOL to include dairy in the H-2A program during the COVID-19 pandemic, something they had already been advocating for previously. The H-2A program is limited to seasonal employment, and the large majority of dairy farm jobs are year-round. The H-2A program is premised on the idea that it may be difficult to find U.S. workers for seasonal farm jobs because they yield lower annual incomes than year-round jobs. Agricultural employers with year-round jobs should do what any other employer must do to attract and retain workers: improve wages and working conditions.

 

DOL Releases Second Quarter H-2A Data

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released 2020 second quarter data on the H-2A program. The program numbers have grown significantly, with an increase of 13.0% in certified applications compared to the same period last year. The top states for this quarter in descending order are: Florida, Georgia, California, Washington, North Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and Michigan.

 

Congress Passes Paid Sick and Family Leave for Workers 

In the past few months, Congress has passed several aid and economic stimulus bills to address the COVID-19 crisis. One of these, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), passed in mid-March, requires private-sector employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide their employees with up to two weeks of fully or partially paid sick leave for COVID-19 related reasons, and an additional ten weeks of family medical leave. The Department of Labor (DOL) can exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees if the employer argues that providing this leave would risk the viability of their business. There are large farming operations that employ more than 500 employees, and many farmworkers labor on farms with fewer than 50 employees. Farmworker Justice and other allies submitted a letter to DOL encouraging them to remove the small-employer exemption and require agricultural employers to provide their employees paid sick leave and implement CDC guidelines to keep workers healthy and protected from COVID-19. We are concerned about compliance with paid sick leave on farms where several hundred farmworkers are hired through farm labor contractors with each hiring fewer than 50 workers; as some farm operators claim that the farm labor contractor is the sole employer for purposes of employment-law obligations. The new provisions went into effect on April 1, 2020 and will last through the end of the year (December 31, 2020).

 

Trump Signs Executive Order Halting Certain Types of Family Immigration

On April 23, President Trump signed an Executive Order effectively halting new applicants trying to come from outside the United States on a green card, with few exceptions. It is important to note that H-2A visas and other categories of nonimmigrant workers are not affected by this executive order. The order will last for 60 days, but there is a possibility of extension.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Promoting Farmworker Access to COVID-19 Testing

Farmworkers, due to their living and working conditions, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. While there is no data about the number of farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19, it is clear that farmworkers are being exposed. Numerous media articles highlighted the extent of COVID-19 in agricultural worker communities. The Yakima Herald reported on April 23 that Yakima County has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in Washington state. In Wenatchee, WA, 36 H-2A workers tested positive for COVID-19 at Stemlit Ag Services.

The latest federal relief bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 23, includes $25 billion for COVID-19 testing. It is important that farmworkers be a priority for testing. Keeping farmworkers healthy requires extensive testing to ensure that workers who may be positive are able to isolate themselves to prevent widespread infection. But testing is only the first step. Employers must provide protections in the fields and in employer-provided housing, including access to sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment. Workers also need access to health care so they can get treatment if they do become ill.

 

Update on Health Centers and COVID-19

Migrant and community health centers continue to provide important health care services, including COVID-19 testing and treatment. The CARES Act, one of the COVID-related packages recently passed by Congress, allocated $100 billion to health centers. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) and others are requesting additional funding for health centers from Congress. Farmworker Justice, as a member of the Farmworker Health Network, works closely with migrant health centers to promote farmworker access to health care. More information about NACHC’s advocacy can be found¬†here. To learn more about FJ’s work with migrant health centers or the Farmworker Health Network, you can go to our¬†website.

 

Decline in OSHA Inspections and Lack of COVID Standards

On April 28, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a new report related to workplace inspections. The Trump administration promised to hire more inspectors, but that promise has remained unfulfilled. Instead, the numbers of inspectors continued to drop and is now at a 45-year low. Currently, the Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration (OSHA) only has 862 inspectors on staff, which is down from 1,006 inspectors in 2012. With that number of inspectors on staff it would take OSHA 165 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. These staffing shortages disproportionately affect people of color, including farmworkers. People of color are more likely to work in dangerous jobs, and that fact has become even more apparent under COVID-19.

OSHA has recently been flooded with¬†COVID-19 related complaints. In spite of this, OSHA has not yet issued a specific standard on COVID-19 protections. Recently introduced legislation, the ‚ÄúCOVID 19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020,‚ÄĚ which Farmworker Justice supports, calls for an emergency OSHA standard to protect workers, including farmworkers, from occupational exposure to COVID-19.

In the absence of federal action, various states have issued standards focused on the threat of COVID-19 exposure for farmworkers.  Farmworker Justice and other allies are working diligently to encourage additional states to take action and for states to more vigorously enforce current farmworker protections during this worldwide crisis. You can find more detailed information regarding state-specific developments on this issue at FJ’s COVID-19 webpage, found here.

 

Farmworkers Be Aware of New COVID Symptoms

On April 27, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) added new symptoms of COVID-19 to their growing list. Chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of smell and taste are now symptoms that farmworkers and others should look for as COVID continues to spread across the United States. As a new disease, health professionals are constantly learning and adapting as knowledge becomes available. If you experience symptoms that could be COVID-19, work with your healthcare provider to determine next steps.