Farmworker Justice Update - 12/22/17

Farmworker Justice Update: 12/22/17

 

Christmas Tree Cutters Continue Battle to Improve Working Conditions  

 

        As many celebrate the season by purchasing and decorating a Christmas tree, it is important to think about the working conditions of those who plant and harvest these trees. A recent lawsuit in North Carolina, covered by the Guardian, highlights some of the abuses these workers endure. Employees at Hart-T-Tree farm in North Carolina had their wages stolen, were exposed to hazardous chemicals and were provided unsafe transportation, leading to severe injuries. The workers were forced to continue working as the farm owner spread toxic chemicals, leading to many of the workers having symptoms of pesticide poisoning such as headaches, dizziness and vomiting. The workers were also forced to work twelve hour shifts in the sweltering heat, without being given adequate water or rest breaks. The farmworkers decided to organize with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and eventually won a $350,000 wage theft settlement. However, in response to this and other victories for basic labor rights, Republican legislators in the state recently passed a law that makes it illegal for unions to automatically deduct union dues from workers’ paychecks, with the objective of weakening union participation. FLOC and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with a coalition of civil rights groups, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging this North Carolina law.

 

Truthout Article Criticizes Rep. Goodlatte’s H-2C Proposal

 

         A recent Truthout article details how Rep. Goodlatte’s proposed Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 4092) would strip migrant workers of the few rights they have and also undercut U.S. workers. The article highlights some of the most concerning provisions of the proposed H-2C program and notes that it would produce conditions similar to indentured servitude. It also discusses the importance of workers being able to participate in a union in order to protect their rights and recounts recent farmworker unionization efforts in North Carolina, Ohio, Washington and Kentucky.

 

Congress Passes New Budget Resolution without Providing DACA Solution  

 

         Immigrant rights advocates, including many DREAMers themselves, engaged in intensive mobilization during the month of December to seek a Congressional solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients before the end of the year. Advocates were calling for Congress to include a DACA solution in its next budget resolution, as its previous budget resolution was set to expire today (December 22).  Unfortunately, the continuing resolution that was passed yesterday, which is set to expire on January 19, 2018, did not include relief for DREAMers. Although some Democrats cast a no vote on the bill because it did not provide a DACA solution, along with several other issues, enough moderate Democrats joined Republicans to get the bill passed. Farmworker Justice is deeply disappointed in this failure of Congress to provide protections for DREAMers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that Congress may consider DACA legislation, as well as other immigration legislation, in January 2018 if members are able to reach an agreement. Farmworker Justice will continue to support the need for immigration relief for DREAMers as well as for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. We will also be closely watching for harmful immigration changes, including a possible expansion of the H-2A visa program to year-round industries, as was included in the House’s proposed FY 2018 DHS appropriations bill. We will continue to monitor Congressional developments in this regard.

 

DHS Releases FY 2017 Immigration Enforcement Statistics 

 

     Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its FY 2017 statistics on immigration enforcement actions by both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CBP reported a total of 310,531 apprehensions nationwide, 303,916 of which were along the Southwest border. ICE reported 143,470 administrative arrests and 226,119 removals. Through the start of the Trump Administration on January 20, 2017 through the end of the fiscal year (on September 30, 2017) ICE made 110,568 arrests compared to 77,806 during the same period in FY2016 - an increase of approximately 40 percent.

 

U.K. Faces Agricultural Labor Challenges as a Result of “Brexit”

 

      As in the U.S., the agricultural sector in the U.K. is heavily dependent on immigrant labor. As reported by the New York Times, the U.K.’s recent decision to leave the European Union has led to concerns, expressed primarily by agricultural employers, that there will not be sufficient labor to grow their crops.  During the year following the Brexit vote, net migration to the UK fell by approximately a third, the largest annual drop in migration since the country began keeping records in 1964. Among the migrants decreasing their travel to the UK are manual laborers from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Though the U.K.’s political and economic context is different from the U.S. in many ways, this situation highlights the tensions between anti-immigrant sentiment and practical labor needs that are common to both countries.   

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

 

          EPA May Weaken Key Provisions of Recently Updated Worker Protection Rules

 

        The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it may try to rewrite key provisions of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certified Pesticide Applicator (CPA) rule, two important regulations aimed at ensuring that farmworkers receive adequate training and protection from pesticide exposure. This announcement is very concerning given that there was already a detailed rule-making process for both rules which involved multiple stakeholders, including Farmworker Justice, and led to important revisions which should already be in effect. Now the EPA has backtracked, bowing to pressure from agribusiness groups, and will soon be opening up the rules for potential changes to key provisions including a minimum age for pesticide handlers, the right of workers to access information about pesticides they are exposed to, and protection from exposures to workers and bystanders during applications. Apart from the confusion and delays in the implementation of the rules caused by recent EPA actions, this decision by EPA could also have significant effects on funding for the agency.  Sen. Tom Udall has placed a hold on the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) as a response to the EPA’s unorthodox actions concerning these two rules, as well as the reversal of its decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos earlier this year. Senator Udall has also expressed concern regarding the EPA’s mischaracterization of the discussion of these provisions at a recent Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) meeting. Farmworker Justice is a member of the PPDC and is similarly concerned that the EPA’s summary of the meeting does not accurately reflect what was discussed, as well as the fact that the transcript of the meeting still has not been made public.

 

Tax Bill Eliminates Individual Mandate, Key Funding for Health Programs Still Pending

 

        The tax bill passed by Congress this week eliminates the individual mandate penalty in 2019 and also prohibits taxpayers from claiming the child tax credit if they do not have a Social Security number.  According to analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), repeal of the individual mandate will result in 13 million more uninsured individuals by 2027Additionally, Congress has yet to fully reauthorize CHIP (the recent budget CR extends funding only until March 2018) and has not reauthorized Community Health Center funding, which both expired on September 30, 2017. According to a new issue brief by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, 25 states are set to run out of these funds by the end of January 2018. Community health centers, in the meantime, are starting to plan for possible staff reductions and clinic closures. Both CHIP and community health centers are critical to farmworkers' access to health care. Their funding must be renewed as soon as possible to ensure the programs' long-term stability. 

 

Open Enrollment Period Continues in Some States

 

        In most states, open enrollment for 2018 ended on December 15, but there are a handful of states where open enrollment continues. These states include Florida, Georgia, and Texas, impacted by hurricanes, and California and New York, which operate their own marketplaces. More information about these deadlines can be found here. Enrollment has been strong. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), 8.8 million consumers had enrolled in health insurance through healthcare.gov as of December 15. Despite the shorter open enrollment period, that represents close to the total number enrolled last year. Open enrollment may be over for many farmworkers, but some workers and their families may still qualify to enroll through a Special Enrollment Period. More information about Special Enrollment Periods can be found on healthcare.gov

 

Happy New Year 2018!

 

2017 has been a challenging year for farmworkers and farmworker advocates on all fronts, including immigration, labor, occupational health and safety and access to health. Farmworker Justice remains committed to improving farmworkers’ living and working conditions with the help of all of our invaluable allies in the year to come. Please see our new brochure for more information on the work and impact of our organization. We hope you enjoy this holiday season with family and friends and wish you a happy and peaceful 2018.