Farmworker Justice Update: 10/04/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 10/04/18

President Signs FY 2019 Appropriations Package, Including CR for Various Pending Bills

On September 28, President Trump signed a spending package for FY 2019, which began October 1. The package includes full-year funding for various programs, such as defense, education, health and labor. It also includes a short-term continuing resolution (CR) lasting through December 7 for other remaining appropriations bills, meaning these remaining bills were simply extended from the previous year. The appropriations bills for agriculture and homeland security are among those included in the CR. As noted in previous FJ updates, each of these two proposed FY 2019 appropriations bills has troubling language regarding the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. These provisions may still be included in the final FY 2019 appropriations bills. FJ will continue to monitor these bills.

Farm Bill Lapses After Congress is Unable to Reach Agreement

Another bill facing a September 30 deadline was the Farm Bill, which expired on this date after Congress was unable to reach a consensus for reauthorization. One of the main points of disagreement between the House and Senate was a House provision to attach work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). FJ is also concerned by an attempt by the House to include the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) in the Farm Bill without key safety protections for farmworkers that were included in the Senate version of PRIA. FJ will continue to advocate for the House to pass the Senate version of PRIA as a standalone bill, in order to ensure both certainty for the pesticide registration program and adequate protections for farmworkers. The House is currently in recess until after the November 6 midterm elections. Many representatives will be back in their home districts campaigning during the month of October.

Canada Joins the U.S. and Mexico in New North American Trade Deal

On September 30, the United States, Mexico and Canada finalized a proposed new North American free trade agreement between the three countries. The new agreement, which would substitute the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. Among the multiple changes to NAFTA in the new agreement is the opening of the Canadian market to more U.S. dairy products, which was one of the most contentious issues in the negotiations between the U.S. and Canada.  The new agreement includes several labor protections that, under NAFTA, were placed in a “side agreement” called the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation. Farmworker Justice and others have sought to enforce these protections for farmworkers in the U.S. The new agreement also includes a specific section focused on improving the rights to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining in Mexico. For more information, the full agreement is available at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s website, including the agreement’s chapter on labor (Chapter 23).  The agreement still has to be approved internally in each of the three countries before it can go into effect. We will be providing further analysis at a later date.

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks TPS Termination for Four Countries

On October 3, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate temporary protected status (TPS) for individuals from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan. Approximately 300,000 individuals have been granted relief by the order, which resulted from a class action lawsuit alleging that the Administration’s decision to end TPS for these countries was in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and was driven by racial animus. As a result of the decision, DHS is prohibited from terminating TPS for these countries pending the outcome of the case, unless there is an adverse decision on appeal. There are currently various other ongoing lawsuits regarding the Administration’s decision to terminate TPS for these countries, as well as a lawsuit related to the termination of TPS for Honduras.

Legal Victory in North Carolina for Farmworker Bargaining Rights

On September 20, a federal court in North Carolina issued an injunction against the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017, which sought to limit farmworkers’ rights to unionize and bargain collectively. The NC Farm Act was primarily sponsored by a NC state senator who is also a farm owner and had been sued for wage theft by his employees, with the help of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), North Carolina’s only farmworker union. The law prevents farmworkers and companies from agreeing to have union dues deducted from paychecks.  It also prevents settlements of lawsuits against a farm from including any agreements with an agricultural labor union. The Farm Act was challenged by FLOC, two individual farmworkers and a coalition of civil rights groups on the basis that it intentionally discriminates against farmworkers, more than 90% of whom are Latino. The court found that the Farm Act likely violates farmworkers’ Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and blocked its implementation.

Farmworkers Extremely Vulnerable During Hurricanes

As detailed in this Atlantic piece, farmworkers face unique challenges as the impact of a hurricane is exacerbated by their low wages, the broken immigration system and isolation. A recent Buzzfeed article recounts the disturbing story of a group of H-2A workers whose housing flooded during Hurricane Florence and whose requests for rescue were ignored. The workers were located in an isolated migrant labor camp in Jones County, in eastern North Carolina. When floodwaters started rising, the workers called 911. Although emergency crews were initially dispatched, the rescue was called off because the farm owner told authorities that the workers were fine. The workers reached out to local advocates, who also contacted 911 on their behalf,. The workers were eventually rescued by an employee of the North Carolina Growers Association and taken to a nearby shelter. They were thankfully unharmed. However, this story illustrates the vulnerability of H-2A workers and the extreme level of control that employers in the program have over fellow human beings. It is particularly absurd that emergency crews relied on the employers’ assessment of the situation rather than on the individuals actually calling for help.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Public Charge Rule Text Released by DHS

On September 22, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released text of a proposed public charge rule; however, the proposed rule still has not been officially published for notice and comment. This rule would drastically expand the circumstances under which a person can be deemed a public charge. Use of benefits such as Medicaid and SNAP as well as a household income below 125% of FPL would be considered heavily weighed negative factors in an individual’s public charge determination. The proposed changes would make it more difficult for low-income farmworkers to enter the U.S. or adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident (green card) status. FJ condemns the proposed changes. Our statement can be found on our website. Shortly after the proposed rule is officially published in the Federal Register, FJ will share template comments with our network. We encourage everyone to submit comments and share stories about the rule’s impact on farmworker families in your community. For more information, please contact FJ’s Senior Health Policy Analyst, Alexis Guild, at [email protected]. FJ is also a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, which provides analysis and advocacy on this issue.

EPA Asks Court to Rehear Chlorpyrifos Case

On September 24, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a new hearing regarding the pesticide chlorpyrifos. As detailed in previous FJ updates, the Court had issued an order in August requiring the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days, in accordance with the EPA’s own scientific evidence. The EPA’s request for a rehearing means yet another delay for the protection of public health, a situation which will particularly impact farmworkers and their children. FJ is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Removal of EPA Child Health Expert Raises Concerns about Office’s Future

Last week, the EPA unexpectedly placed the director of the agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), Ruth Etzel, on administrative leave. Many advocates are concerned that this decision might signal an elimination or weakening of the office as a whole. The EPA OCHP was formed in 1997, based on mounting scientific evidence that children and infants are uniquely sensitive to exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides. FJ believes that the OCHP plays a vital role in the protection of children, particularly farmworker children, from the negative health effects of exposure to pesticides. Its work should continue to be supported and advanced by the EPA.

Farmworker Justice Wine, Jazz & Award Reception

FJ’s annual Wine, Jazz and Award Reception will be held October 10 at the Beacon Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. This year we will present an award to Lupe Martinez, CEO of UMOS, the Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization, who also is chair of the National Farmworker Alliance, and Board Member of Farmworker Justice.  Sponsorships and tickets are available on Farmworker Justice’s website event page. Please join us!