Farmworker Justice Update - 10/19/18

H-2A FY 2018 4Q Data Now Available

           The Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) recently released H-2A program data for the fourth quarter of FY 2018. There were a total of 242,762 H-2A positions certified for all of FY 2018, an approximately 20% increase from FY 2017. This latest data is in line with the overall trend of exponential growth in the use of the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program in the last decade. The states of Georgia, Florida, Washington, North Carolina and California had the highest number of positions certified, accounting for over half of all positions.

Washington State Considering H-2A Filing Fees for Employers

           In response to the exponential growth of the H-2A program, as well as a lack of adequate resources from DOL to enforce the program and carry out its other program responsibilities, the Washington Employment Security Department is proposing to charge employers for their H-2A applications. Under the proposal, the department would charge employers $1,000 to use the H-2A program, plus an additional $100 per worker for the first thousand workers and $50 per worker after that. The Department estimates that the fees would raise approximately $3 million.

Settlement Reached in Washington H-2A Worker Retaliation Case

           Columbia Legal Services recently announced a settlement agreement between 18 H-2A workers and Familias Unidas por la Justicia (an agricultural workers’ union in Washington representing H-2A workers) and Larson Orchards. The settlement resulted from a lawsuit brought by the workers against Larson Orchards after they were retaliated against for participating in a strike in 2017. In spite of a written agreement prohibiting retaliation, the workers were not re-hired for the 2018 season. The settlement includes $275,800 with specific payments directly to the workers as well as a promise by Larson Orchards to include the workers on its list of preferred workers in 2019.

Grower Fined for Retaliating Against Workers Who Raised Workplace Safety Concerns

           The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board recently found that a Coachella Valley date grower illegally fired four workers after they voiced concerns about workplace conditions. The grower agreed to settle the matter without admitting liability. As part of the settlement, the company, KR Thermal, will re-hire the workers and pay them approximately $40,000 in lost wages. Charges were brought by the workers in 2017 alleging that they were fired after they expressed concerns over the safety of date harvesting equipment, a lack of functioning restrooms and other issues. The company employed the workers through farm labor contractor Desert Harvest and has now stopped using the labor contractor. A KR Thermal representative expressed that the labor contractor should be the one held accountable, while the labor contractor claimed that the grower was solely responsible. Under the CA Agricultural Labor Relations Act, an employer is responsible for the acts of a labor contractor.

DOJ Settles Immigration Discrimination Case with Poultry Company

           On October 9, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had reached a settlement with Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., a Georgia poultry processing company. Under the settlement agreement, Mar-Jac was assessed a civil penalty of $190,000. According to a complaint filed in 2011, Mar-Jac Poultry routinely required work-authorized non-U.S. citizens to present certain documents to prove their work authorization, but did not require similar documents from U.S. citizen employees. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on their citizenship status or national origin. The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. IER’s worker hotline can be reached at 1-800-255-7688.

Rep. McCarthy Introduces Draconian Immigration Bill

           House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently introduced a draconian anti-immigrant bill, the “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act of 2018” H.R. 7059.  Rep. McCarthy is hoping to lead the GOP conference next year as speaker or minority leader after the retirement of current Speaker Paul Ryan (WI). Other Republican representatives angling for the leadership role include Jim Jordan (OH) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA). Among the McCarthy bill’s terrible provisions are over $20 billion in funds for the building of a border wall and billions more in funding to incarcerate families, children and asylum seekers indefinitely and without due process.

Senate Strikes Deal on Judicial Appointments, Starts Early Recess  

           The Senate went into early recess last week. It was originally scheduled to be in session until the end of October and was planning to spend the bulk of that time on judicial confirmations. Democratic leadership expected fifteen judicial nominations to be approved given the Republican majority in the Senate, and made the decision to agree to all the appointments and adjourn early to focus on vulnerable seats in the upcoming mid-term elections. With this latest round of confirmations, the Trump Administration has confirmed a total of 84 judges, including two Supreme Court justices. Various civil rights groups criticized the Senate deal, particularly given its timing after the highly controversial confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The House already adjourned last month, and like the Senate, is not set to return until after the November 6 mid-term election.

 Farmworker Health and Safety

Public Charge Rule Posted in Federal Register

          On October 10, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted its proposed rule on public charge. The proposed rule would drastically change how public charge determinations are made when individuals apply to enter the U.S, extend or change their non-immigrant visa (including H-2A and H-2B status), or adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. FJ’s statement on proposed changes to public charge can be found on our website. In the next few weeks, FJ will share template comments that can be modified by organizations. We encourage organizations to submit their own comments that include stories about the rule’s potential impact on the farmworker communities you serve. The comment period is open until December 10. FJ is a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign and is supporting efforts to ensure a robust response to the proposed public charge rule. Contact Alexis Guild, FJ’s Senior Health Policy Analyst, at [email protected] for more information.

ACA Open Enrollment Begins November 1

          The 2019 open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplace begins on November 1.  In-person assistance is available to help consumers enroll and/or to answer any questions about their health insurance. Subsidies to lower the cost of health insurance continue to be available to consumers with a household income up to 400% FPL (federal poverty level). There will no longer be a penalty for not having health insurance in 2019. In most states, open enrollment ends December 15. You can find more information about open enrollment at healthcare.gov. FJ’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) guides for workers can be found in our resource center.  

Trump Administration Increases Poultry Line Speeds

           Labor, consumer and animal rights groups have decried the Trump Administration’s recent decision to allow faster speeds for poultry-processing plants. Plants will be able to obtain waivers to process up to 175 birds per minute, up from the previous limit of 140 birds per minute. Injury rates for poultry workers are 60% higher than the national average for all private industry, and line speeds play a role in the rate of injuries. The typical pay for a poultry-processing worker is about $25,000 a year, and the workforce is increasingly composed of immigrants. Earlier this year, the Trump Administration also proposed eliminating the current limits for hog processing line speeds, a proposal which has similarly received strong opposition from food safety and labor groups.