Farmworkers in the U.S.

Farmworker Justice Update - 01/11/19

Agribusiness Employers File Suit to Stop Implementation of 2019 AEWR

On January 7, the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), along with grower Peri & Sons Farms, Inc., filed a lawsuit in D.C. federal court seeking to stop the Department of Labor (DOL)’s implementation of the 2019 Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWRs) for the H-2A program. In order to ensure that U.S. workers are not adversely affected by the H-2A program, H-2A employers must offer the highest of five minimum wage rates: the applicable federal or state minimum wage; the local prevailing wage for that occupation; any collectively bargained wage rate; or the AEWR.

The AEWR is set annually by DOL based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s surveys of wages paid by agricultural employers.  The current formulation of the AEWR, which was reinstated in the 2010 H-2A regulations, was initially established under the Reagan Administration. The NCAE lawsuit seeks to stop the implementation of the 2019 wage rates and sought a temporary restraining order, which was denied on January 8. DOL had already announced the new AEWR rates for 2019 in December 2018. The new wages were set to be implemented on January 9, meaning that as of Wednesday (January 9) and for the time being, the 2019 AEWR rates are now in effect. However, litigation is ongoing and the judge will soon determine whether or not to grant a preliminary injunction stopping implementation of the new wages.

Also on January 9, the United Farm Workers union (UFW) filed a motion to intervene in the case, as its members would be affected by any decreases to the AEWR. Farmworker Justice is representing the UFW in this case, along with the private law firm Covington and Burling LLP, on a pro bono basis. If the growers’ lawsuit succeeds, many U.S. workers, as well as H-2A workers, will receive lower wages. The 2019 AEWRs for most states are higher than the 2018 rates, following a pattern of modest improvements over the past few years. This lawsuit is the latest example of agricultural employers admitting a tightening farm labor market, which should result in competitive wage increases, while seeking exemption from the law of supply and demand that applies to other businesses.

New Jersey Minimum Wage Law Might Discriminate Against Farmworkers  

New Jersey legislators are negotiating a potential bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. However, a key lawmaker, NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, is proposing to exempt farmworkers from the $15 per hour minim wage; instead subjecting them to a lower minimum of wage of $12.50 an hour. Sen. Sweeney represents an area of South Jersey with many farms. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median farmworker wage in New Jersey is currently between $11.70 and $12.92 an hour; thus, the “increase” to $12.50 would not be a wage increase in real terms for many farmworkers. $12.50 is also less than the 2019 H-2A program AEWR for the state of New Jersey, which is $13.15, further proof that the supposed pay increase would not represent a meaningful improvement on farmworkers’ current wages.

As stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein, this proposal would be “a continuation of a long history of discrimination against farmworkers.”  We also agree with CATA, a New Jersey nonprofit group that advocates for migrant farmworkers, that farm work is no less valuable than any other category of work, and farmworkers deserve the same minimum wage as any other worker.  It’s time to end the unfair and unequal treatment of farmworkers; not create new discriminatory exceptions from basic protections other workers enjoy.

Shutdown Continues as President Trump Insists on Border Wall Funding

Today marks day number twenty-one (21) of what may soon become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The partial shutdown is a result of President Trump’s insistence that Congress provide over $5.7 billion to fund the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic Congressional leaders have stated that they will not provide any amount over $1.6 billion for border security (which was the amount in a previous Senate appropriations bill for FY 2019).  President Trump is also reportedly weighing whether to declare a national emergency along the border in order to bypass Congressional approval for funding for the wall. Meanwhile, nearly 800,000 federal workers have either been furloughed or have had to continue working without pay, affecting a wide range of government services.

Senate to Weigh William Barr Nomination for Attorney General  

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently scheduled to hold confirmation hearings on January 15 and 16 for William Barr for the position of Attorney General. Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) called on President Trump to withdraw Barr’s nomination, based on his previous criticism of the Mueller investigation. Barr previously served as Attorney General during the Administration of George H.W. Bush. A coalition of civil rights organizations recently expressed serious concerns regarding Barr’s nomination, given his past record on subjects ranging from criminal justice reform to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, as well as his anti-immigrant views. Some of his troubling anti-immigrant positions include his support for the current administration’s Muslim ban as well as his past role in detaining HIV-positive Haitian asylum seekers at Guantanamo Bay in the early 1990s.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

EPA Backs Off Plan to Weaken Worker Protection Rules

Last week, Acting Administrator Wheeler committed in a letter to Senators Carper (D-DE) and Barrasso (R-WY) to abandon EPA’s efforts to rollback critical elements of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, in exchange for Senate confirmation of various political appointees to the agency. After two years of efforts by environmental and worker rights advocates to defend the WPS and CPA rule before the EPA, the courts and Congress, and to ensure the rules’ effective implementation, this is a major breakthrough. The draft of the proposed rules that we have been opposing are currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and we will continue to monitor EPA’s actions to make sure the proposals are formally withdrawn. FJ will also continue its efforts to codify Wheeler’s promises in legislation early in this congressional session through language in the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA).

Wheeler’s letter also states that the EPA is still planning to propose a revision to the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) provision of the WPS, with a public comment period of at least 90 days. We fully expect EPA to propose harmful changes to the AEZ provision later this year. The AEZ provides a measure of protection to workers and bystanders from off-target drift during pesticide applications. FJ and partner organizations will work to preserve those protections, including through the submission of comments once the proposed changes are published.

Legislation Banning Chlorpyrifos Introduced in House

Earlier this week, Representative Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) introduced the “Pesticide Protection Act,” which would ban the sale of chlorpyrifos, a toxic chemical that has been linked to damaging health outcomes in workers, pregnant women and children. The bill, H.R. 230, currently has over 40 co-sponsors. The EPA was previously set to ban the use of chlorpyrifos under the Obama administration; however, it later reversed its decision under the Trump administration. Farmworker Justice, along with various environmental and worker rights groups, is currently involved in a lawsuit against the EPA in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the agency to ban chlorpyrifos. However, EPA has appealed that decision and the litigation is still ongoing.

Labor Contractor Fined by OSHA after Worker Heat Stress Death

Last month, Georgia agricultural labor contractor Beiza Brothers Harvesting was fined $12,934 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for conditions that led to the death of a worker from heat stress. Previous FJ updates detailed the conditions leading up to the tragic death of the 24-year old worker while picking tomatoes in extremely high temperatures. OSHA also issued additional citations against Beiza Brothers related to a failure to train employees about hazardous chemicals and unsafe equipment, but did not levy additional fines for these citations.

Update on Texas v. U.S. and Status of ACA

After Judge O’Connor issued a stay in the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit, the 17 Democratic Attorneys General who defended the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) provisions filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit on January 3. The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed its own appeal the following day. The Fifth Circuit has yet to schedule an initial briefing. As the appeals process moves forward, the ACA and its provisions remain in effect. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives filed the first of two motions to intervene in defense of the ACA.

A recent poll conducted by Protect Our Care shows that more than half of voters oppose the recent decision in Texas v. U.S. and 59% want to see the ACA remain in effect with fixes made as necessary. On January 3, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final enrollment report that showed 8.4 million consumers enrolled in health insurance through healthcare.gov during the 2019 open enrollment period. This number is only 4% less than enrollment last year, despite the additional cuts to outreach and navigator programs. Enrollment is still open in a handful of states including Colorado (until January 12), California (January 15), and New York (January 31).

Farmworker Justice Update - 12/18/18

Public Comment Deadlines for Proposed H-2A Program Changes

As a reminder, there are various opportunities to comment in response to Federal Register notices related to the H-2A program, with deadlines next week. As mentioned in previous updates, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued notices of proposed rulemaking regarding the requirements for recruiting U.S. workers by employers seeking certification in both the H-2A and H-2B temporary guestworker visa programs. The deadline for submitting comments for both notices is now December 28 (it was previously December 10 but was extended).

DOL has also announced a proposed revision to the forms used for employer certification under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. The two forms being revised are Form ETA-9142A, which is the form employers use to apply for H-2A workers, and Form 790, which is the agricultural clearance order that is circulated to inform prospective job applicants of  job terms and instructions. The deadline for submitting comments to this proposal is December 24.

Florida H-2A Labor Contractor Fined for Violation of Program Requirements

Florida H-2A labor contractor SOL Harvesting LLC was recently fined $53,428 by the Department of Labor (DOL)’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). Among various violations of the H-2A program requirements, DOL WHD found that SOL Harvesting failed to provide employees copies of their work contracts and reimburse them for transportation and visa fees. Workers also were not provided with housing that met minimum safety and health standards. The bulk of the amount paid by the contractor constituted back wages, as DOL only assessed a civil money penalty of $2,368 for the H-2A program violations. SOL Harvesting had hired approximately 100 workers to harvest cucumbers, cabbage, kale and onions at Scott’s Farms in Mt. Dora, Florida. To our knowledge the farm operator was not penalized and the labor contractor has not been debarred from the H-2A program.

USDA Releases Report on Farm Labor Markets in the U.S. and Mexico

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released a report entitled “Farm Labor Markets in the United States and Mexico Pose Challenges for U.S. Agriculture.” The report finds that the U.S. farm labor market is showing signs of tightening, including increases in farm wages, more widespread use of the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program, and a shrinking supply of farm labor from Mexico. Among the potential options for employers to respond to a tighter labor market proposed by the study are raising wages, improving benefits and working conditions, increased mechanizing of crops, switching to less labor-intensive crops and greater employment of guestworkers. The report emphasizes guestworker status as a mechanism for recruiting future farmworkers, rather than offering potential agricultural workers, or current undocumented workers, the opportunity to adjust their immigration status or have a path to U.S. citizenship.  

Various Appropriations Bills Expire December 21, Government Shutdown Possible

Earlier this month, Congress passed a temporary spending bill for FY 2019, called a continuing resolution (CR), to fund various government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), through December 21. Despite opposition from Democrats and reluctance among some Republicans to press the issue, President Trump is insisting on $5 billion in funds for border wall construction in the DHS appropriations bill and has stated he would be “proud” to shut down the government if that amount is not agreed to. A government shutdown could lead to many federal employees being furloughed, including at DHS, USDA, the Department of Justice and the State Department. As noted in previous FJ updates, two of the proposed FY 2019 appropriations bills have troubling language regarding the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. FJ has been advocating against a possible rider in the DHS appropriations bill which would expand the H-2A program to year-round industries, as well as report language in the USDA bill on the creation of an H-2A application portal.

In addition, as we reported in the last update, there are efforts to freeze wage rates in the H-2A program by keeping the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) at the 2018 levels instead of allowing the expected 2019 rates to go into effect.  These efforts are aimed at Congress and the appropriations process as well as the Administration. The 2019 hourly wages are expected to increase approximately 6% nationwide, with higher increases for some states. Failing to implement the AEWR – which would effectively lower H-2A wage rates in most areas around the country in 2019 – would adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.  Farmworkers’ wages are among the lowest in the nation. Farmworker Justice opposes these efforts to freeze the AEWRs in the H-2A program.

Support This Publication and the Work of Farmworker Justice

The policy monitoring, analysis and advocacy of Farmworker Justice serves the farmworker community. Farmworker-serving organizations throughout the nation count on Farmworker Justice.  And Farmworker Justice counts on you for your support to make our work possible. Please make a charitable contribution to Farmworker Justice, in any amount. You may donate with a credit card online or mail your donation to Farmworker Justice, 1126 16th St., NW, Suite LL-101, Washington, D.C. 20036.  Thank you!

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

FJ Issue Brief on Specialty Care for Farmworkers

Farmworker Justice recently published a new issue brief for health centers and clinicians that outlines the continuing challenges in providing specialty care to agricultural workers and their families. The brief discusses lessons learned from FJ’s “Unidos” project - a collaborative effort between FJ and two community partners: Campesinos Sin Fronteras and Vista Community Clinic - to deliver dermatological care to agricultural workers in Somerton, Arizona and Vista, California. The brief also explores opportunities for telehealth, based on a related effort with Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) that involved workers directly in discussions about telehealth interventions. Based on lessons learned, the brief highlights recommendations for health centers to promote access to specialty care among agricultural workers and their families.  

GAO Report Finds Agriculture Has Highest Rate of Child Work-Related Deaths  

A recently published study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that agriculture accounts for more than half of child worker deaths, with 237 fatalities between 2003 and 2016. The study was requested by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) as an update to GAO’s 2002 child labor report. In a statement on the report’s release, the Representatives noted: “This report confirms that child labor is contributing to a devastating amount of fatalities in the United States – disproportionately so in the agricultural sector. In that industry, kids are often exposed to dangerous pesticides, heavy machinery, and extreme heat, and they are being killed as a result. That is unacceptable.  Our government must take these findings as a call to action […].” The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which regulates child labor, allows children to be employed in agricultural jobs, including in hazardous tasks, at younger ages than in other occupations. Rep. Roybal-Allard has been a leader in efforts to end the discrimination in the law regarding child labor on industrialized farms. You can find the full GAO report, entitled “Working Children: Federal Injury Data and Compliance Strategies Could Be Strengthened,” here.

Congress Passes Farm Bill, No PRIA Language Included

Last week, both chambers of Congress passed the Farm Bill, which is expected to be signed into law by the President later this week. Originally, the House and Senate versions of the bill were very different, particularly with regard to provisions on nutrition and environmental protection programs. The final bill did not include controversial cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that were in the original House bill and preserved many important environmental protection programs.

The final Farm Bill did not include language regarding the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA). Earlier this year, the Senate passed a standalone version of PRIA conserving key provisions of two rules protecting farmworkers from pesticide exposure - the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule. FJ, along with other farmworker and environmental advocates, is calling on the House to pass this version of PRIA before the end of the legislative term.

Judge Issues Ruling against ACA in Texas v. United States

On December 14, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional after the elimination of the tax penalty in the 2017 tax bill. In his ruling, Judge Reed O'Connor wrote that the individual mandate could not be severed from the rest of the ACA, rendering the law unconstitutional. The lawsuit was led by Texas and 19 other states. California, along with 16 other states and Washington, DC, intervened to defend the ACA in court after the Trump Administration declined to defend key provisions of the law. Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California said that they will challenge the ruling. If the Judge's decision stands, an estimated 17 million Americans could lose their health insurance, including those who gained coverage under Medicaid expansion. The ACA’s pre-existing conditions protections, along with other consumer protections in the law, would also no longer exist.

The ACA remains in effect as the appeals process moves forward. While open enrollment for insurance plans on healthcare.gov ended on December 15, enrollment in some states, including California and New York, continues. A Kaiser Family Foundation health poll conducted in November found that 61% of surveyed consumers did not know the deadline for enrollment. While final enrollment numbers are not yet available, so far, enrollment has declined compared to last year.

New Guidance for Section 1332 Waivers

The Trump Administration released new guidance for Section 1332 waivers that will provide states with flexibility that could ultimately weaken certain ACA provisions. Section 1332 innovation waivers, issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), allow states to experiment with strategies to provide residents with health coverage. Guidance released in 2015 provided a strict interpretation of statutory guardrails that will affect consumers. The new guidance, published in October 2018, establishes less restrictive standards such as expanded definitions of coverage to include short-term plans and encouraging states to use private exchanges to offer subsidies for non-ACA-compliant plans. More information about this guidance can be found on the Kaiser Family Foundation website. The new guidance is currently open for public comment until December 24. If you are interested in learning more, you can read this analysis by Families USA.

Over 200,000 Comments Submitted on Public Charge Proposal

Thank you to everyone who shared and submitted comments opposing the Administration's proposed changes to public charge. According to regulations.gov, over 216,000 comments were submitted and we expect that number to grow. FJ will continue to provide any relevant information on public charge and farmworkers. Visit the Protecting Immigrant Families website to learn more about the campaign, led by NILC and CLASP, and future advocacy efforts.

Best Wishes for a Healthy and Happy New Year!
 

Farmworker Justice Update: 11/29/08

Ag Employers Seek to Avoid 2019 H-2A Wage Increases

In a November 28 letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) asked for “short-term relief” from the federal government from the expected Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) for H-2A workers. On November 15, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released a report showing the average wages paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers for 2018.  As stated in the current regulations, the 2019 AEWR will be these wage rates. Based on the data, hourly wages would increase approximately 6% nationwide, with higher increases for some states.  The NCAE refers to the AEWR as a “premium wage;” however, this term is fundamentally and disingenuously wrong as the AEWR is merely the average wage paid to nonsupervisory field and livestock workers as determined by USDA’s farm labor survey. By definition, an average means that some employers pay more than the average wage. One would expect that an employer truly facing a labor shortage would seek to attract U.S. workers by offering more than the average wage, and yet the H-2A program allows employers to demonstrate a labor shortage merely by offering the average.

Failing to implement the AEWR – which would effectively lower H-2A wage rates in most areas around the country in 2019 – would adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.  Farmworkers’ wages are among the lowest in the nation, but by several measures have been increasing modestly in the last few years. In California, a wage freeze would keep the AEWR at $13.18 (which was the 2018 AEWR based on 2017 USDA surveys), instead of rising to $13.92.  In North Carolina and Virginia, the rate would be frozen at $11.46 per hour, instead of rising in 2019 to $12.25. In Idaho (and Montana and Wyoming), the freeze would keep wages at $11.63 per hour instead of rising to $13.48. In Florida, the freeze would stop a slight drop of 5 cents per hour. There is a long history of regulation and litigation regarding the AEWR, and we anticipate that Farmworker Justice and others would litigate against the Administration if it attempts to undermine U.S. farmworkers’ wages by lowering H-2A program wage rates.    

California Ag Employer Reaches Settlement over Farmworker Transportation Pay

Earlier this month, California agricultural company Fresh Harvest Inc., agreed to pay $1 million in back wages to farmworkers under a settlement agreement. Fresh Harvest, which is a component of the Scaroni Family of Companies, bills itself as one of the largest H-2A employers in the Western United States. The agreement was the result of a lawsuit filed by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), which sought unpaid wages for workers’ uncompensated travel and waiting time, as well as damages for violations of state and federal labor law. Workers’ travel to and from work sites averaged two or more hours each day and workers additionally had various wait times beyond their control, for which they were not compensated. Workers were also retailed against after cooperating with an investigation of one of the company’s crew leaders. The settlement agreement will likely be finalized in December.

Farmworker Group Alleges Targeting by ICE Due to Activism

On November 14, worker rights’ group Migrant Justice filed a lawsuit claiming the group has been targeted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an attempt to suppress its activism. The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU of Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Immigration Law Center and a private law firm. At least 20 members of Migrant Justice have been arrested and detained by ICE in the past five years. The lawsuit claims that these arrests were “part of a pattern of ICE expending significant resources to target, surveil and detain immigrant activists and leaders across the country in response to their protected political speech and activity.” Migrant Justice, based in Vermont, is known for its Milk with Dignity campaign and support of immigrant farmworkers.

President Trump Threatens to Shut Down Government over Border Wall Funding

In late September, Congress passed a temporary spending bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), to fund various government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The current CR expires on December 7, which means that Congress must agree to an appropriations bill for FY 2019 by that date or else risk a government shutdown. The DHS bill includes funding for immigration enforcement. President Trump is insisting on $5 billion in funds for border wall construction and threatening to push for a government shutdown if that amount is not agreed to. Senate spending bills must clear 60 votes to pass, which means that any funding legislation would need some Democratic support.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworkers Still Working Amidst California Fires

While fires ravaged California in the past few weeks, many farmworkers were pressured to continue working among the dangerous conditions, often without protective equipment. State law requires employers to provide protective gear as well as train employees on how to use the gear effectively. However, according to local farmworker groups, only some employers complied with these obligations. Strawberry pickers in the region reported experiencing sore eyes, upset stomachs, headaches and dizziness as a result of the smoke. Approximately 36,000 farmworkers may have been exposed to the dangerous air caused by the wildfires. Many are undocumented and/or speak indigenous languages and may be hesitant to complain about safety violations for fear of retaliation.

Farmworkers and Hurricane Florence’s Aftermath

A recent Civil Eats article details the challenges faced by undocumented farmworkers during and after Hurricane Florence’s landfall in North Carolina in September. Undocumented communities’ challenges after natural disasters are compounded by the inability to access needed services, including food and shelter. The article describes relief efforts by local groups such as the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry and the Kinston Community Health Center in the aftermath of the storm.

Dairy Worker Dies in Manure Pit

Tragically, yet another dairy worker has died as a result of driving into a manure holding pit. The 22-year old farmworker in Ohio drowned after the skid steer he was driving went into the pit. As stated in this news article, working around manure storage areas has many potential dangers, which is why it is so important that workers be adequately trained to work safely in these areas and be aware of equipment hazards.

OSHA Small Farm Exemption

A recent Atlantic article delves into the impact of the small farm exemption, which prohibits Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations into fatalities at farms with 10 or less non-family employees. The exemption, put into an appropriations bill over four decades ago, gives small farms immunity from the agency’s oversight. The exemption also prevents the use of federal funds for training and guidance to small farms on how to comply with safety standards and potentially prevent future accidents. Congress should stop inserting the annual appropriations rider that prohibits enforcement of OSHA standards on small farms.

Immigrant Families’ SNAP Participation Dropped in 2018

New research confirms what many health advocates feared: immigrant families’ participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) declined by approximately 10% in the first half of 2018, following a decade of increased participation in the program. Given that the eligibility rules for the program remained unchanged between 2017 and 2018, researchers believe that the drop in participation is related to changes in national immigration rhetoric and policies.

As a reminder, the Trump Administration recently published a proposed “public charge” rule that could further reduce immigrants’ access to essential nutrition and health services. Comments on the proposed rule are due on December 10. For more information on how the rule could affect farmworkers, please see Farmworker Justice’s fact sheet and template comments.

Farmworker Justice Update: 11/09/18

Rulemakings Related to the H-2A Program

Today, the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (DOL ETA) issued notices of proposed rulemaking regarding the recruitment requirements for the H-2 visa programs, both H-2A and H-2B. Farmworker Justice plans to draft comments on this proposal to ensure that recruitment protections for U.S. workers are not weakened. Comments are due December 10.

Last month, DOL ETA announced a proposed revision of the forms used for employer certification under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. The two forms being revised are Form ETA-9142A, which is the form employers use to apply for H-2A workers, and Form 790, which is the agricultural clearance order that contains job terms and instructions for job applicants. FJ will also draft comments for this rulemaking (the deadline for these comments is December 24).
Additionally, FJ is anticipating that, as announced in DOL’s fall regulatory agenda, there will be a broader set of proposed changes related to the H-2A program published in the coming months. FJ is deeply concerned that the anticipated changes could reduce critically important farmworker protections in the H-2A program. FJ will continue to monitor any administrative attempts to undo the current protections in the H-2A program.

USDA Proposed Changes to Farm Labor Survey Used in H-2A Program

Farmworker Justice submitted comments on November 8 to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding its proposal to make changes in its Agricultural Labor Survey (ALS), formerly known as the Farm Labor Survey.  The ALS includes data from farm operators regarding the wages paid to farmworkers. Although there are shortcomings in the survey that limit is value, it provides helpful information. For many years the Department of Labor has set the H-2A program “adverse effect wage rates” for each state based on the ALS findings for average hourly earnings of the combined category of field and livestock workers. The proposed change in the survey regarding wage reporting contained vague and troubling language that could lead to understating farmworkers’ wage rates and artificially lowering the minimum wage rates required under the H-2A program.  FJ therefore opposed some of the proposed revisions to the survey’s questions.

Washington Ag Employer Fined for Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Retaliation  

Last month, the Washington State Attorney General announced a consent decree ordering Horning Brothers, LLC, an agricultural employer, to pay $525,000 for claims of sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation. The company must also adopt non-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies. The Northwest Justice Project worked on the case alongside the WA Attorney General, and represented five of the affected workers. In a lawsuit filed last year, the plaintiffs alleged that the company, which owns an onion packing shed, only hired women to sort onions on the packing line, and limited the hiring of women for other positions. Furthermore, the company ignored female employees’ complaints about sexual harassment by one of its foremen, and retaliated against those who complained. This case highlights that discrimination and harassment are unfortunately still very prevalent for women in the agricultural industry.

Massachusetts Overtime Pay Case for Agricultural Workers

On November 5, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in a case which has the potential to award overtime pay for workers who clean, pack and sort bean sprouts at an indoor growing and packing facility. The case presents an issue of first impression under Massachusetts law, which, like federal law, excludes farmworkers from the right to overtime pay. Generally, workers in a processing plant are not considered agricultural workers for purposes of the overtime exemption. Farmworker Justice has supported efforts to amend federal and state employment laws to end the discriminatory exemption of agricultural employers from paying agricultural workers overtime.  

Ballot Measures Increasing Minimum Wage Succeed in Arkansas and Missouri

Two ballot measures increasing state minimum wages succeeded in the November 6 midterm election. The state of Arkansas voted to gradually increase its minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour within the next three years, while Missouri voters approved a gradual increase from $7.85 an hour to $12 an hour within the next five years, with further adjustments based on the consumer price index. However, some exemptions for particular agricultural businesses and farmworkers from the minimum laws in these states mean that some farmworkers will not benefit from these changes. There are exceptions in the state laws applicable specifically to agriculture that are similar to those in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including for small agricultural employers; livestock workers on the open range; family members of the farm operator; children under age 16 employed on piece rate; and for those farmworkers who are hired on piece-rates to do harvesting and worked in agriculture less than 13 weeks in a prior year.  

Mixed Midterm Election Results

The November 6 midterm elections led to mixed results for Congress: Democrats were able to take control of the House, while Republicans deepened their control of the Senate. The prospects for progress on legislation that would benefit farmworkers remain very limited, but several proposals in the last Congress that threatened farmworkers’ employment rights and immigration status are not likely to proceed in this Congress. With Democrats assuming leadership roles in key House committees in January, they will be poised to conduct oversight over the President’s actions, as well as the policies of government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each party will also soon be selecting its internal party leadership. House GOP leadership elections are scheduled for November 14, with Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) competing for the role of minority leader.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has announced her campaign for Speaker of the House, the position she held when Democrats previously held the majority of House seats.

Government Asks Supreme Court to Intervene in DACA Cases As Program Continues

Yesterday, a federal court in California continued the injunction against the Trump Administration that prevents it from terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the preliminary injunction issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, which kept DACA operational while its future continues to be litigated. Two other decisions by federal judges earlier this year, in New York and Washington, D.C., also led to injunctions against the Administration’s decision to end the DACA program, thus allowing DACA recipients to renew their applications. Since January 2018, approximately 180,000 DACA recipients have renewed their applications.

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) petitioned the Supreme Court to fast track these DACA cases. If the Supreme Court grants certiorari and decides to take the cases, the earliest a ruling could be expected is June 2019.  If you or someone you know has DACA status which expires within the next 6 months, experts recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney and submit your renewal application. Unfortunately, at this time, no first-time DACA applications are being accepted. You can learn more about the status of current DACA cases, as well as steps to take to renew your DACA status here.    

 Jeff Sessions No Longer Attorney General

On November 7, President Trump announced via Twitter that Jeff Sessions will no longer be serving as Attorney General, the highest post in the Department of Justice (DOJ), having been forced to resign immediately after the election. Matthew G. Whitaker, who was the Justice Department Chief of Staff, was appointed Acting Attorney General until a permanent replacement is confirmed. During his tenure as Attorney General, Sessions, a former Senator from Alabama, pursued a strenuous agenda antagonistic to immigrants, civil rights and liberties, and criminal justice reform.  

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Scientific Paper on Pesticide Exposure and Children’s Neurodevelopment

A new scientific paper details the dangers that organophosphates, which are widely used agricultural pesticides, pose to children’s health and development. The researchers found that even low levels of exposure can lead to cognitive problems in children. One of these pesticides, chlorpyrifos, was on track to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the current Administration ignored the findings of its own scientists and has allowed continued use of the neurotoxin. Worker and health advocates challenged the Administration’s reversal, and that litigation is currently ongoing (as detailed in previous FJ updates.) The paper also sets out some recommendations that could result in substantial reductions in pesticide exposure. You can read the full paper here.

Report on Impact of Heat Stress on Florida Workers

A recently released report by Public Citizen and the Farmworker Association of Florida details the impact of heat stress on Florida workers. According to the report, farmworkers and construction workers are the highest risk populations, not just because of their exposure to heat, but also because of other factors, such as fear of immigration enforcement, which might make them less likely to voice health or safety concerns. The threat of heat illness is growing due to rising global temperatures. As mentioned in previous updates, FJ, along with Public Citizen and many others, is involved in a national campaign for a federal heat stress standard. If you are interested in supporting this campaign, please contact FJ’s Director of Occupational & Environmental Health, Virginia Ruiz, at [email protected].

Farmwork Among Fifteen Most Dangerous Jobs Based on Fatality and Injury Rates

 A recent article ranks jobs based on occupational fatality and injury rates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. It states that agricultural workers (separate from farmers) have the 11th most dangerous job while also having the lowest wages on the list of 15 most dangerous jobs. The article calculated that farmworkers are five times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker. The most common cause of fatal injury for most of the occupations, including farmworkers, was transportation accidents. The article may understate the dangers of agricultural work. The BLS data for 2016 by industry shows that the farming, fishing and forestry category had the highest rate of fatalities per 100,000 workers, at 23.2, over 6 times the 3.6 overall average rate. At a more detailed level, in crop production, the rate of fatalities per 100,000 workers was 20.9, higher than mining and construction and only slightly lower than transportation. The rate for animal production and aquaculture was 20.9.  
 

H-2A Program Growing at Unprecedented Rate; Worker Protections at Risk

The latest Department of Labor data show tremendous growth in the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.  The DOL approved almost a quarter of a million—a total of 242,762—H-2A positions in fiscal year 2018. In just the last year, the number of approved H-2A jobs grew by 21% and the number of employer applications grew by over 16%. The program has tripled in size in the last decade: in 2008, 82,000 positions were certified.

Continued massive expansion of the H-2A program is expected as there is no cap on the number of workers who may be brought in on H-2A visas. Moreover, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are further driving the increase of the H-2A program.  In the absence of immigration reform that would grant legal immigration status to current undocumented farmworkers, each year more employers request and receive approval to hire H-2A workers. The Administration’s anti-immigrant and nativist agenda is highlighted by their support for an exploitative model of temporary indentured workers rather than an immigration system that welcomes immigrants and new citizens.

This rapid growth of the H-2A program is deeply troubling because the H-2A program exploits both guestworkers and domestic workers and should not be expanded. A recent example highlights the abusive nature of the H-2A program. Over the summer, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL WHD) won a court injunction against an H-2A employer in Missouri. WHD investigators found that in addition to wage violations, the employer had provided unsanitary and unsafe housing, with some of the workers housed in a former jail.  Workers reported fainting from heat stroke, and the fields where they were working lacked adequate access to water and restroom facilities. This example is far from unique. The anti-trafficking organization Polaris recently released a report on human trafficking in temporary work visa programs which showed that the category with the most reported trafficking cases—over 300—was the H-2A program.

Unfortunately, the massive expansion of the H-2A program has not been accompanied by increased resources for enforcement of employers’ obligations. Moreover, we are seeing multiple efforts to strip labor protections from the program and allow new categories of businesses access to captive H-2A visa holders. For example, a rider was added to the FY 2019 House DHS appropriations bill that would expand the H-2A program to include year-round employment in agriculture. This change would undermine the intent of the H-2A program to address more-difficult-to-fill temporary and seasonal jobs. It also would result in displacing many of the documented and undocumented immigrants who depend on these jobs for their livelihood, ensure their employers’ productivity and are integral members of their rural communities.

Another threat comes from anticipated changes to regulations to eliminate key protections in the program.  In May 2018, the DOL, DHS, State Department, and USDA jointly announced their intent to “modernize” and “streamline” the H-2A program to “deliver for America’s farmers.” The DOL’s recently-published regulatory agenda includes several proposed changes in the H-2A program. Farmworker Justice is concerned that the Administration will seek to strip away essential labor protections and oversight.

Farmworker Justice opposes any changes to the H-2A program that would expand the scope of the program to year-round work or that would lower wages or otherwise reduce worker protections or DOL oversight. Policymakers should not convert our agricultural workforce into a massive system of indentured temporary workers deprived of the right to vote.  A key solution to reforming our broken immigration system is providing a path to immigration status and citizenship for farmworkers and their families.

H-2A Program Trends and Observations

Growth in States

• From FY 2017 to FY 2018, several states saw significantly large increases in program usage, including an increase of 38% in Georgia, 34% in Washington, 30% in Michigan, 24% in Arizona and California, and 20% in Florida.  
• Georgia is now the number one state for number of H-2A positions certified, with 32,364 positions certified; Florida is in a close second at 30,462 positions certified.  With an estimated total of roughly 61,000 farmworkers in Georgia, the number of H-2A jobs approved accounts for about half of all farmworkers in Georgia.[1]

H-2A Top Employers

• The top three employers in the H-2A program are labor contractors or growers’ associations, rather than individual farms.
• Top employers have increasingly been using the H-2A program to fill non-agricultural tasks such as construction in farming operations. For example, a recent article detailed employers’ use of the H-2A program to fill farm construction jobs with H-2A workers. One of the companies mentioned in the article, Alewelt Concrete, Inc, was the fifth largest employer for all of the H-2A program in FY 2018.

Crops and Occupations in the H-2A Program

• The top crop for the H-2A program in FY 2018 was once again berries, at over 25,000 worker positions certified. The “General Farm Workers” category is a close second with about 24,000 worker positions certified.  Other top 10 crops/occupations include tobacco, apples, melons, fruits and vegetables, lettuce, corn, cherries, and nursery and greenhouse workers.


Source: Selected Statistics, FY 2018, H-2A Temporary Foreign Labor Certification Program, Office of Foreign Labor Certification, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.


Farmworker Justice, October 30, 2018

[1] National and State Estimates of the Number of LSC-Eligible Agricultural Worker Populations, Table I Final State and National Estimates of the LSC-Eligible Agricultural Worker Population, Summary Table, available at https://lsc-live.app.box.com/s/dfsy78qhagsk12oxi6fr79pd5eq0geqp.

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.

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!

 

Farmworker Justice Update - 09/07/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 09/07/18

Congressional Action Post-Recess

Congress returned from August recess this week and has a limited number of legislative days left before the mid-term elections. Below are some of the key issues currently being considered:

Appropriations: Potential Impacts on H-2A Program

Congress is facing a September 30 deadline for passing FY 2019 appropriations bills; otherwise they risk a government shutdown. Given recent remarks by President Trump regarding a potential shutdown over border wall funding, it is very likely that there will be a continuing resolution (CR) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill, which covers funding for immigration enforcement. A CR is essentially an extension of current appropriations levels. Congress is also currently working on a serious of “minibuses” (packages consolidating various appropriations bills), which include labor, health, education, agriculture, defense spending and various other issues. There may ultimately be CRs on these remaining bills as well if no agreement is reached by September 30.

As a reminder, there are troubling riders related to the H-2A program in the House appropriations bills.  The House agricultural appropriations bill includes an H-2A rider that gives the USDA, rather than DOL, authority to establish and oversee a new online interagency platform for employers’ H-2A applications. This rider raises serious concerns about efforts to undermine DOL’s primary responsibility for ensuring worker protections are met and otherwise limit government oversight of the application process.  In addition, a rider was added to the House DHS appropriations bill that would expand the H-2A program to include year-round employment in agriculture. This change would not only undermine the intent of the H-2A program to address more difficult to fill temporary and seasonal jobs, but would also supplant many of the existing farmworkers who depend on these jobs for their livelihood and who are integral members of their communities.

Farm Bill

Another looming September 30 deadline for Congress is the expiration of the current Farm Bill. Senators and Representatives from both parties are working to reach a compromise as soon as possible, but various significant disagreements remain on issues including nutrition programs. One development that is particularly concerning for farmworkers is the potential inclusion of the “Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2017,” PRIA 4, in the Farm Bill. As we have noted in previous updates, the Senate passed a standalone version of PRIA 4 which includes language guarding against rollbacks to pesticide protections for farmworkers. The Farm Bill PRIA language does not have these protections. As stated by Rep. Grijalva (TX) during a Farm Bill conference meeting, the House should instead pass the Senate version of PRIA in order to ensure farmworkers and their children are healthy and safe from pesticide exposure. Please click here to view a letter from over 100 children’s, agricultural, faith, health, industry, farmworker, and environmental organizations urging that PRIA be stripped from the Farm Bill.

Goodlatte Agricultural Guestworker Bill   

Despite the crowded Congressional calendar, the American Farm Bureau Federation is still attempting to garner support for a vote on Rep. Goodlatte’s “Ag and Legal Workforce Act,” H.R. 6417. Farmworker Justice strongly opposes Rep. Goodlatte’s bill and continues to educate members of Congress on the bill’s many anti-immigrant, anti-family and anti-worker provisions.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing

September 4 marked the first day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the Senate, which continued during the week. The hearings covered a wide range of issues, and were marked by protests as well as controversy regarding the release of documents. A vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination may occur as early as next week. Senate Republicans are hoping to confirm Kavanaugh before the Supreme Court reconvenes in October. Farmworker Justice joined a broad coalition letter stating many reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation that was organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

U.S. and Mexico Reach NAFTA Deal, Canada Now in Negotiations

The U.S. and Mexico recently announced that they have reached a deal on the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the new deal will have a labor chapter that will include an Annex on collective bargaining in Mexico and new provisions regarding goods produced by forced labor and protection for migrant workers. Farmworker Justice has found the current NAFTA’s labor side agreement protections for U.S. and Mexican farmworkers to be weak. It remains to be seen if or when Canada, the remaining party to NAFTA, will agree to the terms proposed by the U.S. and Mexico. President Trump has threatened to leave Canada out of the revised deal entirely. One of the disputes concerns trade of milk and other dairy products. The White House gave Congress the required 90-day notification for the signing of NAFTA on August 31. Mexico’s current government leaves office December 1, so this timing would allow Mexico to sign the new deal before the country’s change in leadership.

DOL Debars North Carolina H-2A Contractor

On August 28, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL WHD) announced the debarment of an H-2A farm labor contractor. Ruben V. Serna, owner of Serna Harvesting, owed $194,109 in back wages to 181 employees working at 15 different North Carolina farms. Serna charged the workers for housing and transportation, and failed to properly record hours in payroll records. FJ remains concerned that the increasing use of farm labor contractors by farm owners to hire H-2A workers leads to abuses that are not prevented if the owners are not held jointly responsible and liable for violations of workers’ rights.

Workplace Immigration Raid in Texas

A workplace raid near Paris, Texas last month led to the arrest of 160 workers. The raid resulted from a criminal investigation into the Load Trail company, which makes vehicle trailers. Many of the detained workers are Mexican nationals. This latest raid is the most recent example of workers facing family separation and possible deportation because of investigations regarding their employers.

One Year After Trump’s Rescission, DACA Remains, For Now

September 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program. A series of lawsuits have been filed since then, most of which sought to preserve DACA. Injunctions from these lawsuits have resulted in the ability for current DACA holders to maintain and renew their status. On August 31, Judge Andrew Hanen ruled on a lawsuit led by the state of Texas seeking to end DACA. Judge Hanen did not order a halt to the DACA program, noting that to do so in the current context would cause more harm than the states claimed the program itself caused, while at the same time questioning the legality of the program. (Judge Hanen is the same judge who previously ruled against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.) There is likely to be an appeal of Judge Hanen’s decision, but in the meantime USCIS is still accepting and processing DACA renewal applications. Please see NILC’s FAQs on DACA renewals for more information.

CAP Report on Immigrants in Rural America

A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) analyzes the impact of immigration on rural areas. The report found that in many rural areas immigration helped to fuel population growth or at least slow population decline. The report also states that immigrants have been an indispensable part of the agricultural sector, which provides employment for 1 out of 10 rural workers. It mentions crop production and dairy as two specific sectors that are highly dependent on immigrant labor.

Civil Eats Article on Yuma Lettuce Pickers

A recent Civil Eats article describes daily life for the farmworkers who pick lettuce in and around Yuma, Arizona. The Yuma Valley grows approximately 90% of all of the U.S.’ leafy greens during the winter. The article highlights the great work done by Campesinos sin Fronteras in providing needed basic services to farmworkers. (FJ has a long history of collaborating with CSF.) As noted throughout the article, for all the technological advancements in agriculture, the working conditions and pay for those still doing the bulk of this work have not significantly improved.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Oral Arguments Held on ACA Case Texas v. United States

On September 5, oral arguments were heard in Texas v. United States (formerly Texas v. Azar). The lawsuit, brought by 18 state Attorneys General, argues that the ACA should be invalidated due to Congress’ elimination of the tax penalty under the ACA’s individual mandate. The lawsuit argues that the elimination of the penalty renders others parts of the ACA, including the guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, unconstitutional. The Administration did not defend the key provisions of the ACA in court. Attorneys General from 16 other states and the District of Columbia, led by California, intervened to defend the ACA and its provisions in court. In anticipation of this case, Sen. Tillis (NC) introduced the “Ensuring Coverage for Patients with Pre-Existing Conditions Act” (S. 3388) on August 23. This bill proposes to amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to prevent insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. However, the proposed bill does not prevent insurers from charging individuals based on age and gender or for specific services to treat those pre-existing conditions. The bill has been referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee.

California Proposes to Ban Short-term Health Plans

In response to the recent federal rules authorizing expanded use of short-term health plans, the California Legislature passed a bill that would prohibit the sale of short-term health plans in California. Short-term health insurance plans are not subject to ACA standards such as essential health benefits coverage. SB 910 (sponsored by State Sen. Ed Hernandez) would prohibit the sale of health insurance plans that are less than 12 months. This bill is among a handful of bills passed by the legislature in direct response to recent Administration rules. These other bills include SB 1108, which would ban the state from implementing a work requirement for Medi-Cal, and SB 1375, which would prohibit the formation of Association Health Plans. Governor Brown has until September 30 to sign the bills into law.

Heat Stress Increasing Threat to Farmworkers

A recent Mother Jones article highlights the threat to farmworkers’ lives posed by extreme heat, which will only increase with the effects of climate change. The article mentions the campaign led by Public Citizen, the United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice to petition the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a national standard to prevent heat stress and the need to address this problem before it gets even worse.

Farmworker Justice Update - 08/15/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 08/15/18

H-2A Data Published for Third Quarter of FY 2018

The Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) recently released H-2A program data for the third quarter of FY 2018.  The data shows that there have been 193,603 positions certified so far this fiscal year. A total of 200,049 H-2A positions were certified in all of FY 2017. Thus, it is likely that the total number of positions certified in FY 2018 will be significantly higher than those certified in FY 2017, in line with the broader trend of continued growth of the H-2A program. The states of Georgia, Florida, Washington, North Carolina and California had the highest number of H-2A positions certified during the first three quarters of FY 2018, accounting for more than half of all positions certified.

Recent Cases Demonstrate Abuses in H-2A Program and Vulnerability of Workers

On August 6, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (DOL WHD) announced a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Marin J. Corp, an H-2A employer in Missouri. WHD investigators found that the employer provided unsanitary and unsafe housing and also failed to pay workers required wages. Marin J. Corp employed more than 100 H-2A workers and housed some of the workers in a former jail. Several of the workers also reported fainting from heat stroke and the fields where they were working lacked adequate access to water and restroom facilities.

Also last week, farmworkers in New York filed a lawsuit against their employer for failure to pay legally required wages and for providing unsafe and overcrowded housing.  The workers are represented by the Worker Justice Center of New York. They are seeking unpaid wages and overtime pay from 2012 through the present, plus monetary damages for the substandard housing. The employer involved participates in the H-2A program, but allegedly paid the plaintiffs, who are domestic workers, lower wages than those required under the program.

In Washington, there is ongoing activism and challenges following the death of an H-2A worker last year. Fellow workers were fired when they went on strike to demand better working conditions and their employer, Sarbanand Farms, was fined earlier this year by the DOL for not providing required breaks and meal periods. The case is detailed in a recent article in The American Prospect by David Bacon entitled “What Was the Life of this Guest Worker Worth?” The article quotes FJ President Bruce Goldstein on a variety of H-2A issues. It also mentions WAFLA’s (formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association) manipulation of wage surveys in order to drive down wages. FJ is working with Washington state advocates to protect farmworker wages.

ICE Raids Agricultural Facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota

On August 8, ICE raided various facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota, including a tomato greenhouse, a cattle feedlot and a potato processing facility. ICE agents arrested 133 workers.  Seventeen employers were also arrested based on allegations including wire fraud and money laundering. The arrests resulted from an investigation centered on a recruiter who hired workers for the various businesses involved. The recruiter allegedly forced employees to cash their paychecks at his grocery store, charging them a fee. He also allegedly withheld a portion of each paycheck, claiming he was withholding taxes but instead pocketing the money.

A particularly disturbing aspect of these recent raids is that the employees who were allegedly cheated by these abusive employers are being detained themselves. This will likely have a chilling effect on other employees who might be willing to denounce employer abuses in the future, because they will fear immigration reprisals for themselves or their colleagues. The local communities in the areas where the raids occurred have of course been severely impacted. A public school opened its doors to offer counseling for individuals affected by the raids, including many children whose family members, including parents, were detained.  A protest and vigil were held shortly after the raids. Some neighbors also voiced concerns about the economic impact that the raids will have on these small rural communities.

Legal Battle over the Status of DACA Continues Amidst Legislative Inaction

On August 3, a federal judge in D.C. vacated the government’s rescission of the DACA program. This means that the government may soon have to start accepting new DACA applications, in addition to processing renewals, which is currently required pursuant to previous orders by judges in California and New York. The D.C. judge’s order will go into effect on August 23 unless the U.S. government obtains a stay of the order by that date. In the meantime, a case challenging DACA is currently being litigated in Texas and could result in a judge ruling that DACA must be terminated and that the government must stop receiving applications. If that happens, there could be contradictory orders regarding DACA from different courts in the country. Any conflicting court decisions would need to be appealed and may ultimately end up before the Supreme Court, though the timeline for a potential Supreme Court decision still remains unclear.  This uncertainty is weighing heavily on Dreamers as they continue to plan their futures. For a full summary of ongoing litigation related to DACA, please see this chart prepared by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Court Orders EPA To Ban Pesticide Chlorpyrifos Within 60 Days

In a significant victory for farmworkers, public health and the environment, on August 9 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban the highly toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos within 60 days. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice and various other advocacy groups. Farmworker Justice was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.  As has been noted in previous FJ updates, the EPA had been set to ban chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to neurodevelopmental damage in children, but former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided not to ban the pesticide after meeting with agrochemical industry representatives.

As stated by Virginia Ruiz, FJ’s Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, farmworkers and their families have needlessly suffered from exposure to chlorpyrifos for far too long. Chlorpyrifos is currently used in over 50 different crops, including corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, and broccoli. Corteva, the agricultural division of DowDuPont, issued a statement soon after the ruling calling for an appeal to the decision. Crop Life America, another major manufacturer of the pesticide, has also called for an appeal of the ruling. The EPA has stated that it is reviewing the decision and has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ban.

NPR Highlights Rural Housing Crisis

A recent NPR report highlights the lack of adequate, affordable housing in rural areas of the U.S. The article focuses on a small Nebraska town and the lack of adequate housing for workers in a variety of industries, but does not mention farmworkers. However, the general scarcity of housing in rural areas often makes it even harder for farmworkers to find safe and affordable places to live. This reality is part of the reason why it is so important to maintain crucial protections in the H-2A program that require employers to provide housing for workers.

Farmworker Justice Update - 07/27/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 07/27/18

New Goodlatte Bill Introduced but Not Voted on As House Congressional Recess Begins

On July 18, Rep. Goodlatte (VA) introduced yet another version of his anti-worker, anti-immigrant and anti-family agricultural guestworker bill. The new bill, the “AG and Legal Workforce Act,” HR 6417, includes Rep. Goodlatte’s “H-2C” guestworker program, which would replace the current H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker visa program.  The legislation also includes mandatory E-verify.  House leadership had promised to bring standalone legislation on agricultural guestworkers to a House vote before August recess, but that did not happen. The House recess starts today and Members will not return until September.

It remains to be seen whether the bill will be taken up once the House reconvenes.  Reportedly, the bill did not have enough votes to pass, however Members state that they will be working to try to get additional support for the bill during the recess. One of the main reasons for the bill’s lack of support was the opposition to the bill expressed by some grower groups, including Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau FederationThese groups are concerned about the bill’s touch-back provision, which requires current undocumented agricultural workers to “self-deport” to their home countries before returning as guestworkers. Employers fear this provision, coupled with the implementation of mandatory E-verify, will only serve to push workers deeper into the shadows.

Farmworker Justice opposes the new Goodlatte bill, as do many immigrant rights organizations. To add your organization to a broad sign-on letter opposing the Goodlatte bill, as well as calling for a solution for Dreamers and TPS holders, please click here – the deadline for sign-on is Tuesday, July 31. Farmworker Justicewill continue to work to oppose Goodlatte’s one-sided and anti-worker proposal, while also monitoring potential regulatory changes to the H-2A program.

USDA Announces Guidelines for Including H-2A Workers in Farmworker Housing

On July 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new internal guidance on the use of Section 514 farmworker housing. This new guidance is the result of an amendment included in the FY 2018 appropriations bill which extended use of the program to persons legally admitted to the United States and authorized to work in agriculture, expanding the definition of farm laborers eligible for the program. This change means that H-2A workers may now be eligible for this housing. Though further revisions will be made to the relevant regulations in order to conform to the statutory changes, USDA offices have been advised to include H-2A workers in the program.

The internal guidelines state that “under no circumstance” may any tenants in USDA-financed housing be displaced as a result of the change. However, the change is concerning because, as stated by Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein in a Politico Agriculture update, the change is likely to encourage more employers to participate in the H-2A guest worker program and spread thin housing subsidies that can’t afford to be stretched. Any available subsidies to developfarmworker housing should be used to address the critical shortage of housing for U.S. farmworkers and their families.

House DHS FY 2019 Appropriations Bill Deeply Flawed

Newhouse H-2A Expansion Rider included in House DHS Appropriations bill

On July 25, Rep. Newhouse (WA) offered an amendment to the FY 2019 House Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill which authorizes the expansion of H-2A to all agriculture, regardless of whether such work is seasonal. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.  The amendment is similar to one that he offered in FY 2018 which eliminated the seasonality requirement of the H-2A program. The FY 2018 Newhouse DHS amendment was ultimately not included in the final FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill. Farmworker Justice opposes Newhouse’s year-round rider and will work to try to prevent it from being included in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill.

As detailed in a previous FJ update, Rep. Newhouse also introduced an amendment to the FY 2019 House Agriculture appropriations bill that would establish a new online platform for the processing and adjudication of H-2A petitions, to be run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This amendment was adopted and added to the House USDA appropriations bill. Farmworker Justice is also concerned about the potential inclusion of this amendment in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill, as the rider creates a great deal of uncertainty about what kind of oversight may be included should USDA run the application process.  USDA does not have the required expertise regarding administering guestworker programs and has historically viewed growers as their constituents instead of workers. 

Immigrant Rights Advocates Condemn FY 2019 DHS Appropriations Bill 

A coalition of immigrant rights groups, named the #DefundHate campaign, condemned the FY 2019 DHS appropriations bill that was voted on July 25. The bill includes $5 billion for construction of a border wall, as well as funding to expand detention centers and hire additional immigration officers. If included in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill, these funds would be used to further terrorize immigrant families, while lacking accountability for DHS’ fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible policies, including family separation. 

U.S. Government Misses Family Reunification Deadline

Pursuant to a court order, U.S. government officials had until yesterday (July 26) to reunite parents and children separated under the government's “zero-tolerance” family separation policy. Only about half of the approximately 2,500 children have been reunited with their parents. Hundreds of parents have already been deported without their children, making the prospect of future reunification uncertain. According to the ACLU, which is litigating the case, some parents were misled into agreeing to their deportation and/or relinquishing their rights to be reunited with their childrenImmigrantrefugee, and faith organizations have condemned the government’s actions and are continuing their work to provide guidance and relief to the affected families. 

FJ Opposes Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice

Farmworker Justice joined over 100 national organizations in a letter to Senators led by The Leadership Conference opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme CourtKavanaugh was nominated by President Trump earlier this month. Of particular concern to farmworkers is Kavanaugh’s hostility to workers’ rights, anti-immigrant views, and undermining of environmental protections, each of which is detailed in the letter. A contentious confirmation process for Kavanaugh will likely take place in the U.S. Senate this fall. 

Milk with Dignity Campaign

 A recent Associated Press (AP) article highlights the success of the “Milk with Dignity” campaign. The agreement, led by farmworker advocate organization Migrant Justice, was signed by Ben & Jerry’s last fall. Under the agreement, Ben & Jerry’s pays a premium to farmers who agree to follow certain labor and housing standards. Approximately 70 farms employing 250 farmworkers are currently involved in the program, which is the first of its kind for the dairy industry.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Heat Stress Death in Nebraska

Farmworker Justice would like to extend its condolences to the family of Cruz Urias Beltran, a 52-year old farmworker who died earlier this month as a result of heat stroke. Urias Beltran went missing while detasseling corn in hundred-degree heat and was later found about 100 feet from the edge of a corn field. This recent tragedy once again highlights the need for protections to prevent heat stress, including the requirement for employers to provide access to drinking water, rest and shade when working in high temperatures, as well as adequate training for farmworkers to be able to identify and prevent heat stress.  

Public Citizen, FJ and Others Petition for Federal Heat Stress Standard

On July 17, Public Citizen, along with a coalition of over 200 individuals and groups including Farmworker Justice, filed a petition to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking for a federal standard to protect workers from heat stress. The danger of heat stress is particularly prevalent for farmworkers and will likely continue to grow as climate change impacts daily temperatures. The petition calls for a standard modeled after criteria set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Grain Elevator Explosion Will Not Be Investigated by OSHA Because of Small Farm Exemption

OSHA will not be investigating a recent grain elevator explosion that resulted in the death of a worker. U.S. law exempts farms with fewer than 11 non-family employees from OSHA’s purview, so the farm where the incident occurred does not qualify. The worker, Maurice Kellogg, suffered severe burns when the grain elevator exploded on May 29 and later died of his injuries. He was 55 years old and had been an agricultural worker for over 30 years. Farmworker Justice extends its condolences to his family. The exact cause of the explosion remains unknown.

FJ Developing Spanish Language Grain Safety Materials

Service providers have seen an increase over the last few years of Spanish-speaking workers on agricultural entities that produce, transport and handle grain. Currently, very few materials exist in Spanish to address grain safety protocol among grain workers. Grain handling incidents often result from improper interactions with grain processing and transporting equipment, improperly cleaned work areas, or entering untrained into grain bins and storage areas. Migratory or guest workers may be less likely to ask for the necessary training or protective equipment to complete these dangerous tasks. The changing nature of work on farms where grain is handled, including work on smaller OSHA-exempt farms, may trend towards more workers with limited English proficiency becoming involved in grain handling activities. Farmworker Justice and Indiana Legal Services have partnered to produce a series of Spanish language materials on grain handling safety. If you are interested in learning more about these materials, please contact FJ’s Health and Safety Project Coordinator, Madeline Ramey, at [email protected].

Pesticide Executive Nominated for Top USDA Post

President Trump recently nominated Scott Hutchins, a former pesticide executive for Dow Chemical, for the post of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics, which is the chief scientist position at the USDA. If approved by the Senate, Hutchins would be the third Dow Chemical executive to be assigned to a USDA post. Dow Chemical likely played a significant role in former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to reverse plans to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. This latest nomination highlights the power of industrial agricultural interests in the current Administration, with negative impacts for both farmworkers and the environment. 

EPA Hearing on Use of Science in Regulations

Virginia Ruiz, FJ’s Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, recently testified before the EPA on a proposed rule that would weaken the role of science in developing EPA policy. The proposed rule, entitled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would require revealing private health data in public health scientific studies, making it less likely that the public would participate in these essential studies. Farmworker Justice opposes the rule because it would deter farmworkers from participating in scientific studies, and it would prohibit EPA from considering credible scientific evidence about the dangers farmworkers face, including exposure to pesticides. The public comment period for the rule ends on August 16, 2018.

“Skimpy Health Plans” and Farmworkers

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently published a paper entitled “Expanding Skimpy Health Plans is the Wrong Solution for Uninsured Farmers and Farm Workers.” The paper details the negative impact association health plans and short term health plans will have on health insurance and health care access for farmworkers and farmers. At the state and federal level, policies have been proposed (and in some cases enacted) to expand access to “skimpy health plans” that are exempt from many of the ACA’s consumer protections. Farmers are often cited as the beneficiaries of these plans; in Iowa and North Carolina, expansion of skimpy plans is supported by the state Farm Bureaus. However, due to their low incomes, farmworkers may be eligible for better, more affordable coverage through the ACA’s marketplace or Medicaid. Skimpy plans, though they may seem affordable for low-income farmers and farmworkers, often have very high deductibles and limits on benefits. CBPP cites data from the 2016 American Community Survey and the 2014 National Agricultural Workers Survey. More information and analysis about association and short-term health plans can be found on the CBPP website

Cuts to Navigator Funding

On July 10, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that they were cutting funding for navigators for the 2019 plan year from $36 million last year to $10 million. This represents a severe reduction in Navigator funding of nearly 90% from 2016 funding levels. CMS justified this funding reduction by stating that navigators only accounted for 1% of enrollees in the marketplace. However, as outlined in a Kaiser Family Foundation data note published July 17, the data cited by CMS likely underestimates the number of navigator-assisted enrollments. Further, the role of navigators is not limited to enrollment. Navigators also provide education to consumers, answer questions about health insurance, and support consumers post-enrollment. In farmworker communities, navigators play a crucial role to educate and enroll workers in health insurance. Awareness about the marketplaces remains low. In addition, recent changes in the ACA, specifically the elimination of the mandate penalty in 2019, create additional confusion. This reduction in funding further weakens the ACA, reversing any gains in health insurance coverage experienced by farmworker communities. 

 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Farmworkers in the U.S.