Farmworkers in the U.S.

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Transforming the Produce Industry

Today's guest blog is written by Peter O'Driscoll, Executive Director of the Equitable Food Initiative.  The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) brings together workers, growers and retailers in the effort to produce better fruits and vegetables. As produce farms comply with the EFI Standard—for improved working conditions, pesticide management, and food safety—the entire food system sees benefits, all the way from farm workers to consumers.

There's a reason we still celebrate Farmworker Awareness Week each year. Despite landmark events over the past six decades -- from the broadcast of Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" in 1960 through the campaigns of Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers in the 1970s, the supply chain agreements of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the 1980s, the organizing of tomato workers in Immokalee and the more recent success of Oregon farmworkers on documentation and minimum wage -- most consumers just don't pay enough attention to the challenges facing those who harvest our fruits and vegetables.

Across those same decades, the produce industry itself has too often taken workers for granted. Thanks to an abundant labor supply, workers were seen as interchangeable, rather than as skilled and valuable assets. But that perception may well be changing. Enhanced immigration enforcement has significantly tightened the agricultural labor market, raising concerns among growers who can't find the workers they need to harvest their crops.

Meanwhile, as US growers increasingly source from Mexico to provide year-round supply, labor unrest and press accounts of harsh working conditions south of the border have convinced the produce industry that there are major vulnerabilities in its sprawling global supply chains. Many insiders acknowledge that "social compliance" is now as urgent a priority as food safety, an issue that always grabs consumers' attention.

As an unusual collaboration among retail, grower, labor and consumer organizations, the Equitable Food Initiative sees a tremendous opportunity for transformation in the produce industry. We believe that well-trained and fairly compensated workers can be a huge part of the solution to the industry's food safety and labor challenges. Our work with Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods and eight of their produce suppliers is already demonstrating that engaged and motivated workers can verify ongoing compliance with our rigorous standards. This spring, our first certified strawberries will be on Costco shelves with the "Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured." ™ label. More product will be available as the season advances, and we hope other retailers will join in supporting their suppliers to achieve EFI certification.
 

But beyond the assurance of compliance, EFI's experience with growers so far shows that new forms of labor-management collaboration can also create other forms of value. As with any industry, experienced farmworkers know a great deal about the produce they harvest, and can use the problem-solving skills they learn through EFI to explore ways to improve the production process, reduce waste and retain labor in a tight market. As more suppliers get involved, there are also opportunities for sharing best practices: rather than dictating how things should be done, EFI aims to build on the inherent knowledge that workers and their supervisors already bring to their profession. As EFI evolves, we learn and grow through the insight of our stakeholders.

Among our early-adopters is NatureSweet Tomatoes, a San Antonio-based company with multiple facilities in Mexico and Arizona. NatureSweet is "dedicated to increasing the sustainability of the land and the lives of all those surrounding our product." But by investing in the capacity of its workforce, the company also sees a significant competitive opportunity, and talks about a produce industry "ripe for disruption." All the growers we talk to seek to tap the potential of their workforce and promote a change of culture in the industry. EFI is excited to be part of what we see as a positive transformation. And it all starts with an awareness that farmworkers bring tremendous skill and knowledge to their trade. This week should be about helping to spread that awareness.

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Separation of Families

"When we began our first interview, Demetrio seemed a little detached. He answered yes or no to most of our questions; however, when we began asking more about his family, we saw his eyes tell a different story. Demetrio told us that his wife was expecting his third child. The baby was due in two weeks so he wouldn’t be able to be there for his son’s birth and in fact wouldn’t be able to meet his son until November when his son would already be 5 months old. 


During our second interview, Demetrio showed us pictures of his newborn son who still doesn’t have a name. He seemed proud and sad at the same time. We asked about what he wondered and at first, he said he didn’t ask himself or wonder anything, but after we explained the prompt again and gave a few examples, he said he wondered everyday if the rest of his life would be like this, separated and away from his family. The room felt dense, almost like you could feel the weight that he carries. It’s not just that he has to miss big and important family moments like the birth of a child, but it’s knowing everyday his children are growing up, trying new things and learning about themselves and the people that they want to become, while he’s not there to see or influence it."

Excerpt from Student Action with Farmworkers’ (SAF) blog on the theme separation of families by Catherine Crowe, 2015 SAF Fellow.

When we talk about separation of families in the immigration context we often mean the harsh immigration enforcement machine that deports one parent and leave the rest of the family behind. Or the fact that millions of undocumented immigrants in the US are unable to return to their country of origin to visit their loved ones. This fear is a daily reality for the majority of farmworkers who are undocumented. But Demetrio’s story illustrates another type of family separation. Demetrio has an H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers. Many H-2A workers spend up to 10 months in the US every year away from their families. Sheepherders on H-2A visas stay for 3 years before returning home for a short duration.

H-2A workers typically come to the United States without their families. Although technically H-2A workers may bring their spouse and/or minor children with them, in reality it doesn’t happen. H-2A workers live in employer-provided housing that is usually dormitory style and not appropriate for families, and it is unlikely that employers would allow workers to bring their families. Plus, for an H-2A worker to bring their spouse, he (it’s usually a he) would have to show that he can financially support her while they are in the US. Farmworkers wages aren’t high enough to meet this standard. Under the H-2A program, employers can and do discriminate based on a person’s age and gender and the result is that is a workforce composed almost exclusively of young men. (In the rare instances where there are crews of women, they are exclusively women as well.) As a result, even if a male and female couple wanted to work together on H-2A visas, it would be extremely challenging; and it is highly unlikely their children would be able to join them.

The H-2A program exploits economically desperate individuals. People should not have to choose between living with their family or feeding their family. In public discourse on policy proposals for the future flow for immigration reform, some people believe that many Mexican farmworkers just want to come here and work and then go home. But no one wants to be separated from his or her family. Proposals for harsh guestworker programs that treat workers as commodities should be rejected as inconsistent with America’s economic and democratic freedoms. Any needed future workers from abroad must be afforded the same legal rights as U.S. workers and should be given the opportunity to earn citizenship. Whether they chose to settle here or return to their country of origin at some point should be their choice. Immigration reform should be a stepping stone toward modernizing agricultural labor practices and treating farmworkers with the respect they deserve.

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Celebrating and Educating the Farmworker Child

The following is a guest blog by John Menditto, General Counsel and Director of Risk Management, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

For more than forty years, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project  has been celebrating and educating the farmworker child. What we have observed during these four decades of mission-driven work has remained remarkably consistent:

  • Farmworker parents deeply committed to the education of their young children;
  • Classroom teachers ready, willing, and able to prepare their young charges for success in the public school system;
  • School bus transportation staff with the skill and knowledge to safely navigate school buses down rural roads and into migrant labor camps to ensure children arrive at school on time;
  • Cooks able to prepare nutritious and delicious breakfasts and lunches for as many as 100 children each day; and
  • Collaborative partners who provide health, dental and nutritional services to help ensure that each child is able to do their best learning.

The consistency we have seen in our own program on the United States’ East Coast is a vision shared by Head Start agencies that serve farmworker families all across the nation. I have the privilege to work with many of these Head Start agencies through my Board service to the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association and I can attest to the fact that the 30,000 farmworker children served through the Head Start program are receiving education and care of the highest quality.

But threats abound for farmworker families. Large agribusinesses and small family farmers have taken advantage of the agricultural temporary guestworker program (also known as the H-2A program) to displace farmworker parents working in the fields. Farmworker parents like Irma M. of Okeechobee, Florida, have shared with us that their employer now provides the best opportunities to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables to H-2A guestworkers. According to Irma, her employer has explained that he’s required by the H-2A guestworker program to keep his guestworkers busy, so her opportunities to work are limited to the months during the peak harvest season.

Other farmworker parents like William P. of Wauchula, Florida, have shared that they are unable to be involved in the Head Start program in the way they would like because they cannot afford to miss work for fear of appearing less dedicated than the temporary guestworkers who they work alongside. Temporary H-2A guestworkers leave their families behind when they come to the United States – they reside in the United States for one purpose: to work. This, of course, can be a boon to the agriculture industry, but it’s a bust for the farmworker parent who must choose between attending a Head Start parent engagement activity or his or her job working in the fields.

The other threat facing farmworker families is the threat of family separation. Farmworker parents came to the United States with the same hopes and dreams of all immigrants – but many of these farmworkers brought their hopes and dreams on the only path available to them: one that was not sanctioned by the United States government. As a result of our broken immigration system, thousands of farmworker parents entrust their United States citizen children to our care and head to their work in the fields, carrying with them the fear that this could be the day they were separated from their young children. Despite these looming threats, farmworker parents persevere. The farmworkers that I know tend to be my most generous and most gracious of friends. They are willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices so that their children will have opportunities in life that were never available to the farmworker. Lazaro S., a farmworker parent who migrates each year from Plant City, Florida to Faison, North Carolina, explained his motivation and the importance of education:

“It’s important for children to be able to learn, because they are just starting to grow. And we don’t want them to end up like us because we haven’t learned anything since we were very little. If children can start learning when they are little . . . that is the future of this country”

During National Farmworker Awareness Week, we celebrate farmworkers like Lazaro, Irma, and William, and we celebrate their young children: the future of this country.
 

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Women in the Fields

On this day of National Farmworker Awareness Week we celebrate women in farmworker communities by showcasing the work of one of our community partners. Lideres Campesinas, a community organization founded and run by women, is based in Oxnard, CA. Lideres organizes committees of women and girls in farmworker communities across the state of California, harnessing the power of women to educate and advocate within their communities for fair and safe workplaces, women’s health, and youth programs, among other priority issues.

For the past two years, Farmworker Justice has partnered with Lideres Campesinas to engage the members of three committees as promotores de salud (community health workers) dedicated to the health and safety of farmworkers exposed to hazards on the job. As promotores de salud, the women share information about pesticides, heat illness, and field sanitation with others in their community. They explain how farmworkers can take simple steps to prevent injuries and illnesses. They also become resources within their communities, disseminating information about the right to a safe workplace and where and how workers can ask questions or report violations of their rights. Many of these women have become fixtures at community-wide and governmental meetings representing the interests of farmworkers.

We, at Farmworker Justice, are inspired by the amount of time and energy the founders, board members, staff, and volunteer members devote to the organization and their communities.
 

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Farmworker Life

Carly Fox is a Worker Rights Advocate who organizes dairy workers in the Workplace Justice Program at the Worker Justice Center of NY. Carly wrote this guest blog for National Farmworker Awareness Week.


New York State’s dairy industry is booming as a result of the explosion of Greek yogurt with Chobani, the pioneer Greek yogurt company, focusing its investment in NY. For the past two decades, the profile of the average dairy worker has shifted towards an almost exclusive population of Mexican and Guatemalan milkers and herdsman.

Last year, I received a call from a dairy worker, Juan (a pseudonym), who asked for help getting his things out of his employer-provided housing. Juan had decided to quit the dairy and move out, but the owner was trying to prevent him from leaving. When Juan’s brother came to pick him up, the dairy owner reached into Juan’s brother’s car, took his keys out and put them in his pocket. When Juan’s brother got angry, the owner threatened to call immigration, a threat often used by employers to intimidate workers who may be undocumented. I came to learn that Juan had worked on this farm for a year. He had worked every single day with no day of rest. He worked four hours, then rested for four hours, around the clock. This grueling schedule, however, wasn’t what led him to quit. Juan decided to quit after the heat in the house stopped working for a third time during one of New York’s coldest winters. Juan had been trying to sleep curled up next to the oven, which he was using to heat the place. He couldn’t take it anymore, but the employer was pressuring him to stay by threatening to call immigration. To add insult to injury, Juan never received his last week’s paycheck from the employer.

Many of these farmworkers live in employer-owned housing which poses many challenges. Oftentimes, ten to twelve workers share one stove. There are no fans or hoods over the stoves so grease coats the walls and attracts pests. Workers arrive at farms and find that there are no beds. One group of workers had been sleeping on air mattresses for a whole year. One worker-leader we work with, Miguel (pseudonym), is lucky to have his family living with him here in the US (most dairy workers are here alone, with their families back in their home country). When the dairy farm Miguel worked on couldn’t retain American workers because the pay was too low, they started hiring many more Latino workers and stuffing them into the same house with Miguel’s family, causing many problems. Miguel’s family eventually moved out and his four kids had to change schools mid-year. When your landlord is your boss and vice versa, you risk losing your job when you ask for basic things to get fixed and risk becoming homeless. Unlike migrant and seasonal farmworkers who may have housing rights under federal or state laws and regulations, dairy housing is not routinely inspected for safety and basic habitability.

With the growth in dairies and the increase in immigrant workers, the Worker Justice Center began to see an increase in workplace violations in the industry as well. That prompted us to begin focusing our outreach and advocacy efforts on dairies in order to combat these abuses. WJCNY has placed priority on both litigation and advocacy strategies to push for better laws and stronger enforcement of existing laws covering dairy workers.

Lifting up the tragic stories of dairy workers killed on the job has been an important piece of our advocacy. Francisco Ortiz and Marco Antonio Ortiz (no relation) were both killed on small dairies in NY in 2013 and 2014 respectively. When OSHA conducted inspections following these deaths, they were unable to find violations and issue fines for health and safety conditions that might have led to these workers’ untimely deaths. Shockingly, despite the inherent dangers of dairy farming, dairies employing less than eleven employees are exempted from health and safety regulations. It is estimated that a mere two percent of NY dairies fall under OSHA jurisdiction, and therefore, its safety and health protections. On the other ninety-eight percent of dairies, farmworkers rely on the good will of the dairy owners to train them and provide adequate protective equipment. If workers speak up about safety concerns, they have no protections against retaliation.

Even when OSHA does have jurisdiction, their fines are minimal. We are proud of having fought hard in our advocacy targeted at OSHA, both at the local and federal levels, to win a Local Emphasis Program (LEP); a program of surprise inspections in an industry experiencing unusually high numbers of accidents and fatalities. Our partner organization, the Workers Center of Central NY, were leaders in the fight empowering workers to take the courageous step to complain to OSHA about the dangers in the industry and maintain pressure on OSHA to take further action to investigate health and safety violations on dairy farms.

Unfortunately, the LEP only goes so far and dairy farmers don’t seem very worried about the inspections. At a recent dairy farmer training I participated in, farmers presented on how an OSHA inspection would go, laughing at how little the inspectors know, and how easy they are to deceive; “Just hand them a big binder of safety instructions and they will leave you alone,” they joked.

What does this mean for the workers? A few years ago I met and began advocating for a worker who was mauled by a bull and was left to get medical help on his own. The worker was subsequently fired and lost his employer-provided housing in the middle of February because his doctor ordered bed-rest. He was unable to work for a year after the accident due to the severity of the injury. Fortunately, the farm he worked at had more than ten workers, and OSHA was able to conduct an inspection. I accompanied the inspector on the visit. The farm was issued a few thousand dollars in fines that were reduced upon appeal. I visit the farm every now and then. Like most farms where conditions are bad, there is high turnover of workers, and I have yet to hear a worker say they have been trained on how to work around bulls. The bulls are still present on the farm, and I know of several workers who have been injured by them.

Much more needs to be done to improve the safety conditions on dairies. First, Congress should remove the rider on the annual federal Appropriations Act which excludes farms with fewer than 11 employees from OSHA’s protections. Second, OSHA should increase the number of inspectors, and when workers make the brave and risky decision to come forward and file a complaint, OSHA inspections should result in significant enough citations to send a strong message to the industry and create a financial incentive for dairies to take safety precautions. Additionally, the standards OSHA uses in agriculture are outdated and too weak. Unlike other dangerous industries where there are stringent standards and safety measures, agriculture’s standards are paper thin, despite the dangerous nature of the work. Finally, at the State level, New York should create an administrative remedy that promotes annual inspections of dairies, monthly worker safety trainings and incentives to provide protective equipment, on all dairies, regardless of size.

Ultimately, improvements on dairy farms will come when workers organize and demand better wages and working conditions. Recently, a group of workers became upset that the farm increased the number of milking cows by 400, greatly speeding up the pace at which they are milking. The farm is hauling many more hundreds of gallons of milk off the farm, but workers haven’t received a cent more in wages. In fact, they are still making the minimum wage. The workers were already enduring disrespectful comments by management, including insults related to their nationality and intolerance for calling in sick to work, but it was the increased pace coupled with no raise that pushed them to action. They decided to risk getting fired and organize and demand a raise. As of this writing, they are still waiting for an answer.

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Invisibility in Health Access

The goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to increase access to health care and health insurance for the country’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. Unfortunately, farmworkers and their families, perhaps one of the most vulnerable and underserved populations in the U.S., are arguably an invisible community who has seen few benefits from the ACA. For those eligible to enroll in health insurance through the Marketplace, the barriers are tremendous. The application is complicated, in-person assistance in rural areas is limited, and health insurance portability (the ability to use insurance across state lines) is almost non-existent. Migrant farmworkers who enroll in health insurance must either choose to keep their health insurance from their home state, where the providers are out-of-network and costs for seeking health care are high, or re-enroll in health insurance when they move. Due to the time-consuming and complicated Marketplace application and the limited 60-day window in which they can enroll (if it is outside of open enrollment), few migrant farmworkers choose to re-enroll each time they move.

The majority of farmworkers are ineligible to purchase health insurance in the Marketplace due to their immigration status. Undocumented individuals are completely excluded from the ACA. They are not allowed to purchase health insurance in the Marketplaces, even if they want to pay the full cost of health insurance coverage. Farmworkers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are also ineligible for Marketplace coverage because they are not considered lawfully present for the purposes of the ACA. With the employer mandate in effect, some farmworkers may be offered health insurance by their employer, but many find the costs of premiums to be unaffordable. Still others will not be offered insurance coverage because some large agricultural employers may be exempt from the mandate if they employ a largely seasonal workforce. There are efforts underway to pass legislation that would carve out even more exemptions for agricultural employers. 

We applaud the efforts of community health centers and others who have undertaken vast efforts to educate and enroll farmworkers in health insurance and connect farmworkers to health care. But we have a long way to go before farmworker communities will fully benefit from the Affordable Care Act. Farmworker Justice works with farmworker communities, health care providers, and federal officials to help them understand the benefits and challenges of the ACA for farmworkers and their families.
 

National Farmworker Awareness Week: Community

For the “community” day of Farmworker Awareness Week, we bring you this message from Arcelia, a community health worker in California, on the importance of creating a community-wide understanding and respect for the right to a safe and healthy workplace. She asks that others in the community, including policymakers, think about their desire to be healthy themselves and to understand that farmworkers also have this wish. She asks community members to think about the things that make their workplaces safe and healthy and points out that farmworkers also deserve the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Arcelia is a promotora de salud and member of Lideres Campesinas. For many years, she has performed outreach and education within her community on topics important to farmworkers and women and families. She is known as a wealth of information and for her caring demeanor and is frequently sought out when community members have questions about health, their rights, and helpful resources. She is also actively involved as an advocate for her community.

(click on read more link to go to blog posting with embedded video) 

Here is the translation of Arcelia’s message:
“I want to tell you that health, just as it’s important to me, is also important to you. I want it to also be important for the people who work in the fields. Just as you want to be healthy, other people also want to be healthy. The same things that you have that make your work safe and healthy, other people also want this same right to a safe and healthy workplace.”

Celebrating National Farmworker Awareness Week: Border Issues

Today is the first day of National Farmworker Awareness Week. For our first blog post, we wanted to draw attention to the many farmworkers living and working along the borders of the United States. The border zone encompasses more people than you may think. Customs and Border Protection’s definition of the border zone for enforcement purposes includes an area 100 miles from any external boundary inside the US. According to the ACLU “roughly two-thirds of the United States' population, about 200 million people, lives within the 100-mile zone.” From the fruits and vegetables in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida to dairy products in New York, Vermont and the Midwest, much of the food we eat is produced in this border zone. Around half of farmworkers are undocumented, so the proximity to the border and border enforcement means that many in these communities live in fear and are inhibited in their activities and movement.

MPI Briefing on Farm Labor Highlights Recent Data Trends

The Migration Policy Institute held a briefing on September 16, 2015 titled “ What's New in Farm Labor? Immigration and the Agricultural Sector.” A recording of the briefing can be found here. The speakers included Philip Martin, Chair, UC Comparative Immigration & Integration Program, University of California, Davis; Tom Hertz, Economist, Rural Economy Branch, Resource and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Craig Regelbrugge, Senior Vice President, Industry Advocacy and Research, AmericanHort. Unfortunately, the panel on farm labor and immigration did not include a speaker providing the farmworker perspective, though Farmworker Justice’s Director of Immigration and Labor Rights, Adrienne DerVartanian, had the opportunity to speak briefly from the audience to identify issues important to farmworkers regarding the data and analysis.

The briefing largely focused on data trends in the farm labor market and whether there are indications that the farm labor market is tightening. The briefing also examined the potential impact of legalization of undocumented immigrants on retention of farmworkers as well as a brief discussion of the H-2A guestworker program and future-flow policy proposals.

Dr. Martin provided basic demographic data about the agricultural workforce, much of it derived from the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) and USDA data. Since 2004, agricultural employment has increased by about 6%. He noted the difficulty of quantifying the number of farmworkers and estimated roughly 1.2 million farm labor jobs and roughly 2.4 million farmworkers ( based on California’s Unemployment Insurance data of roughly 2 farmworkers for every full-time equivalent employee). However,, the rate of undocumented immigration has slowed. The NAWS reveals that there are fewer newcomers in agriculture (workers in the US for less than one year) with a drop from 20% in 2000 to 2% of the agricultural workforce in the latest NAWS data (2011-12). Roughly half of the current agricultural workforce is undocumented, with about 2/3 of foreign-born farm workers lacking immigration status. The remaining farmworkers are about 33% citizens, 18% lawful permanent residents and 1% having some other kind of work authorization. The workforce is also aging: the average age is now 37 and farmworkers tend to be more settled. More NAWS data is available in our factsheet. According to Martin, this data in combination with some other trends provide some indication that the labor market is tightening.

In addition to the above data, Martin pointed to an overall increase in farmworker income. Martin noted that while the data on wages indicates that wages are on average rising slightly, the data is “spotty” and inconsistent; with increases varying from year to year and state to state. Martin noted that the primary increase in income comes from an increase in the number of weeks worked per year, rather than a significant increase in the hourly wage. Tom Hertz pointed to evidence of a modest rising real hourly wage increase for farmworkers as compared to other workers with low education levels— 7% since 2001 compared to -2% for convenience store workers— but also noted the inconsistent data Martin had flagged. Unfortunately, despite this evidence of modest increases, farmworker wages are still very low, with an average wage of just $9.31 across the country or about $15,000-$17,000 per year, and with very little access to any benefits such as health insurance or paid sick leave. 

During the discussion on the tightening labor market, Prof. Martin pointed out that economic incentives in agriculture may create artificial labor shortages with farmers requesting too many workers and contractors promising too many workers too soon. This is how several agricultural counties in California can have unemployment rates over 20% with growers still claiming a “shortage.” Martin also presented data showing that growers in California are increasingly using farm labor contractors to supply their labor. Since 2007, more workers are being brought to California farms by farm labor contractors than are being hired directly.

Prof. Martin raised the question of whether increasing wages actually works, pointing to the belief among many farmers that increasing wages doesn’t attract workers (he questions whether increased wages attracts new workers or merely shifts workers between farms.) This is one place where a worker perspective in the discussion could have been helpful. It’s hard to imagine how increasing wages and offering other benefits would not attract workers; indeed, it is the very premise that drives much of the private labor market. Regelbrugge raised a concern about the feasibility of increasing farmworker wages, noting the global nature of the agricultural market and the increase of imports. Martin’s research actually includes a study noting that a 40% increase in farmworker wages poses little threat to US consumers or the export market, and would only increase US consumer household spending by about $16 per year. Additionally, consumers are growing increasingly conscious about the conditions under which their food is produced, as illustrated by supply chain projects such as the Equitable Food Initiative and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Foods, both of which address wages and working conditions by working with corporations at the top of the supply chain.

Regarding H-2A workers, Martin noted the growth in the H-2A program, particularly in Washington and California, which grew from 4,400 worker positions certified in 2012 to 9,000 positions certified in 2014 and 3,000 H-2A positions certified in 2012 and 6,000 in 2014, respectively. Overall, the program has grown from roughly 75,000 positions certified in FY07 to an estimated 130,000 positions certified in FY15. Martin noted that many employers value their H-2A workers because they are “loyal” and do not switch to higher paying employers. Of course, H-2A workers have no choice but to be loyal because their nonimmigrant visa and ability to remain and work in the United States is tied to their employer. This dependence on their employers not only creates a market distortion but it leaves H-2A workers extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Because H-2A workers often pay recruitment fees to come to the United States, their debt can make them even more desperate to please their employers. As a result, H-2A workers will often work to the limits of human endurance to keep their employers --even the law-abiding, good employers—satisfied. Other elements of the H-2A program also cause H-2A employers to prefer their H-2A workforce to the domestic workers, including their ability to pick workers based on age, gender and race; the exclusion of H-2A workers from the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, one of the main federal protections for farmworkers; and the exclusion of H-2A workers from social security and unemployment taxes.

Tom Hertz also examined the impact legalization has had on farmworkers’ decisions to remain or leave agriculture and on their wages. At Farmworker Justice we have prioritized the issue of immigration reform because the undocumented status of the majority of farmworkers is a major contributing factor to the low wages, poor conditions and extensive illegal practices in agriculture. We believe immigration reform with a path to citizenship that includes the current undocumented and H-2A farmworkers is essential to stabilize the agricultural workforce and improve wages and living and working conditions for farmworkers

There is an assumption among some that farmworkers obtaining immigration status will leave agriculture. As a result, AgJOBS and other agricultural immigration compromises have included future work requirements for agricultural workers and have expanded employer access to guestworker programs. We believe many farmworkers value and enjoy their work, but simply want to be treated with respect and be able to support their families by earning a living wage with benefits. Moreover, many farmworkers may not have the networks, education or English skills needed to obtain many other jobs. Hertz’s extensive analysis of data shows that employer fears are likely overblown.

The data presented by Dr. Martin and Dr. Hertz are helpful in understanding the complicated nature of the US farm labor force. Immigration reform policies in agriculture addressing the future flow of immigrant farmworkers must strike a balance between ensuring enough labor while encouraging a stable agricultural workforce through higher wages and better working conditions for farmworkers and year-round (or closer to year-round) employment. Essential to these goals are a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families, and policies that offer equal rights and promote respect and dignity for all farmworkers.
 

Supreme Court Ruling on Affordable Care Act Helps Keep Farmworkers Covered

Farmworker Justice applauds the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) provision to provide subsidies (in the form of tax credits) to consumers who bought health insurance through the federally-facilitated health insurance marketplaces (Healthcare.gov). The subsidies are essential to ensure that farmworkers and their families have access to affordable health insurance. The Court's decision ensures that the millions of people can stay covered on their health insurance plans without fear that their premiums will suddenly become unaffordable.

Nearly 6 million people nationwide are enrolled in health insurance through the marketplaces. Among low-income adults, there was a 6% decrease in the uninsured rate in 2014. For Hispanic individuals, there was approximately a 5% decrease in the uninsured rate. While we do not have data on the number of farmworkers who enrolled in health insurance under the ACA, many farmworkers who did enroll were first-time enrollees who received substantial subsidies to lower the cost of health insurance.

Currently, 34 states, including many states with significant farmworker populations (such as North Carolina, Florida, and Texas) use healthcare.gov. The Court's ruling ensures that farmworkers who live and work in these states will continue to have opportunities to enroll in affordable, comprehensive health insurance. Farmworker Justice will work with our partners across the country to provide information on the ACA to further facilitate farmworker enrollment in health insurance. 

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