Farmworkers in the U.S.

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. 

Valentine Love for Farmworkers

Valentine’s Day is soon upon us. This Saturday many people surprise their loved ones with gifts of jewelry, chocolate, or a valentine card, but the most popular gift is flowers. Over 100 million roses are sold on Valentine’s Day in the US every year.

Included in just about every bouquet is a fern leaf to add a touch of greenery and extra fullness. Ferns pull the green color from the stems up a little higher into the bouquet and provide a nice frame for the brightly colored flowers.

Farmworker Justice works with community-based organizations to serve workers in the commercial ferneries in Florida and, through this work, we’ve developed a special appreciation for the men and women who cut fern leaves. They work in fields covered with a ceiling of shade cloth that keeps the air and ground damp to mimic the natural growing conditions of ferns. The wet conditions put the workers at higher risk for pesticide exposure, as damp clothes transfer more chemical onto the skin. The workers cover their clothes with trash bags in an effort to stay dry, even though the heat can feel suffocating. Many workers have told us of health problems related to pesticide exposure, such as itchy skin rashes and throat irritation, which they experience on a regular basis. The moist growing conditions make a hospitable environment for snakes, and workers have told us that snake bites occur all too often and they commonly fear being bitten.

Each day, the fernery workers bend over with shears and cut leaves one-by-one, being careful to cut them all at the same length. They create bunches of leaves and are paid for the number of bunches they cut, which means their income is dependent on how quickly they work. Most workers earn close to the minimum wage, with no benefits. They’ve told us that bathrooms and drinking water are not always provided. They bring their own water but, on really hot days, they say they can’t drink enough water to stay hydrated. They’ve told us that they feel the symptoms of heat illness, including dizziness, vomiting, and fatigue.

The product resulting from this dangerous and difficult work is a beautiful piece of greenery that adorns valentine bouquets across the country. This Valentine’s Day, Farmworker Justice would like to encourage you to think about the people who cut the flowers and fern leaves that are part of the beautiful bouquets enjoyed this holiday and take action to help fernery and other agricultural workers secure stronger pesticide protections. We are participating in a “Valentine Love for Farmworkers” Thunderclap. Follow this link and send a social justice Valentine to the EPA’s Gina McCarthy urging the agency to end the delay in updating the rules that protect farmworkers from toxic pesticides!

The Silent (And Invisible) Farmworker Housing Crisis

Farmworker Justice Welcomes Guest Bloggers from the  Housing Assistance Council : Lance George, Research Director, and Leslie Strauss, Senior Policy Analyst

“Rural America’s Silent Housing Crisis,” an article in The Atlantic magazine’s February edition, describes the overlooked plight of rural families who struggle to obtain quality housing they can afford. The article does not look specifically at the housing problems of farmworkers – a crisis that deserves attention because it is not only silent, but often invisible.

Because of the nature of their employment and working conditions, farmworkers’ housing options are often substantially different from the overall market in terms of cost and quality. Most farmworkers find housing through the private market. But rental housing is not as plentiful in rural places as it is in most cities. Additionally, landlords typically ask for a security deposit, a credit check, and a long-term commitment, requirements that often conflict with the unique conditions of the farm labor industry. Furthermore, especially in remote rural areas that are typically not subject to standards or regulations, available rentals may be substandard and expensive relative to farmworkers’ incomes. 

A smaller, yet still substantial number of farmworkers live in housing provided by employers. The prevalence of employer-owned housing has declined markedly over the past few decades, and it is estimated that now between 10 and 15 percent of farmworker housing units nationally are made available by employers. In many states, employer-provided housing is regulated to some degree for health and safety reasons, thus benefiting workers whose other housing options are not subjected to scrutiny. But employer-owned housing is not problem-free either. A situation where an employer also serves as a landlord may compound an already asymmetric relationship. Some farmworkers may find it uncomfortable to complain about poor housing conditions to their employer.

Regardless of how they obtain housing, farmworkers cope with a range of problems including costs that typically do not fit their incomes, substandard quality, and the need for short-term housing during temporary work. Farmworkers disproportionally live in crowded housing conditions. The Housing Assistance Council estimates that at least one-third of farmworkers live in crowded conditions -- more than six times the rate of crowded homes nationally. 

Very few farmworkers receive any form of housing assistance from a state, local, or federal government entity. The federal government has been working to combat farmworker housing problems for more than 40 years through grant and loan programs administered through various federal departments and initiatives. One important farmworker housing resource is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing program, which provides funding to buy, build, improve, or repair housing for farm laborers. Despite moderate increases in overall funding, however, the development of new federally funded farm labor housing has been steadily dropping over the past 25 years. 

Rural nonprofit organizations have proved that developing decent, affordable housing for farmworkers is possible. Examples can be seen online at, for example, Yakima Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing and CASA of Oregon.  With the prevalence of crowded, substandard, and unaffordable housing conditions, an increased investment in housing for farmworkers is critical. This investment should be multifaceted and come from private as well as public sources. We have a responsibility to ensure that the people who are integral elements of our nation’s food supply are appropriately compensated, housed, and protected. 

12/19/14 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update

As the 113th Congress comes to an end, so does the closest chance that we have had to passing comprehensive immigration reform in over a decade. The prospects for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship in the incoming 114th Congress are dim. On the bright side, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will be implemented in 2015, including expanded DACA and the new deferred action for parents program (DAPA), which could grant deportation relief for up to 5 million people. US Citizenship and Immigration Services is expected to begin accepting applications for expanded DACA in February and DAPA in May 2015.

President Obama’s executive action on immigration is likely to face challenges in the upcoming Congress; however, any efforts to block the President’s immigrations actions are likely to be largely symbolic because Congress lacks the vote to override an expected Presidential veto. In the last couple of weeks, Congress passed and the President signed the omnibus appropriations bill which funds all government agencies through FY 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS was separately funded until February, when the Department’s budget will be reconsidered. House Republican leadership chose to only fund DHS for two months to give them another opportunity to block the President’s immigration executive action.

In the Senate, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill in an attempt to prevent the President from implementing his deferred action programs for undocumented immigrants. The “The Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act,” is the companion legislation to Rep. Yoho’s (R-FL) bill, H.R. 5759, with the same title, which passed the House two weeks ago. Paul’s bill would prevent the Administration from implementing the DAPA program (the program which will allow parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been living in the US since January 1, 2010 to apply for deferred action and work authorization). The bill would also prevent the Administration from processing any new DACA applications, effectively terminating the program.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing titled, “Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and The Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform.” Prior to the hearing, UFW member Raul Esparza de la Paz participated in a press conference with Senators and other impacted community members. De la Paz said that he has one adult child who has already benefited from DACA and that he and his wife and 2 of his adult children will now be able to benefit from deferred action, removing the fear of immigration enforcement that they currently live with. De la Paz urged Congress to support the executive action on immigration and work to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

In addition to challenges from Congress, President Obama’s immigration actions are facing legal challenges from the courts. On Tuesday, in an overreach of his authority, a federal judge in Pennsylvania took it upon himself to declare Obama’s executive action on immigration unconstitutional in a court opinion that provided no basis for him to issue such a decision. The judge, Arthur Schwab, did not order the Administration to stop implementing the executive action and his ruling has no legal effect on it. The decision has been criticized because the constitutionality of the case was not at issue: neither party had argued that the President’s actions are unconstitutional nor had they briefed the court on the issue. Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University writes in the Washington Post that the court opinion’s discussion of the executive action was brief and poorly reasoned. The Huffington Post reports that Judge Schwab has a checkered past. He has been removed from two cases by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2008 and 2012, a move that is rare and considered to be a disciplinary action.

There are also two pending constitutional challenges to the President’s administrative action. As mentioned in a previous update, several states have sued the President; the total count is now up to 24 states. The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona has also requested a federal court to declare the President’s administrative relief programs unconstitutional and issue an order preventing the President from implementing it. The Department of Justice has asked the court to dismiss the Arpaio case. As we’ve said before, the President’s deferred action programs are firmly rooted in his prosecutorial discretion authority and many legal scholars believe the programs are constitutional. Nonetheless, we will be watching these cases closely and will keep you informed on developments.

Recent polls indicate that the majority of voters want Congress to act to fix our broken immigration system, rather than prevent President Obama’s executive action. Only time will tell whether Congress will listen. Unfortunately, statements by Congressional leaders indicate that Congress may move forward on a guestworker and enforcement-only strategy, doing nothing for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. In the new Congress, Farmworker Justice will continue to advocate for immigration reform that treats farmworker communities and other undocumented immigrants humanely and in a way that comports with our values as a nation of immigrants. We will also be preparing to help implement DAPA in farmworker communities.

It’s Not Too Early to Start Thinking About Tax Season, Especially When it Comes to the ACA

Starting in April 2015, individuals and families who file U.S. income taxes will have to provide information about their health insurance coverage to the IRS. Those individuals who do not have health insurance and do not qualify for an exemption will have to pay a tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s shared responsibility provision (more commonly known as the individual mandate). For tax year 2014, the penalty is $95/person or 1% of household income above the tax filing threshold, whichever amount is greater. 

Although tax season is several months away, it’s important to start educating communities about the intersection between taxes and the ACA. With that in mind, the IRS recently unveiled Spanish-language webpages dedicated to the ACA’s tax provisions. These webpages include information about eligibility for the advanced premium tax credit, the individual mandate, and eligibility for exemptions. While mostly text, there are also YouTube videos that answer basic questions about advanced premium tax credits and the individual mandate. These webpages and videos can be found on the IRS website.

Of course, filing federal income tax returns is not easy. In 2015, tax filers will have to fill out additional forms that detail health insurance coverage, the provision of tax credits (if the filer received tax credits to lower the cost of health insurance), and any claimed exemptions (if applicable). Due to a lack of access to tax preparers, farmworkers and their families will rely on community-based organizations to navigate the tax filing process.

Farmworker Justice developed fact sheets in Spanish and English for farmworkers and their families on the Affordable Care Act, including the health insurance requirement. To supplement IRS resources, we will be working with advocates on the ground in the coming months to develop tax-specific resources that address the unique needs of farmworker communities. We also plan to host a webinar devoted to the issues of taxes and the ACA in March 2015. 

Farmworkers have rights and responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. Farmworker Justice will continue to work with advocates across the country to ensure that farmworkers have the tools they need to comply with the ACA’s requirements.
 

Remembering Farmworkers This Labor Day

When it comes to farm labor, immigration policy is labor policy.  So this Labor Day, let’s hope that our collective advocacy persuades the President to create a generous program that helps many farmworker families. President Obama plans to grant some undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation and authorization to work.  Unfortunately, whatever the President does won’t be enough.  Only Congress can change the law.
 
Most of the nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers – at least 1.25 million and possibly 1.75 million -- are undocumented.
 
We as a nation permitted this to happen.  A broken immigration system allowed employers to hire new immigrants and deprived these productive workers of  immigration status.  Such vulnerable workers, especially absent a union, cannot negotiate  for job terms as forcefully as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
 
“We have long waivered and compromised on the issue of migratory labor in agriculture.  We have failed to adopt policies designed to insure an adequate supply of such labor at decent standards of employment.  . . . We have used the institutions of government to procure alien labor willing to work under obsolete and backward conditions and thus to perpetuate those very conditions.”  Report of the President’s Commission on Migratory Labor (1951), p.23
 

The President should offer administrative relief.  And then Congress should offer a true legal immigration status and opportunity to earn citizenship  But that is not enough.
 
“Shall we continue indefinitely to have low work standards and conditions of employment in agriculture, thus depending on the underprivileged and the unfortunate at home and abroad to supply and replenish our seasonal and migratory work force?  Or shall we do in agriculture what we have already done in other sectors of our economy – create honest-to-goodness jobs which will offer a decent living so that domestic workers, without being forced by dire necessity, will be willing to stay in agriculture and become a dependable labor supply?”  Id.
 
We must empower farmworkers to bargain for better wages and conditions.  A starting point would be to end to discriminatory employment laws that deprive farmworkers of occupational safety protections, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, and other labor standards that apply to other workers.  Most important, we must help farmworkers organize to demand and win better treatment by their employers.
 
Some agricultural employers demand a new agricultural guestworker program.  They prefer guestworkers on restricted temporary visas compared to immigrants and citizens, who may have the freedom to switch employers, challenge illegal conduct, join a labor union, and vote in elections that lead to policy changes. We already have the H-2A guestworker program.  Many don’t want to use it because it has modest labor protections and government oversight. There is also a recent history of successful union organizing of H-2A guestworkers in North Carolina’s tobacco farms.
 
President Obama should issue a policy that allows the largest possible number of farmworkers and their family members to obtain immigration status and work authorization.  Then Congress should act to grant access to a true immigration status leading to citizenship.  Our challenge at Farmworker Justice is to help farmworkers gain access to any new program and help them organize to win a greater measure of justice in the fields and in their communities.


 

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update 8/22/14

President Obama is expected to announce his plans regarding immigration policy in the coming weeks upon completion of a review by agency officials.

However, some Democratic Senate candidates prefer that he wait to take administrative action on immigration until after the November elections. Senate Democratic leadership has not taken a position on the timing of the President’s announcement, saying that it is up to the President.

Some advocates predict that the President will create an affirmative relief program for millions of undocumented immigrants who are not a priority for deportation. These individuals would apply, undergo a background check and receive protection from deportation and work authorization for a temporary period of time. The program’s criteria could be similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Applicants could be required to demonstrate residence in the U.S. for a certain number of years in the U.S. There could also be application criteria based on relationship to family members who have immigration or citizenship status in the U.S.

There have been some who question the President’s authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. However, many legal scholars and immigration experts have argued that the President has ample legal authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. Such a program will improve the administration’s execution of the law and use of enforcement resources to apprehend serious criminals, such as human traffickers and members of drug cartels, and focus on securing the border. The President’s authority is explained in NILC’s factsheet available here.

Farmworker Justice is part of a group of labor unions and immigrants’ advocates urging the Administration to provide greater protections for immigrant workers in labor disputes. Currently, undocumented workers who win a case for being fired for joining a labor union or filing a complaint for sexual harassment cannot obtain reinstatement to their job; for this reason many workers will not take such risks. Such workers should be eligible for a temporary stay of deportation and work authorization. Similarly, workers on temporary visas have little recourse to enforce their labor rights because their visas often expire before the case is adjudicated and they are forced to return home. Worse still, some employers contact immigration authorities to have workers deported if they join a union organizing drive or challenge illegal job practices. Such retaliation has a profound chilling effect on other workers experiencing rights violations. Granting deferred action to workers exercising their civil and labor rights would send a strong message to bad-actor employers that they can no longer use the immigration system to exploit workers. The New York Times Editorial on this issue is available here.

Business groups including growers’ associations have also been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss their priorities for administrative relief. High tech groups are requesting that the Administration make some changes to the high-skilled visa system such as the way that the yearly caps on greencards are counted.

Despite the fact that over half of the farm labor force is undocumented, there does not appear to be a strong unified push by agribusiness groups for affirmative relief in the form of protection from deportation and work authorization for undocumented farmworkers. Some groups have asked for reduced immigration enforcement in agriculture. One growers’ association said that it is not pushing for aggressive executive action because its members do not want to anger Republicans and spoil the chances for legislative action.

Statements by some agricultural trade associations further indicate that many of them do not support affirmative administrative relief:

United Fresh Produce Association (representing shippers, processors and marketers) states: “there are unique considerations that agriculture has to deal with and so blanket initiatives may not be as helpful to agriculture as might be intended.”

AmericanHort (representing nurseries and greenhouses) states: “first “do no harm,” meaning, avoid measures that might accelerate the attrition of agricultural and seasonal workers at a time of worsening labor shortages.”

Some growers assume that farmworkers who receive work authorization will leave agriculture; therefore, the President should not grant them work authorization and they should remain working in agriculture with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers and many others are encouraging the Administration to include farmworkers in any administrative relief program. It would be morally reprehensible, legally questionable and economically disastrous to exclude farmworkers. Farmworkers who are undocumented suffer in the form of low pay and poor conditions, and their lack of status should not be perpetuated. Moreover, agricultural employers should compete in the marketplace by improving wages, benefits and working conditions to retain workers.

In addition, it is not necessarily true that most farmworkers would leave agriculture upon obtaining relief. Many people make their careers doing farm work and some lack the education and language skills for other jobs. More than 20 years after the farmworker legalization program in the 1986 immigration reform, 2007-09 data show that 17% of foreign-born workers still performing agricultural work had been legalized by that program; many others would have aged out, died or were promoted to management.

Some growers associations are also asking the Obama Administration for changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program rules, but one noted that it is unlikely to be an Obama Administration priority. Farmworker Justice opposes any changes to the H-2A program rules that would lower wages or reduce worker protections for H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment. As explained in our H-2A report, No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Program Fails US and Foreign Workers, despite the existing protections, H-2A workers are still subject to abuse. Growers have tried this before. In 2008, they convinced the outgoing Bush Administration to make changes to the H-2A program rules that lowered wages and reduced protections for workers. In 2009, the incoming Obama Administration reversed these changes.

In other news regarding the H-2A program, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, has mounted an impressive campaign this summer to expand the number farmworkers under collective bargaining agreements at employers that use the H-2A program. FLOC has been pressing the big tobacco corporations to negotiate along with the growers to reach agreements for fair treatment of farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice continues to press the administration to create a broad, bold affirmative relief program that includes undocumented farmworkers and their families and protects workers.  

Worker Protection Standard Comment Period Ends Tonight: Tell the EPA to Protect Farmworkers

Today is the last day that the EPA will accept public comments on proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that provides the regulatory minimum for occupational pesticide exposure protection. Other workers who are exposed to toxic substances are covered by stronger protections, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The result is that the men, women, and children who produce the nation’s food are less protected from workplace hazards than other workers.

Although the proposed changes to the WPS will not address all the challenges in the fields, they are a step in the right direction to prevent pesticide illness. If the final rule includes our recommended improvements, the results will include greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face and preventative measures; and fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

The agricultural industry is working hard to dissuade the EPA from adopting the rules that benefit farmworkers the most. Today, Politico reported the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted comments that “call on the EPA to scrap the proposed changes.”

Farmworker Justice and other farmworker advocates have provided the EPA with extensive information to justify stronger protections for farmworkers. Your voice is needed to make sure farmworker safety does not take a back seat to the interests of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.

Please join Farmworker Justice and urge the EPA to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. You have until midnight tonight to submit comments.

Visit our website to use our model comments and submit by midnight tonight!
 

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