Health & Occupational Safety

FJ Celebrates National Health Center Week!

This week, we celebrate National Health Center Week. Community health centers serve a vital role in the health and well-being of millions of people across the United States through the provision of affordable, high-quality preventative care.  Today, on agricultural worker health day, we want to highlight the important role of migrant health centers to the health of our nation’s agricultural workers and their families.

The barriers to health care access in farmworker communities are numerous: lack of transportation, fear due to immigration status, lack of health insurance, poverty, lack of sick leave, and cultural and linguistic barriers, among others. Migrant health centers tailor their services to the health care needs of agricultural workers and their families. Many health centers have mobile clinics that bring clinicians at hours that are convenient, such as nights and Sundays. Outreach workers and promotores de salud (lay health workers) provide health education to community members and help workers access the health center, make appointments, enroll in health insurance, etc. In addition, health centers provide services on a sliding fee scale so low-income patients who are uninsured or underinsured pay a discounted rate based on their income and family size.

There are 174 migrant health centers. Together, they served 972,251 agricultural workers and their families in 2017 (source: HRSA UDS 2017).  In many agricultural worker communities, migrant health centers are the primary source of health care. Yet only approximately 20% of the nation’s workers and their family members are seen by health centers. To increase access and utilization of health care services, FJ partners with national, state, and local organizations to promote collaboration between health centers and other farmworker-serving organizations, such as Migrant Head Start and legal services organizations.  As a HRSA National Cooperative Agreement, we developed materials to increase community awareness of health centers and promote access to health care. These materials, available in Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole are on FJ’s website.

Farmworkers and their families deserve health care that is affordable, accessible, and culturally competent. Farmworker Justice is pleased to celebrate Agricultural Worker Health Day and support health centers’ mission to provide high quality health care to farmworkers and others underserved populations.

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. 

 

Farmworker Justice Update - 07/06/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 07/06/18

Sen. Harris and Rep. Grijalva Introduce Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

On June 25, the 80th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Sen. Harris (CA) and Rep. Grijalva (AZ) introduced the “Fairness for Farm Workers Act” (S 3131/HR 6230), which would amend the FLSA to include agricultural workers in its overtime provisions.  It would also remove most of the remaining exclusions of farmworkers from the minimum wage. As stated by Sen. Harris, the bill “is a matter of basic fairness and justice.” The bill has 9 original co-sponsors in the Senate and 51 original co-sponsors in the House. Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, as do over 100 labor and civil rights organizations. More information about the legislation, including a summary and a factsheet, are available on our website.

On June 21, Members of the House sponsored a briefing on FLSA’s 80-year history. Speakers included FJ’s Bruce Goldstein as well as members of Congress and representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Employment Law Project, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the National Child Labor Coalition and labor unions.  In addition to FLSA’s exclusions of farmworkers from overtime and other protections, Bruce discussed the challenges posed to enforcement of the minimum wage due to farm labor contracting, mandatory individual arbitration and workers’ fear of retaliation.

Second House Vote on Immigration Fails, Future Action on Immigration Uncertain  

On June 27, the House of Representatives voted on the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018,” HR 6136, known colloquially as the Ryan “compromise” immigration bill. The bill failed by a vote of 121-301. Although Rep. Goodlatte submitted a proposed amendment to the Ryan bill containing his “Agricultural Guestworker Act” (AGA), the amendment was ultimately not included in the bill. However, House Republican leadership has reportedly promised to bring a  bill related to agricultural workers to a vote before the August recess. That bill’s terms are likely to be based on the Goodlatte AGA. The issue of family separation, discussed in more detail below, is another topic that may be the focus of Congressional action on immigration in the weeks to come.

California Judge Issues Family Separation Injunction

On June 26, a federal judge in California issued an injunction ordering the Trump administration to stop separating families at the border. The injunction also mandates that separated children under five (5) must be reunited with their parents within 14 days (by July 10), and all other children must be reunited with their parents within 30 days (by July 26).  The judge’s order also states that adults may not be deported from the U.S. without their children unless they “affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily decline to be reunited.” In spite of the order, there are recent concerning reports that immigration agents are forcing parents to choose between leaving the country with or without their children in an attempt to coerce parents to drop their asylum claims.

ICE Raids May Further Silence Undocumented Workers

A recent immigration raid in Ohio has renewed concerns that immigration enforcement may make it more difficult for workers to denounce unsafe workplace conditions. Last month’s raid in an Ohio meat processing plant occurred just a few weeks after the company was fined for failing to provide proper guards for one of its machines, which resulted in the death of a worker in December. As stated by FJ President Bruce Goldstein, many workers are too afraid of retaliation to challenge unfair or illegal conduct, especially in light of the increase in immigration enforcement.

USDA’s Legacy of Discrimination against Black Farmers

A recent article explores the history of discrimination against black farmers by the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are approximately 44,000 black farmers in the U.S. today, making up less than 2% of the farmer population. By contrast, in 1920, black farmers made up approximately 14% of all farmers in the U.S. Advocates say this decrease is the result of active discrimination. For example, farmer Michael Stovall was repeatedly denied a USDA loan for lack of experience, despite the fact that his family had owned their farm for four generations. After more than a decade of litigation, Stovall was eventually awarded a settlement of $250,000. Stovall’s story is not unique. A class action brought against the USDA in 1999, Pigford v. Glickman, alleged racial discrimination and eventually resulted in payouts to over 80,000 individuals totaling more than a billion dollars. Currently, two of the biggest threats to black farm ownership include pressure from corporate farms to buy land for soybean and corn production and the ageing of black farmers without adequate estate planning to ensure the property stays in the family. More recently, Latino, Native American and women farmers sued the USDA for discrimination. Former USDA Secretary Vilsack established claims procedures and funds were set aside to pay successful claims.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Death from Heat Stress

Farmworker Justice expresses its condolences to the family of Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez, who died on June 21 from apparent heat stroke. Guzman Chavez, aged 24, had arrived in Georgia from Mexico on an H-2A temporary work visa just a few days earlier. He fell ill and collapsed while picking tomatoes. The temperature at the time was 95 degrees, with a heat index of up to 104 degrees. Several organizations are offering assistance to the family.

Need for Government Action to Prevent Heat Stress Deaths

Unfortunately, injuries and deaths from heat stress are not uncommon among farmworkers and yet they are almost always preventable. Farmworker Justice has sought federal safety standards to protect agricultural workers and is renewing our effort. In fact, Public Citizen, the United Farm Workers, and Farmworker Justice will soon petition the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to shield some of the most vulnerable U.S. populations, including farmworkers, by adopting heat stress protections. The petition will initiate the launch of a campaign to win a federal heat stress rule and encourage actions by state governments, as well as educate the public on the dangers of heat stress and the need to mitigate climate change. If your organization would like to sign on to the petition, please click here (the deadline for sign-on is July 10). For more information on this initiative, please contact FJ’s Director of Occupational & Environmental Health, Virginia Ruiz, at [email protected].  

Child Labor in Tobacco Fields

Recent articles in both The Guardian and The Atlantic detail the prevalence of child labor in the tobacco industry. Workers in tobacco fields are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness, in addition to general health risks faced by farmworkers including heat stress, injuries and pesticide exposure. The lack of adequate child labor protections in agriculture, coupled with the broader exclusions of farmworkers from key labor protections, create a situation that is ripe for child labor. The widespread use of labor contractors in agriculture also exacerbates this issue, as farm operators claim ignorance regarding the presence of children in their fields or supply chains.   

Oral Arguments in Chlorpyrifos Case Set for July 9

On July 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the agency’s decision to reverse a planned ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Farmworker Justice is a plaintiff in the case. Chlorpyrifos was banned for household use two decades ago, and the EPA was set to ban the chemical for agricultural use as well, based on the agency’s own science. However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course after pressure from Dow Chemical – the nation’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. The agency’s next safety review of chlorpyrifos is currently set for 2022.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Resigns

On July 5, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tendered his resignation. Pruitt was facing a series of ethics scandals and federal investigations related to his use of taxpayer funds for first class travel, security and other expenses, as well as use of his position to try to secure a job for his wife, among various other controversies. Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, will now be the acting EPA Administrator

Farmworker Justice Update - 04/26/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 04/26/18

H-2A Program Statistics for Second Quarter of FY 2018 Show Continued Expansion

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification recently published statistics on the H-2A program for the second quarter of FY 2018.  Over 80,000 positions were certified during this quarter, bringing the total number of H-2A positions certified to 112,214, an approximately 15% increase over the same period last year. This latest data shows the continuing trend of increased use of the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program, in spite of employers’ complaints that the program is unworkable. Last year (FY 2017), over 200,000 positions were certified under the program.

Tobacco Workers: FLOC Expands Boycott of Reynolds

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), which represents thousands of farmworkers in North Carolina, announced expansion of its boycott of Reynolds American Inc. (now owned by British American Tobacco)’s VUSE e-cigarette brand.  Seeking Reynolds’ signature on an agreement to ensure farmworkers’ rights to organize and improve their working conditions, FLOC and supporters held over 40 demonstrations around the country this month. For more information, visit the FLOC website.

Farmworker Women Call for Improvement of Protections against Sexual Harassment

In the wake of the #MeToo movement to combat sexual harassment, farmworker women from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women) are calling for the improvement of Title VII protections against discrimination, including sexual harassment. The issue of sexual harassment and gender based violence was one of the main topics discussed at Alianza’s recent national convening held in Washington, D.C. Some of the other priority topics discussed included immigration, labor conditions and pesticides. For more information on Alianza and its work, please visit their website.

Workplace Raid on Tennessee Meat Processing Plant Results in Nearly 100 Arrests

On April 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the Southeastern Provision meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee. During the raid, ICE arrested nearly 100 people, making this the largest workplace raid in a decade. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is representing approximately 50 of those arrested, working alongside the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). Many of those detained are parents, and the raid has had a significant impact on this small rural community. The day after the raid, hundreds of children were absent from school. A vigil was held shortly after the raid to show support to the families of those detained, and the community has also raised over sixty thousand dollars for the families. The raid has shown the terrible human impact of immigration enforcement and has caused some conservative voters in this rural area to re-assess their views on immigration policy.

ICE Arrests New York Dairy Worker, NY Governor and Senators Calling for Investigation of Incident

On April 18, ICE agents forcibly arrested a dairy worker in upstate New York in front of his wife and children. The dairy farmer who owns the property witnessed the arrest and demanded that the agents provide a warrant, asking them to leave when they did not. The agents did not leave, however, and when the farmer tried to record what was happening on his mobile phone, an ICE agent smashed his phone and briefly handcuffed him. The Workers’ Center of Central New York is aiding the family of the detained dairy worker. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for an investigation into the incident and asked the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to look into what occurred. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also denounced the incident. On April 25, Gov. Cuomo sent ICE a “cease and desist” letter threatening to sue the agency for its disregard of the rule of law.

DOJ Reverses Decision to Halt Legal Orientation Program

On April 25, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is reversing course on its previous decision to halt the Legal Orientation Program (LOP). The program, which was launched in 2003, provides funding to a number of organizations across the country to educate immigrants about their rights. Last year, the program helped approximately 53,000 immigrants in over a dozen states. A 2012 DOJ study found that immigrants who participated in LOP completed their court proceedings more quickly and spent less time in detainment. The decision to halt the program had been criticized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as a way of eviscerating due process rights and eliminating transparency in the immigration system and various senators sent a letter to the DOJ last week asking the agency to restart the program. Sessions stated that the decision to resume the program was made in deference to Congress.

Data Shows Sanctuary Policies Encourage People to Report Crime

A recent article in the Washington Post notes that contrary to the Trump administration’s narrative, sanctuary policies can actually increase public safety by making undocumented residents feel secure enough to cooperate with law enforcement. Research indicates that sanctuary counties have either similar or lower rates of crime than counties without sanctuary policies. A recent study by the article’s author helps to explain why this is the case. When told that local law enforcement might be working together with ICE, participants’ responses showed that they were 60% less likely to a report a crime, 42% less likely to report being a victim of a crime, and 68% percent less likely to participate in public events with a police presence. 42% also said they were less likely to place their children in an after school or day care program.

Recent DACA Court Decision Could Eventually Lead to New Applications

On April 24, a D.C. federal judge was the latest to find the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program unlawful. The decision resulted from a lawsuit brought by Princeton University (including a Princeton student who is a DACA recipient), the NAACP and Microsoft. The judge has given the government 90 days to provide better reasoning for its decision to end the program. If the government fails to do so, it must begin to accept and process new and existing DACA applications. Although two previous cases had already ordered DHS to accept renewal applications for current DACA recipients, this recent decision is the only one that may allow new applicants to participate in the program, which could benefit tens of thousands of young Dreamers who are currently unprotected.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Justice Sues EPA for Information about Agency’s Decision on Worker Rules

On April 17, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to turn over information pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. FJ and Earthjustice submitted a FOIA request in December 2017 asking for information on the EPA’s meetings with industry representatives and other materials relevant to the agency’s decision to revise and potentially weaken crucial protections in the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rules. The EPA did not comply with the deadline for responding to the FOIA request and has not provided any of this information. The lawsuit asks that the court order the EPA to provide the documents within 20 business days.

Global Warming Already Having an Impact on Texas Farmworkers

A recent article in Scientific American explores the impacts of global warming on farmworkers’ living and working conditions. Focusing on the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, the article notes that the increasing heat caused by global warming has already cut into farmworkers’ work hours, resulting in less income. It also exacerbates farmworkers’ already difficult working conditions, making them more susceptible to heat stress and dehydration. This problem is not just prevalent in the fields – workers in packing sheds can also suffer from these effects, especially if the sheds are not air-conditioned, which they rarely are. Furthermore, as detailed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s director of farmworker programs, Daniela Dwyer, farmworkers’ housing conditions also make them vulnerable to global warming’s impact, as they often live in crowded conditions, without air conditioning. Farmworkers may also have limited access to clean running water. These challenges are likely to worsen as global warming increases, making this an important topic for farmworker health.

Remembering Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993)

April 23 marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers and forever changed the nation.  For more information about him, visit the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
 

Dairy Farm Safety Needs to Improve

Below is a copy of a letter to the editor by Farmworker Justice president Bruce Goldstein, published in the Washington Post. A link to the letter can be found here

The article “Dairy farm meets tech revolution” [Economy & Business, April 6] did not address the reality for farmworkers. In recent years, dairy farms have consolidated into large operations. About one-half of dairies have 1,000 or more milking cows. These larger farms, even when using robots and artificial intelligence, need labor, and they increasingly hire immigrants.

Conditions for workers on many dairy farms are poor and often dangerous. In 2014 there were 49 reported fatalities in dairy cattle and milk production. Occupational death and injury rates in agriculture, livestock production and dairies are disproportionately high compared with other sectors. Yet federal employment laws often don’t apply to dairy farms. Even large farms are exempt from paying overtime and thus have little downside to requiring 70, 80 or 90 hours in a workweek, which can be dangerous and interfere with family life. Most federal occupational safety standards don’t apply to farms, and the few that do cannot be enforced in agriculture unless a farm operates a labor housing camp or employs at least 11 workers.

Dairy workers have been pressing for changes in labor practices and employment laws, as well as seeking collaborations with the dairy industry to improve wages and working conditions. Robots and artificial intelligence can reduce the need for labor and improve efficiency on dairy farms, but there is still a need for improvements when it comes to dairy farmworkers.

Bruce Goldstein, Washington

The writer is president of Farmworker Justice.

Farmworker Justice Update - 04/06/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 04/06/18

California Agricultural Employers Decry Labor Shortage

A recent article discussed California agricultural employers’ concerns about labor shortages. Some growers claim that labor shortages caused crops not to be picked (but the article did not note that there can be financial reasons for a farmer limiting a harvest). Increased fears of immigration enforcement and deportations have had a chilling effect on the movement among farms by some undocumented workers. The lack of affordable housing near job sites is also cited by employers throughout the article as a challenging factor in retaining employees. The article mentions Swanton Berry Farm, the first certified organic farm in the U.S. to sign a labor contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW) as an example that could be emulated by other employers. Swanton’s labor contract includes health insurance, vacation leave, pensions and other benefits, including on-site housing. The article also mentions the growth of the cannabis industry as a higher-paying alternative for some agricultural workers. Although the article notes the potential for new harvesting technologies, employers recognize that many crops, including berries, will still rely on human labor.

President Trump Plans to Deploy National Guard to U.S.-Mexico Border

On April 4, President Trump signed a proclamation directing the National Guard to deploy to the southern U.S. border with Mexico. President Trump had previously stated that he wanted to deploy military personnel to the border until he is able to complete construction of a border wall. On April 5, President Trump stated that between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard troops could be sent to the border. The decision comes at a time when unauthorized migration to the U.S. is at an all-time low, as are border apprehensions, and many apprehensions are actually asylum seekers who present themselves willingly to border agents seeking assistance. As noted by the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), this decision is of great concern to the local communities who will suffer from increased militarization of the border.

DOJ Sets Performance Quotas for Immigration Judges

The Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recently announced that it is setting quotas for immigration judges as part of a broader attempt to speed up deportations. The new quotas will require immigration judges to clear at least 700 cases a year, regardless of the merits or complexities of the cases involved. Immigration lawyers and judges have voiced their opposition to the quotas, stating that they will undermine judicial independence and erode due process rights for immigrants.

Trump Administration Seeks to Add Citizenship Question to 2020 Census

On March 26, the Trump administration announced that it plans to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census. The census, which is constitutionally mandated, is used to apportion Congressional representation and federal funds to states. Experts fear that the inclusion of an immigration question will lead to lower response rates and/or inaccurate census data, with significant political and economic impacts for both immigrant and non-immigrant communities. Furthermore, the immigration question is unnecessarily intrusive and may raise concerns about the confidentiality of the census’ personal information and how government authorities may use that information. There are already many challenges in ensuring an accurate count of farmworkers in the census and questions regarding citizenship status will only worsen this problem. On April 3, seventeen state attorney generals filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the decision to add a citizenship question to the census. The lawsuit notes that both the Census Bureau and all its living former directors have warned that questioning residents about their immigration status would jeopardize the accuracy of the census. As noted by Mother Jones, an unfair and inaccurate census could have negative impacts for decades to come.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

New Draft of “Public Charge” Proposal Would Harm Low-Wage Immigrant Workers

The Washington Post recently obtained a new draft of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “public charge” proposal which would penalize immigrants for using public benefits. The draft proposal, which has been mentioned in prior Farmworker Justice updates, would apply to those seeking immigration visas or legal permanent residency in the U.S. Applicants could be denied the immigration status they seek if they have used welfare or public benefits in the past, even if said benefits were for their U.S.-citizen dependents. The latest draft proposal would even penalize people in families that used popular tax deductions such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC benefits families with low-income workers, among whom are most farmworkers because of the low wages most farmworker receive. DHS officials have said the proposal is not finalized, but the agency has also said that it is preparing to publish the proposed rule changes soon.  Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor the proposal and will send an update if and when the proposal is finalized and published.

PPDC Member Letter Notes EPA’s Mischaracterization of Policy Discussion

A recent Think Progress article focuses on a letter sent by several members of the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC), including Farmworker Justice, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The PPDC is a federal advisory committee that holds public meetings to discuss the EPA’s policies regarding pesticides. The letter, which was sent to EPA leadership last month, denounces the agency’s mischaracterization of a November 2017 PPDC meeting that focused on two key worker protection rules: the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA). The EPA mischaracterized the policy discussion in a way that suggested more support for EPA Administrator Pruitt’s plans to weaken these rules.

As noted in previous Farmworker Justice updates, under Administrator Pruitt, and in response to demands from agribusiness groups, the EPA recently announced that it will begin a new rule-making process to roll back important parts of these rules. The key WPS provisions under threat include a minimum age of 18 for handling pesticides, the right to a representative who can access pesticide exposure information, and safety measures to prevent exposure to bystanders during pesticide applications. The EPA has also announced plans to reconsider the minimum age provisions in the CPA rule. Farmworker Justice, along with a broad coalition of farmworker and environmental organizations, opposes weakening worker protections and urges the EPA to move forward with full implementation and enforcement of the existing WPS and CPA rule. On March 31, Farmworker Justice sent a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt on behalf of more than 125 organizations representing children, faith, agriculture, health, labor, human rights and environmental organizations, opposing the EPA’s efforts to weaken the protections for workers and their families provided by the WPS and CPA rule.

Coalition Demands Sensible Protections Against Pesticides

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken steps to weaken and remove important protections against exposure of farmworkers, their children and their communities to pesticides that can cause serious injury, illness and even death.  A broad-based coalition is mobilizing to defeat these policy changes.

Two and a half years ago, we were applauding the U.S. EPA for finalizing revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), regulations that protect farmworkers and their families from exposure to pesticides.   The revised WPS includes common sense safety measures such as annual worker safety training, direct and timely access to information about pesticides used in the workplace, protection from drifting pesticides, anti-retaliation protections, emergency medical assistance, and the prohibition of children from handling pesticides.

Similarly, in January 2017, the EPA issued final revisions to its Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule. This was the most significant revision of the rule since its initial implementation over 40 years ago. The CPA rule governs the licensing and training requirements for workers who apply restricted use pesticides (RUPs), in settings such as homes, schools, hospitals, farms and industrial establishments. RUPs are some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market. The revisions improve applicator competency standards, establish a minimum age of 18 for pesticide applicators, require adequate training and supervision of non-certified pesticide applicators, and improve the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply.

The EPA revised the WPS and CPA rule after decades of engagement by diverse stakeholders, including farmworkers, employers, public health advocates and state agencies. EPA’s stated goal in implementing the revised rules was to prevent injury, illness and death to the men, women and children who work around pesticides in agriculture, or who come into contact with pesticides in other settings. Farmworkers are routinely exposed to high levels of pesticides in the fields where they work and in the communities where they live.  

However, under Administrator Scott Pruitt, and in response to demands from agribusiness groups, EPA recently announced that it will begin a new rule-making process to roll back important parts of these rules. The key WPS provisions under threat include the minimum age of 18 for handling pesticides, the right to a representative who can access pesticide exposure information, and safety measures to prevent exposure to bystanders during pesticide applications.1 The EPA also announced plans to reconsider the minimum age provisions in the CPA rule.2

Rewriting rules to make it easier to expose children to toxic pesticides is unjustifiable. However, EPA is currently drafting such a proposed rule and expects to publish it for public comment by the end of the summer.

In the meantime, Farmworker Justice in coalition with many organizations is taking action to oppose these dangerous plans. On March 31st, the final day of National Farmworker Awareness Week and the birthday of Cesar Chavez, Farmworker Justice sent a letter to Administrator Pruitt on behalf of a coalition of 127 organizations representing children, faith communities, agriculture, health, labor, human rights and environmental advocates. The coalition opposes weakening worker protections and urges EPA to move forward with full implementation and enforcement of the existing WPS and CPA rule.

We and our many partners are educating the public, litigating against the EPA in court, and assisting farmworker organizations to advocate for sensible pesticide safety standards.

1. Environmental Protection Agency; Pesticides; Pesticides; Agricultural Worker Protection Standard; Reconsideration of Several Requirements and Notice About Compliance Dates; 82 Fed. Reg. 60576 (Dec. 21, 2017).

2. Environmental Protection Agency; Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule; Reconsideration of the Minimum Age Requirements; 82 Fed. Reg. 60195 (Dec. 19, 2017).

Unidos Update and Farmworker Awareness Week

To commemorate National Farmworker Awareness Week  (March 24-31, 2018), Farmworker Justice staff are writing blogs that touch on different aspects of farmworkers' living and working conditions.

“Life here is very hard when we harvest fruits and vegetables. The sun burns so much and we get weak, and you get irritated from so much heat. And despite that we have to work all day putting up with the fatigue, dehydration and hunger. I’ll also tell you that it’s very sad to be far from our land which is Mexico… and our loved ones like my parents, my wife and my son. But we’re here working hard so that we can support our family… and well, it’s very hard to be a farmworker, and sad because you work from sun up to sundown in the fields."

Being a farmworker can entail back-breaking, skin-blistering work. Farmworkers inevitably labor during the hottest points of the day. The wide variety of occupational hazards facing farmworkers in the field may mean choosing to protect yourself from the sun’s rays and pesticide exposure with long sleeves, pants, hats, and bandanas, or lessening your chance of heat stress by wearing lighter, or less, clothing. Purchasing items like sunscreen or sunglasses may not fall within the scope of a farmworker’s budget, or may be perceived as gendered items not appropriate for general use.

Farmworker Justice’s project “United Eliminating Barriers to Skin Cancer Prevention” (Unidos), funded by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s Specialty Care for Vulnerable Populations® Initiative, seeks to change farmworker access to skin cancer care and prevention. In order to effectively address these farmworker-specific challenges, community partner Vista Community Clinic not only offers free screenings to its farmworker community, but preventative education as well. The frontline of the Unidos project is its emphasis on community education. VCC seeks to meet farmworkers where they’re at in terms of their access to specialty care as well as their understanding of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of skin cancer. Unidos’s focus on creating long-term networks of community organizations, advocates, and providers that support farmworker health ensures that the connections VCC makes during the life of the project will help facilitate other initiatives in the future.

VCC and local community health worker coalition Poder Popular collaborate to host two types of events: community education events, and screening and referral events. Screening events involve the participation of a dermatologist (and occasionally medical interns and/or general practitioners as well) who examines patients and refers them, if needed, for further care. All screening events also incorporate elements of the community education events, in which Poder Popular’s lideres comunitarios discuss with community members what skin cancer is, how it can manifest itself, what the risk factors are, and why farmworkers and their families in particular need to be aware of this disease. VCC’s events take place in or near farmworker communities: local schools, farms, and the Mexican Consulate, to name a few, have hosted Unidos events. VCC also offers giveaways at these events such as SPF-proofed shirts, metal water bottles with skin cancer prevention information, mini bottles of sunscreen, and more. All dermatological services provided at the events are free, and VCC is in the process of securing low-cost follow-up care for its uninsured patients.

After reaching thousands of workers with skin cancer education and screening over 400 workers in 2017, VCC and Poder Popular look to continue their work for the rest of this year. To learn more about VCC, Poder Popular, or the Unidos project, please contact project director Rebecca Young ([email protected].)

 

Farmworkers Shouldn’t Have to Sacrifice Safety and Health

To commemorate National Farmworker Awareness Week  (March 24-31, 2018), Farmworker Justice staff are writing blogs that touch on different aspects of farmworkers' living and working conditions.

"Well, thanks to this work that we do every day, on the one hand there are many benefits and many sacrifices... The work that I like the most is picking peaches. Well, it’s not that easy but first we need to learn to cut. In order to harvest peaches the first thing is to know the color and size the boss is asking for, and also you have to carry the weight of the sack we use to collect the peaches. After you have learned, you have to carry the ladder. This work is very beautiful."

As this South Carolina farmworker probably knows, work in orchards and around ladders is very dangerous. Every year, thousands of farmworkers suffer fall-related work injuries, causing economic hardship to the workers and their families, and all too often resulting in serious disability and tragic death.  Fall hazards exist in all types of farm operations in both crop and animal production, including work in vegetable fields, packing sheds, fruit orchards, tree nurseries, greenhouses, mushroom houses, dairies, poultry farms, cattle feedlots, and other livestock operations. Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that thousands of agricultural workers are injured by falls every year. The number of fall fatalities in agriculture in 2016 was almost 5 percent of the annual fall fatalities among all U.S. workers, yet farmworkers amount to less than 2% of the U.S. workforce.

Falls in agriculture are readily preventable and the high injury rates from falls in agriculture could be reduced through common-sense precautions, including conducting regular and frequent inspections of ladders, working surfaces, and walking areas, and providing basic safety training on the prevention of slips, trips, and falls for all employees.  In 2008, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began a rulemaking process to revise its existing federal ladder and fall protection standards which mandate that ladders and other working surfaces conform to certain safety requirements. During this years-long process, farmworker advocates urged OSHA to provide coverage to agricultural workers as part of the final revised standards.  Historically, agricultural workers have been excluded from the majority of OSHA’s workplace health and safety regulations, even though agriculture is one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. Unfortunately, farmworkers were not included in the final regulation that OSHA issued last year. OSHA’s standards include ladder and fall safety requirements similar to state provisions already adopted to protect agricultural workers in California, Oregon, and Washington. Experience from these large agricultural states shows that implementation and compliance with fall standards can effectively reduce costly and potentially tragic fall-related injuries in agriculture.

The people who put food on our table by raising crops and livestock and harvesting our fruits and vegetables are experiencing high rates of serious injuries and even death from causes that are preventable, and are recognized as preventable in other occupational settings.  We owe it to farmworkers and their families to end the discrimination in the occupational safety standards.

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