Health & Occupational Safety

Farmworker Justice Update - 06/08/18

Joint Cabinet Announcement on “Modernization” of the H-2A Program

On May 24, the Secretaries of State, Homeland Security, Agriculture and Labor issued a joint cabinet statement on the H-2A agricultural worker visa program. The brief statement notes that the departments are working in coordination to “modernize” and “streamline” the H-2A program, though it does not mention specific changes to the program. As noted in our press release, Farmworker Justice is concerned that the Administration plans to eliminate or reduce the H-2A program’s critically important protections, which are still not sufficient to prevent labor rights violations by employers. For example, just a week after the joint announcement, a Kentucky farmer was barred from using the program after failing to pay workers over $50,000, including failing to reimburse workers for their transportation. Weakening the H-2A program’s limited protections will likely increase the incidence of wage theft under the program, as well as reduce workers’ overall pay. It will also make it even less likely that bad actors will be able to be identified and sanctioned. Among the protections that could be vulnerable are wage determinations, seasonality requirements, and housing and transportation standards.

H-2A Workers Face Abuse and Human Trafficking

A recent two-part series by David Bacon details some of the exploitative living and working conditions that pervade the H-2A visa program, as well as the worker displacement caused by increased use of the program by agricultural employers. Additionally, a new Polaris report on human trafficking in temporary work visa programs shows that the H-2A agricultural visa program had the highest number of reported human trafficking cases of any visa category during the two-year period covered in the report, with over 300 cases. The data is based on calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which means that the real number of human trafficking cases under the H-2A visa program is probably much higher given the underreporting that characterizes this issue.

Over 100 People Detained in Ohio Worksite Raid

On June 5 ICE raided an Ohio gardening and landscaping company, detaining a total of 114 people. Many of those detained were women, and dozens of the workers’ children were left stranded at daycare facilities. ICE is also allegedly investigating the employer, but has not yet filed charges against the family-owned business, which includes a greenhouse. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) denounced the raids and are working to meet with the workers who were detained. On the day of the raid, the Ohio Landscape Association asked Congress to issue additional H-2B guestworker visas, yet made no mention of the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform for the many undocumented workers who are already doing this work. It makes little sense to allow employers to hire more guestworkers without first addressing the need to legalize the current workers who are already in this country and have deep ties to their communities.  

House Republicans Negotiating Potential Deal on Immigration

Yesterday, Republicans held a closed-door meeting on immigration, during which House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly vowed to work on an immigration bill, but the details of a potential proposal remain unclear. Republican moderates, along with Democrats, have been pushing for a discharge petition that would allow them to force a vote on several immigration-related bills later this month if House leadership does not act. The petition needs 218 signatures and already has 215. If Republican leaders do not reach an agreement among themselves, then momentum to secure the additional 3 votes needed for the discharge petition could increase. If the discharge petition is successful, it would trigger votes on four separate immigration bills, including the DREAM act, the Hurd-Aguilar bill, Rep. Goodlatte’s immigration bill and another bill of the Speaker’s choosing. As we have explained in the past, Rep. Goodlatte’s anti-immigrant “Securing America’s Future Act” includes his Agricultural Guestworker Act, which is so extreme that even some agribusiness groups do not support it.

“Zero Tolerance” Policy, Family Separation and ORR Monitoring

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for individuals apprehended at the border. Although the policy is focused on criminal prosecution, the practical impact of the policy has been an increase in family separations. Parents who are detained are being separated from their children, who are then put into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In a separate but somewhat related development, in April 2018 an ORR representative testified that ORR was unable to confirm the whereabouts of approximately 1,500 children.  Although news reporting described these children as “lost” or “missing,” technically this just means that the government was unable to confirm their whereabouts through phone calls made during a specific period of time. This distinction is important because the children could still be with their sponsors or family members.

The different issues surrounding family separation and children in ORR custody are explained in a recent summary - available in English and Spanish - by Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), along with specific advocacy and policy recommendations for addressing this self-made child welfare crisis. Even before the “zero tolerance” policy was announced by Sessions, advocates had seen an increase in cases of family separation. The New York Times reported that 700 children were separated from an adult claiming to be their parent from October 2017 to April 2018, more than 100 of whom were under the age of 4. These numbers are continuing to grow exponentially. Just in the two-week period between May 6 and May 19, more than 600 families were separated. Once separated, it is extremely difficult for parents and children to locate, communicate, and be reunited with each another.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Justice and Others Sue EPA Regarding WPS Notice Requirements
On May 30, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice, on behalf of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Rural & Migrant Ministry, and the Worker Justice Center of New York, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to issue a notice of availability of revised training materials under the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”). The agency is required to issue a public notice regarding the availability of the materials before it can mandate compliance with the new training requirements. Thus, EPA’s failure to publish the requisite notice is delaying information farmworkers need to stay safe. The Attorney Generals of the states of New York, Maryland and California filed a similar lawsuit against the EPA on the same date in the same federal court in New York.

STARS Act Seeks to Exclude Seasonal Workers from Health Care Coverage

The Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act (S. 2670) was introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (MO) in April 2018. A similar bill was introduced in the House (H.R. 3956) by Rep. James Renacci (OH) last October. The STARS Act was previously introduced in 2014. This bill would exclude seasonal full-time employees from being considered “full-time” employees for purposes of the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Employers, therefore, would not count seasonal employees (defined as customary seasonal employment of 6 months or less) towards the ACA’s employer mandate. Further, seasonal employees would not have to be offered health insurance by applicable large employers. Applicable large employers are defined as employers with more than 50 full-time employees.

Currently, seasonal employees are counted towards the applicable large employer determination. Applicable large employers are also required to offer health insurance to seasonal employees. While there is a seasonal worker exception under the ACA's employer mandate, this exception is narrowly defined to exclude employers only when their workforce over the 50+ threshold are seasonal workers who work for fewer than 120 days in a calendar year. In the regulations, the terms seasonal worker and seasonal employee are two separately defined terms used for different purposes. Farmworker Justice opposes any efforts to restrict farmworker access to employer-provided health insurance. By exempting more employers from their responsibility to offer health insurance, farmworkers’ access to health care would be further diminished. FJ will continue to monitor this legislation. If you would like more information about the employer mandate and agriculture, please contact Alexis Guild, FJ's Senior Health Policy Analyst at [email protected].

Farmworker Justice Award Reception

Farmworker Justice held its annual Farmworker Justice Award Reception in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 5.  The sponsors and host committee are listed on our website’s special events page. The awardees were:

•           Maricela Morales, Executive Director of Central Coast Alliance for a United Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), mobilizing around a farmworker bill of rights in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and a collaborator with Farmworker Justice.

•           John Quiñones, Journalist with ABC News and Anchor of “What Would You Do?,” author of “Heroes Among Us: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Choices,” winner of seven Emmy Awards and a former migrant farmworker who has never forgotten where he came from.

•           Tom Udall, U.S. Senator from New Mexico, who has been a leader in the effort to help farmworkers and their children achieve reasonable protections against poisoning from toxic agricultural pesticides.

           Visit our Facebook page for a few photos of the inspiring reception, courtesy of photographer Earl Dotter.
 

Farmworker Justice Update: 05/24/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 05/24/18

Farm Bill Defeated in House, New Vote Possible Next Month  

On May 18, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on and failed to pass the Farm Bill, legislation that sets aside money for farm subsidies, rural development, and environmental conservation programs, as well as nutrition programs. Democrats opposed the bill because it sought to make detrimental changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as weaken environmental conservation provisions. In addition to opposition from Democrats, the Farm Bill was also rejected by members of the conservative “Freedom Caucus” of the Republican Party, though for different reasons. The Freedom Caucus had demanded a vote on Rep. Goodlatte’s (R-VA) anti-immigrant, anti-worker immigration bill before voting on the Farm Bill. Although Speaker Ryan had promised a vote on the Goodlatte immigration bill, the vote did not take place. Shortly after the failed Farm Bill vote, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) announced that the House may take a new vote on the Farm Bill in June.

Farmworker Justice opposed the Farm Bill, not just for its provisions on nutrition and environmental issues, but also for its inclusion of a re-authorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act ("PRIA 4") for a period beyond the three-year reauthorization period that was approved by the Senate Ag Committee. The reauthorization period was shortened to three years due to serious concerns about recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to potentially weaken the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule. PRIA provides funding to EPA for expedited processing of pesticide approval applications and also sets aside funds to support EPA’s worker protection programs. Rolling back these WPS and CPA rules would thereby undermine the basis for FJ’s support for PRIA re-authorization.

Goodlatte Bill Could Be Voted on Prior to Farm Bill in June

The House may also hold a June vote on Rep. Goodlatte’s immigration bill, the “Securing America’s Future Act,” H.R. 4760. Goodlatte’s bill includes the Agricultural Guestworker Act (AGA), although changes may be made to this section of the bill, as well as other provisions, in order to garner more support in the lead-up to the vote. Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor any changes to the bill and work to oppose this virulently anti-immigrant and anti-worker piece of legislation. The decision by House Republican leadership to bring the Goodlatte bill to a vote was partly a result of the Farm Bill dynamics described above, but also a response to a growing discharge petition proposed by Rep. Denham (R-CA) which would bring four immigration bills, including various potential solutions for DACA recipients, to the floor of the House if leadership does not act. The petition needs 218 signatures to move forward. As of yesterday (May 23), 205 Representatives had already signed it. Pursuant to Congressional rules, however, the earliest possible date for a vote on the bills if the petition is successful would be June 25.

Proposed Changes to the H-2A Program Include Online Portal Controlled by USDA

On May 16, as part of the mark-up of the FY 2019 House Agriculture Appropriations bill, Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) introduced an amendment 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). Farmworker Justice is concerned about the potential adoption of this amendment in the final FY 2019 appropriations bill for various reasons.  Pursuant to existing statutory authority, the Department of Labor (DOL) has certification authority and the primary responsibility for ensuring the labor market test is met by employers (i.e. that there are no US workers available and that bringing in foreign workers will not adversely affect wages and working conditions). USDA does not have the required expertise regarding administering guestworker programs and has historically viewed growers as their constituents instead of workers.  Additionally, current political appointments and staff at USDA include several former agribusiness lobbyists who worked on the H-2A program from the employer perspective. Furthermore, the amendment language is very vague and could open the door to harmful changes such as limiting government oversight of the application process. Finally, the amendment is one-sided and states that the platform will provide transparency to employers but does not address needed transparency for workers. As mentioned in previous updates, last year the Trump Administration created an inter-agency working group on the H-2A program composed of officials from USDA, DOL, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to agribusiness representatives, the working group may provide its conclusions soon. 

Government Agencies Highlight Focus on Protecting U.S. Workers in Visa Programs

On May 8, DOL’s Wage and Hour Division announced a new initiative for the states of Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina which seeks to strengthen employers’ compliance with H-2A and H-2B visa requirements, particularly the requirement that employers recruit U.S. workers before applying for temporary foreign workers. On May 11, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at eliminating fraud, abuse, and discrimination against U.S. workers by employers hiring foreign visa workers. The agreement is part of the “Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative,” which is focused on protecting U.S. workers from discrimination by employers in favor of foreign visa workers, in  accordance with the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued by President Trump last year. The MOU will increase the ability of the agencies to share information and help identify, investigate, and prosecute employers.

DOJ Announces Indictment for Fraud and Illegal Fees in H-2A Visa Program

On May 17, the DOJ announced the arrest and indictment of three men in California accused of misleading and charging illegal fees to workers seeking H-2A temporary agricultural visas. Individual workers were charged as much as $3,000 to obtain their H-2A visas and were charged for housing and transportation. The defendants also made false promises to the workers about the duration of their visas. The charges brought against the defendants include visa fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy and fraud in foreign labor contracting. This case is illustrative of the need for greater enforcement of the H-2A program’s current protections as well as why these limited protections are needed to combat fraud and abuse. Any expansion or weakening of the H-2A program, such as the changes proposed in the Goodlatte immigration bill, would be devastating to workers and their ability to obtain justice for abuses under this program. 

Supreme Court Decision on Arbitration Denies Workers’ Day in Court

On May 21, the Supreme Court ruled that employers may impose employment contracts that prevent workers from bringing class action lawsuits on behalf of large groups of workers.  The 5-4 decision means that an employer that violates the labor rights of a group of workers can enforce a contractual provision that forces each affected worker to file an individual request for a private arbitration.  Class action lawsuits for violations of the minimum wage, gender and age discrimination, and employment contracts have been efficient mechanisms for obtaining remedies for systematic abuses that affect many employees. They are especially helpful in cases where each individual’s financial loss is small – as in many farmworker wage cases – and it is too costly to bring an individual case.  Additionally, many immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are reluctant to bring lawsuits due to their status or fear of job loss and retaliation. Such workers often have obtained a remedy because other workers were willing to step forward to bring a lawsuit on behalf of all affected workers.  Farmworker Justice has been counsel in numerous class action lawsuits over the years and is very concerned that this decision will cause widespread harm.  More employers will decide to impose forced arbitration clauses and fewer workers will be able to vindicate violations of their rights, which, in turn, will motivate more employers to violate the law.  Congress should respond by revising the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 to overturn the Supreme Court’s fundamentally flawed interpretation of that law. 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Recent Reports Detail Negative Impact of Immigration Policies on Children’s Health

Two recently released reports - one by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the other by the Kaiser Family Foundation - detail how the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are having a negative impact on immigrant children’s health and development. In 2016, approximately 18 million children under the age of 18, or about 1 in 4 children in the U.S., lived with at least one immigrant parent. These children are at a higher risk of toxic stress and anxiety directly as a result of the current Administration’s immigration policies. A leaked draft of a not yet proposed rule that is expected to be published soon, known as the “public charge” rule, will likely broaden the list of benefits and assistance that could be considered when determining admission to the U.S. or an immigrant’s adjustment of status to an LPR.  The potential list of benefits include Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), ACA subsidies, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among others. According to the 2013-2014 NAWS, 45% of farmworkers have minor children, with 82% of children covered by government-provided health insurance. Under the potential new rule, the public charge determination could include not only benefits used by the applicant but also benefits used by dependents, including U.S. citizen children. The coverage losses that could result from the rule would in turn contribute to even worse health outcomes for immigrant children.

Unidos Update: April

Earlier this month, Unidos community partner Campesinos Sin Fronteras hosted their first screening event at their offices in San Luis, Arizona. With dermatological services generously donated by American Academy of Dermatology member Dr. Shane Hamman and his bilingual assistant, CSF screened 25 farmworker patients for skin cancer. The event marks both the culmination of many months of labor, outreach, and planning for CSF, as well as the start of a series of screenings CSF plans to carry out this year.

CSF is a grassroots community organization serving farmworker with strong ties to a variety of organizations in the Yuma, Somerton, and San Luis communities. CSF faces a number of unique challenges within the framework of the Unidos project: the dearth of specialty care (specifically, dermatological care) services in their community; the binational living and working situations of many farmworkers in the area, which can complicate follow-up; and the fact that CSF is not itself a clinic (which can be both a challenge and a resource at times).

Since joining the Unidos project last May, CSF has made significant strides in identifying potential skin cancer resources and connections within its community by conducting a rigorous situational analysis and needs assessment. Promotores from CSF interviewed farmworkers, skin cancer survivors, and potential local stakeholders, conducted focus groups with farmworkers, and engaged in a community mapping that allowed them to physically plot out where skin cancer resources existed in their community. Among the many connections made are the Yuma Cancer Center, three dermatologists all willing to donate care, and the University of Arizona.

CSF is already planning its next two events. Their extensive media connections and binational radio station, KYMZ 99.9 FM, play a crucial role in their marketing and dissemination of information related to their screening events. For more information on CSF and their Unidos activities, follow them on Facebook or visit their website.

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.

Farmworker Justice Update: 03/23/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 03/23/18

Congress Passes FY 2018 Appropriations Bill, Presidential Approval Still Pending

Last night, Congress approved an omnibus appropriations package covering the rest of FY 2018. FY 2018 began on October 1, 2017 and runs through September 30, 2018.  Due to Congress’ inability to pass an appropriations bill for the full year; however, it instead issued a series of short-term continuing resolutions, with the latest one set to expire today (March 23). The spending package that was just passed by Congress must still be approved by the White House by midnight tonight in order to avoid a government shutdown. However, this morning, President Trump threatened to veto the legislation because he disagrees with some of its immigration provisions. Issues related to immigration were a significant part of the heated negotiations leading to the final omnibus package.

The omnibus does not provide any solution for Dreamers. Although President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program months ago, Congress still has not fixed the problem he created for these young people, who are left without lasting protections. DACA recipients are currently able to apply to renew their status as a result of recent court decisions compelling the government to receive such applications. However, this option is only available to current DACA recipients, leaving out many young people who may have otherwise been protected under the program. President Trump and his Congressional allies had sought significant increased funding for his deportation agenda—including funding for additional immigration agents and detention capacity, as well as massive funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  The final provisions of the omnibus did not include the full increases in funding sought, thanks to the efforts of advocates and some Congressional members. However, the final agreement still includes increased funding for border buildup and immigration enforcement.

Additionally, during the budget negotiations leading up to the current proposal, there were over 100 potential legislative riders discussed, including riders seeking to expand both the H-2A and H-2B temporary guestworker visa programs. Thankfully, these riders were ultimately not included in the final appropriations package, although previous provisions impacting the H-2B program remained in the FY18 omnibus.

H-2A Program Continues to Grow

Statistics from the Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) show that the H-2A agricultural guestworker program continues to grow exponentially. According to the OFLC, there were a total of 32,084 H-2A positions certified during the first quarter of FY18, an increase of approximately 15% over the same period in FY17. Almost 97% of the applications received were processed in a timely manner. These statistics show that despite employers’ allegations that the H-2A program is unworkable, they continue to use it at increasing rates and recognize that the H-2A program has provided them with sufficient  labor to grow their businesses. The ongoing drumbeat of employer complaints about the H-2A program represents their campaign to reduce the modest but fundamental protections in the program. Farmworker serving organizations in the states where the program has significantly increased are concerned about the H-2A program’s impact on the existing migrant and seasonal farmworker community. The lack of adequate housing available for guestworkers is another issue that must be addressed.

Immigration Enforcement Has Tragic Consequences for Farmworker Families

On March 13, a farmworker couple in Kern County, California was driving in search of work when they were stopped by immigration agents. Fearing deportation and separation from their six children, ages 8 through 18, they attempted to flee. Tragically, they crashed into a pole, dying on impact. ICE later clarified that they were not the individuals the agency had been looking for. Earlier this month, at least 26 farmworkers in the same county were detained in a massive immigration enforcement action. Many of them were stopped on their way to work by unmarked vehicles. A recent Time magazine article highlights the terrible impact of family separation on farmworker families. The father featured in the story was recently deported and the mother is struggling to make ends meet and afraid to be separated from her young daughters. Unfortunately, this story is all too common in farmworker and immigrant communities across the nation.

Farmworker Women Protest Wendy’s Failure to Act on Sexual Harassment

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been calling on Wendy’s to join its Fair Food Program, a corporate social responsibility program that addresses sexual harassment and other abuses in the food labor chain. Wendy’s has refused to join and has also shifted the purchase of its tomatoes to tomatoes produced in Mexico, where farmworkers often endure child labor, forced labor, sexual harassment, horrific living conditions and other abuses. On March 15, farmworker women held a protest in New York City focused specifically on the sexual abuse faced by female farmworkers. The march followed a five-day hunger strike.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

8th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

This week marks the 8th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. A lot has happened in the last 8 years. Farmworkers experienced numerous challenges to enrollment. Yet thanks to the ACA, many farmworkers and their families became newly eligible for and enrolled in affordable, comprehensive health insurance. Some H-2A workers, for example, gained health insurance for the first time, allowing them to access primary, preventative health care. In California, the San Joaquin Valley and other rural communities had some of the greatest gains in coverage thanks to Medi-Cal expansion to childless adults and undocumented children. Unfortunately, these gains are now under threat. These threats include: the repeal of the individual mandate penalty in 2019, cuts to navigator/assister programs, the implementation of work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and the promulgation of regulations that weaken ACA protections, to name a few. Farmworker Justice continues to work with our national and local partners to protect farmworkers’ access to health insurance and health care.

Immigrants Fearfully Abandoning Public Nutrition Services

According to a recent New York Times article, state and local statistics confirm what immigration and public health advocates already suspected: immigrants are withdrawing from essential nutrition services due to fears over the potential immigration consequences of accessing these services. Some of this fear stems from a leaked draft of regulations by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which would allow officials to factor in the use of benefits in immigration decisions, including eligibility for legal permanent status. A proposed regulation has not yet been published and it is unclear whether the regulations will ever be published or whether they will have the same language as the leaked draft.

The leaked draft encompasses a broad range of services, including the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start programs, Medicaid, ACA tax subsidies, and even housing and transit subsidies. As a result, many immigrant families, including those with U.S. citizen children who are eligible for these services, have canceled appointments, requested disenrollment and asked for their information to be purged from providers’ databases. This trend is likely to have significant negative effects on public health, particularly on the health of immigrant children. Farmworker Justice is monitoring this issue and will provide additional information upon publication of a proposed rule.

Senators Ask EPA Not to Weaken Rules Protecting Farmworkers from Pesticides

On March 13, twenty-eight U.S. Senators, led by Senators Udall, Harris, Booker, Blumenthal and Feinstein, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging that existing worker protection rules be preserved. As noted in previous Farmworker Justice updates, the EPA is attempting to roll back crucial provisions of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA), including minimum age requirements, workers’ rights to access pesticide information, and application guidelines for avoiding exposure for workers and bystanders. The Senators’ letter clarifies the scope of these requirements and their importance for protecting farmworkers, children and the communities in which they live and work.

Senator Udall has placed a hold on the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) due to his concerns about the EPA’s efforts to weaken existing worker protections. As noted by the Huffington Post, the Trump administration has repealed or stalled a host of workplace protections at the behest of employers, and the EPA has been one of the most aggressive agencies in wiping away Obama-era regulations. Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of farmworker and environmental groups against the EPA last year for unlawfully delaying the CPA rule without proper notice of its actions. (The rule was supposed to be implemented in March 2017 and had been delayed until May 2018.) On March 21, 2018, a U.S. District Court granted summary judgment in this case. As a result, the EPA’s delay was vacated and the CPA rule is deemed to be in effect.

March 24-31 is National Farmworker Awareness Week, in Honor of Cesar Chavez’s Birthday

For more information on digital and in-person events during the week, as well as ideas on how to get involved, please visit Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF)’s website. Farmworker Justice will be publishing blogs on different aspects of farmworkers’ lives throughout the week.

 

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