Health & Occupational Safety

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.

 

Farmworker Justice Update - 03/01/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 03/01/18

Rep. Goodlatte’s Guestworker Bill Revised in Effort to Gain Agribusiness Support

As noted in previous updates, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is reportedly pushing House leadership for a vote on his anti-immigrant bill, the “Securing America’s Future Act,” H.R. 4760, which includes the Agricultural Guestworker Act (AGA). The AGA would create an extremely abusive new guestworker program. Some changes were recently made to the AGA in an attempt to garner more support for the bill from agricultural employers. Some of these changes include increasing the length of time agricultural employers will have to come into compliance with mandatory E-verify, extending the program’s visa term for temporary and seasonal work from 18 months to 24 months and providing workers a one-year time frame in which to self-deport (the bill previously required workers to self-deport within six months).

A House whip count conducted two weeks ago showed that the bill still lacks sufficient support to pass the House. As for the agribusiness community, despite the changes made by Rep. Goodlatte, some agricultural employers, including Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau Federation, have stated that they still do not support the Goodlatte bill, partly because it still requires currently undocumented workers to self-deport. The American Farm Bureau Federation, on the other hand, has now endorsed including the Agricultural Guestworker Act in the “Securing America’s Future Act.” It is important to note that none of the recent changes to the bill address the program’s terribly anti-worker provisions, which eliminate needed government oversight and the modest protections in the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, such as the adverse effect wage rate (AEWR), employer-provided housing and transportation reimbursement, among others. Moreover, the AGA provides no path to permanent status or citizenship for the current undocumented agricultural workforce. You can read Farmworker Justice’s updated fact sheet on the AGA here.

Concern that H-2A Year-Round Rider Could be included in FY 2018 Appropriations Bill

The current continuing budget resolution expires on March 23, meaning that Congress has until then to agree on a budget for the rest of fiscal year 2018, which ends on September 30. Farmworker Justice is monitoring the budget negotiation process and is particularly concerned about the possibility that budget riders affecting the H-2A program may be included in the broader budget agreement. Specifically, there was a rider included in the House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in July 2017 that sought to expand the H-2A program to year-round agricultural work, which Farmworker Justice strongly opposes.  If this amendment is included in the final FY 2018 spending package, it would fundamentally change the scope of the H-2A program, which is currently limited to temporary and seasonal agricultural work. This amendment would mean that year-round agribusiness, including sectors such as mushroom and dairy, could instead turn to the H-2A program for their labor needs and have a perpetual source of captive workers with very limited bargaining ability. The amendment also fails to provide any solution for the undocumented workers who are currently doing much of this important work.

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Trump Administration Appeal in DACA Case

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s request to entertain an appeal of DHS v. U.C. Regents, a case regarding the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The decision comes right before March 5, which was the deadline established by the Trump Administration for official termination of the DACA program. In January 2018, a federal district court judge in California had issued an order in the Regents case blocking the DACA program’s termination and allowing current DACA recipients to apply to renew their status. The Trump Administration appealed the judge’s ruling and took the unusual step of trying to bypass the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case directly. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to review the case, it will be heard by the Court of Appeals (the Supreme Court could still decide to review the case after the Court of Appeals makes a decision.)

In the meantime, the current injunction stands, allowing current DACA recipients to apply to renew their status. On February 13, 2018, a U.S. district court judge in New York issued a similar injunction, which will also remain in place while the judicial process continues to unfold. Yet these recent judicial victories should not distract from the urgency of Congressional action regarding DACA, as this is the only way to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers. After the Senate’s failure to reach any agreement on Dreamers during its immigration debate earlier this month, Senators Flake (R-AZ) and Heitkamp (D-ND) have proposed a short-term measure to protect Dreamers for a period of three years in exchange for funding for border security for three years.

Haitian and Salvadoran TPS Holders File Lawsuit against Trump Administration

A group of Haitian and Salvadoran recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration arguing that its decision to end the TPS program for these countries was based on racial discrimination. The lawsuit was filed on February 22 in U.S. District Court in Boston by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Centro Presente, a Massachusetts community organization that advocates for TPS beneficiaries.  This is the second lawsuit that has been filed regarding TPS this year – the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a suit last month arguing that the decision to end TPS for Haiti was discriminatory.

Agricultural Workers Face Labor Violations, including Inhumane Housing Conditions

A New York dairy farmer was recently issued a cease and desist order by local authorities for housing workers in inhumane conditions. The housing structure, in which four adults and five children lived, was made mostly of particle board, had mold and exposed electrical wiring, and had no hot water or septic service. Most migrant workers have now left the housing and are being aided by community organizations and the Workers Center of Central New York. The Workers Center will also be helping the workers file wage complaints with the state Department of Labor. Similarly, a farm labor contractor in California was recently ordered to pay $168,082 in penalties for housing workers in inhumane conditions by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Investigators found that the housing provided by the contractor for 22 workers was overcrowded, only had one shower and sink, was infested with insects and had water that was unsafe for human consumption. As noted in an op-ed on the New York case, as horrific as these conditions were, there are likely many other workers enduring similar conditions who are afraid to seek help due to their immigration status and/or fear of retaliation.

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Fine for Pesticide Company Syngenta Significantly Reduced under Trump Administration

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently settled claims against pesticide company Syngenta for approximately $150,000 for a pesticide exposure incident in Hawaii involving chlorpyrifos. The original complaint against the company, filed by the Obama Administration, sought almost $5 million in civil penalties. The reduced settlement requires Syngenta to spend at least $400,000 on a training program on the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for growers in Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. The settlement does not include a requirement to provide training sessions for workers, such as those who were injured by the incidents on Syngenta seed farms. A report released by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) found that during the first year of the Trump Administration, federal civil penalties assessed by the EPA against polluters have fallen by about half as compared to the same period during the previous three presidential administrations (Obama, Bush and Clinton).  

Senators Offer PRIA Reauthorization If EPA Commits to Upholding Worker Protections

Chlorpyrifos, the pesticide involved in the Syngenta incident described above, is a highly toxic organophosphate that was set to be banned by the EPA during the Obama Administration. However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed that decision last year. The EPA is also attempting to roll back two key worker protection rules that had been revised during the Obama Administration – the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule. In an effort to prevent the Trump Administration from weakening these important protections, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has placed a “hold” on the “Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act of 2017” (PRIA), passed as H.R.1029 in the House. Sen. Udall recently announced that he would remove his hold on PRIA and reauthorize the legislation for an additional five years if the EPA commits to upholding the worker protection rules and responding to objections filed by various environmental and labor groups regarding its decision to overturn its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos.

Upcoming Event - Congressional Briefing on Telehealth by Farmworker Justice and Partners

Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s Specialty Care for Vulnerable Populations® Initiative, Unidos joins Farmworker Justice and community-based partners Vista Community Clinic in Vista, CA and Campesinos Sin Fronteras in Yuma, AZ, as well as Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI), to present a congressional briefing on telehealth and farmworker populations. The briefing will be held on March 7th at 9:30 AM in room 1309 of the Longworth Building. Breakfast will be served.  The briefing, sponsored by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Care Task Force, and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, will also serve as a platform for Farmworker Justice and CHLPI to release their joint publication, The Promise of Telehealth: Strategies to Increase Access to Healthcare in Rural America. This publication builds off of some aspects of the Unidos project as it details the key roles both promotores de salud and telehealth play in increasing quality access to medical care for farmworkers in the U.S.

 

Unidos Update: February

Now beginning its third year, Farmworker Justice’s project “United Eliminating Barriers to Skin Cancer Prevention” (Unidos) is off to a busy start. Funded by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s Specialty Care for Vulnerable Populations® Initiative, Unidos joins Farmworker Justice with community-based partners in California and Arizona with the aim of mobilizing farmworker communities around the prevention of, screening for, and treatment and care of skin cancer. These two partners -- Vista Community Clinic in Vista, CA and Campesinos Sin Fronteras in Yuma, AZ, bring years of experience with community outreach and health programming aimed at farmworker populations to the table. Both of these organizations engage with their communities through the promotor de salud, or community health worker, model.

These partners, along with Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI), will speak together at a congressional briefing on telehealth and farmworker populations on March 7th at 9:30 AM in room 1309 of the Longworth Building. Breakfast will be served. 

The briefing, sponsored by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Care Task Force,  and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, will also serve as a platform for Farmworker Justice and CHLPI to release their joint publication, The Promise of Telehealth: Strategies to Increase Access to Quality Healthcare in Rural America. This publication builds off of some aspects of the Unidos project as it details the key roles both promotores de salud and telehealth play in increasing quality access to medical care for farmworkers in the U.S.

For more information on the Unidos project, The Promise of Telehealth, or the congressional briefing, please contact project director Rebecca Young ([email protected]).

Farmworker Justice Update - 02/07/2018

Farmworker Justice Update: 02/07/18

H-2A Farmworkers File Lawsuit on Abusive Labor Practices on Blueberry Farm

On January 25, 2018, Columbia Legal Services, in conjunction with law firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of H-2A farmworkers against Sarbanand Farms, its parent company Munger Bros., and labor contractor CSI Visa Processing. Munger is the largest producer of fresh blueberries in the world, with more than 3,000 acres in Washington, Oregon, California, British Columbia and Mexico. The lawsuit alleges that the H-2A farmworkers, who worked on Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington, were subject to intimidation, threats and labor violations, and were retaliated against after they went on strike. As described in a recent Mother Jones article, the workers were told to keep picking unless they were on their death bed. Tragically, one of the farmworkers, Honesto Silva, died in August 2017 after complications from diabetes, which some workers believed may have been exacerbated by the working conditions. Sarbanand Farms currently faces nearly $150,000 in fines from the Washington State Department of Labor related to late or missed employee breaks and meal periods. Over 600 farmworkers could potentially be members of the class action.

Congress Reportedly Considering Budget Agreement without Solution for DACA

Congress is facing yet another self-imposed deadline as the current short-term budget resolution is set to expire on February 8. The Senate has reportedly reached a compromise on a two-year budget agreement which would increase budget caps, military spending and disaster aid. It would also extend funding for community health centers for two years and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an additional four years. However, the deal does not provide a solution for immigrant youth, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated that she will not vote for the agreement unless she is guaranteed a vote on immigration legislation in the House.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had earlier mentioned the possibility of provisionally extending DREAMers’ status for a one-year period.  Although the official end date for the DACA program is March 5, 2018, many DACA recipients have already lost their status. The White House stated on February 6 that it will not extend the March 5 deadline. Pursuant to a court decision earlier this year, DACA recipients are currently able to apply to renew their status; however litigation in the case is ongoing. Earlier this week, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act” a bi-partisan immigration proposal that is the companion to a bill previously introduced by Representatives Hurd (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA) in the House. The bill is relatively narrow in scope and provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers while at the same time increasing border security.

Congress should focus now on a bill that provides a real solution for DREAMers.  It should reject the nativist policy wish list that President Trump insists should be combined with any DACA bill.

Human Cost of Deporting Undocumented Farmworkers Affects a Federal Judge

Macario Gilberto Reyes-Herrera is a farmworker with three children who has worked New York’s farms for almost 27 years.  Like many farmworkers, he is undocumented.  He has been detained and charged with violating our immigration laws, to which he plead guilty.  The federal district court judge in Rochester, Charles Siragusa, reportedly “praised Reyes-Herrera for living the ‘American Dream’ and then added, ‘I hope, by some miracle, you can be allowed to stay.’”  This is just one of thousands of stories that demonstrate the need for immigration reform that recognizes the contributions of farmworkers, the legitimate needs of farmers, and the benefits of immigrants to the nation.

ICE Issues Directive Regarding Immigration Enforcement in Courthouses

On January 31, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published a directive formalizing its policies for enforcement activities in courthouses. The directive lays out ICE’s internal guidelines for this type of enforcement, which many immigration activists have noted to be on the rise in the past year. The directive was announced amidst complaints from legal practitioners and advocates that increased immigration enforcement has led some immigrants to forgo pursuing civil and criminal cases, including serving as witnesses. It states that immigration agents should try to avoid enforcement actions in public areas of the courthouse, as well as in non-criminal courtrooms. It also establishes that family members and friends accompanying a targeted individual and those serving as witnesses should not be targeted absent special circumstances. In related FAQs, ICE reiterated its policy of avoiding enforcement actions at sensitive locations, which does not include courthouses but does include schools, hospitals and places of worship, while at the same time noting that there are exceptions to this policy for border areas. For more information on ICE’s courthouse policy, please see the full document and/or “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Young Children Suffer Severe Injuries from Farm Work   

A recent New York Times article highlights the dangerous and sometimes fatal working conditions faced by children on small family farms. Thousands of children and teenagers are injured and approximately 100 are killed each year while doing farm work. However, the number of injuries and fatalities is likely higher, as there are few standards on how to report such incidents. Some small farm owners say that financial pressures lead them to utilize young family members in lieu of hiring paid employees, while many say that growing up working on a farm is a part of rural life and teaches children valuable lessons. There are questions about the appropriateness of certain tasks for children, however, as some of these deaths resulted from very young children operating heavy motorized equipment.  The agricultural sector has few child labor protections, particularly when it comes to children employed on their own family’s farm.

Sexual Harassment on Farms Is an Epidemic

A recent Atlantic article weaves together diverse stories and studies regarding sexual harassment against farmworker women. As detailed in the article, workers on temporary visas controlled by their employers and those without immigration documents are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Low-wage workers, who are disproportionally women of color, are extremely susceptible to harassment, but this harassment often receives less attention. In many cases, the harassment is followed by retaliation if the worker rejects the sexual advances or tries to report the abuse.

Farmworker Justice to Honor Leading Advocates for Women

The Farmworker Justice Los Angeles Award Reception on March 20 will include honors for Suguet Lopez and Olga Talamante.  Ms. Lopez is Executive Director of Lideres Campesinas de California (Farmworker Women Leaders of California) and is Secretary of the Board of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women).  She will receive our Dolores Huerta award.  Ms. Talamante served for many years as the Executive Director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation in California and was a farmworker as a child who worked the fields in Gilroy, California with her parents who brought her from Mexico.  Information about the event and opportunities to cosponsor and purchase tickets is available on our website special events page.

Farmworker Justice Update - 01/25/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 01/25/18


Congress Passes another Short-Term Funding Bill without Relief for Dreamers  

On January 22, Congress passed another short-term funding bill, ending a government shutdown that began when the previous short-term spending bill expired on January 19. The current bill will expire on February 8 and does not include any relief for Dreamers. Although there is bipartisan agreement that a DACA solution is needed, recent immigration negotiations have expanded to include issues well beyond DACA. It is unclear if or when a bi-partisan compromise may be reached.  The White House announced yesterday that it would be unveiling its own immigration “legislative framework” on Monday. In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is receiving DACA renewal applications, in compliance with a court order issued earlier this month, which the Department of Justice has appealed.  


Anti-Immigrant Republicans Calling for Vote on Goodlatte Immigration Bill
As mentioned in our previous update, Rep. Bob Goodlatte recently introduced a hard-line immigration bill, the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760), which includes his Agricultural Guestworker Act (AGA), among many other anti-immigrant and anti-worker provisions. Amidst continued discussions regarding immigration, members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus are calling for a vote on Rep. Goodlatte’s bill. However, many Democrats, as well as some moderate Republicans, have stated that they will not support the bill, so it may not pass out of the House of Representatives. Additionally, it is very unlikely to pass in the Senate. Some agricultural employer associations who initially supported the AGA have also expressed opposition to the Securing America’s Future Act and note that the AGA “fails to provide adequate assurances for [their] current and future workforce needs.”  Farmworker Justice will continue to monitor and strongly oppose Rep. Goodlatte’s bill.


Haitians Ineligible for H-2 Guestworker Visas
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it will no longer accept H-2A and H-2B workers from Haiti, citing “extremely high rates of refusal,” “high levels of fraud and abuse” and “a high rate of overstaying the terms of their H–2 admission.” The H-2A program’s fundamental flaws, including restricting guestworkers to one employer and widespread abuses of workers, contribute to guestworkers leaving their jobs without authorization to find other employment. This decision inappropriately excludes an entire nation’s citizens for the alleged conduct of a few individuals without addressing the H-2A program’s flaws and abusive treatment of workers. Some view the decision as another blow to the Haitian community following the Administration’s decision to rescind Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti last year, as well as a string of racially-charged comments against Haitians allegedly made by President Trump. On January 24, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit  challenging the Administration’s rescission of TPS for Haitians.  


Leading Farmworker Organizations and Advocates in the U.S. and Mexico File Challenge under NAFTA Labor Side Agreement for U.S. Government Denial of Equal Rights to H-2A Agricultural Guestworkers

Today, Farmworker Justice, FLOC, PCUN, UFW and ProDESC are filing a petition challenging the discriminatory exclusion of H-2A agricultural guestworkers from protections in the principal federal employment law for migrant farmworkers (the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act). The petition calls on the US, Mexico and Canada to remedy this violation of the NAFTA labor side agreement. You can find more details about the petition here.


New York Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Seeking Farmworkers’ Right to Organize
A New York state court recently dismissed a lawsuit seeking to protect farmworkers’ rights to unionize. The lawsuit, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the Workers’ Center of Central New York, and the Worker Justice Center of New York, challenged an 80-year old state law that excludes farmworkers from basic labor protections. Although the state of New York declined to defend the case, the Farm Bureau intervened against the worker advocates, who plan to appeal the ruling.  


Update on Farmworker Health and Safety


Immigration Policies Impacting Access to Health Care Services
A recent Associated Press article published in many news outlets, including the Washington Post, details how immigration policies are impacting access to health care services. The article describes what many of us have already seen or heard in our own communities - fewer Latinos are enrolling in health insurance, and often are forgoing care altogether due to fear of immigration enforcement. It is important to reiterate that information provided in health insurance applications is not shared with ICE and will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes.


CHIP Funding Extended by Latest Spending Bill, but Health Center Funding Still Pending
The short-term spending bill passed by Congress on January 22 included a 6-year funding extension for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP funding had expired on Sept. 30, 2017. Many states were facing depletion of their CHIP funds, potentially cutting health insurance benefits to low-income children and families. However, federally-funded community health centers, whose funding also expired on Sept. 30, have yet to be re-funded. The uncertainty of short-term funding bills has broad repercussions on public health, including exacerbating personnel shortages and hindering long-term research.  


CMS Announces Possible Work Requirements for Medicaid

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that states could impose a work requirement on Medicaid beneficiaries. A handful of states, including North Carolina, Maine, Arizona and Kentucky, applied to CMS for approval to implement a work requirement. In these states, able-bodied adults will be required to work a certain number of hours per week or be engaged in volunteer, job training, or other activities (including school) to be eligible for Medicaid. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has more information about the Medicaid work requirement and its potentially harmful effect on low-income individuals and families.


New York to Continue Medicaid Coverage for DACA Recipients

On January 23, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will continue to provide Medicaid coverage to DACA recipients who lose their status. New York currently has 42,000 DACA recipients. Information on applying for or renewing Medicaid coverage for DACA recipients is available here.
 

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