Health & Occupational Safety

National Farmworker Awareness Week Blog: Immigration

Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Approximately half of the farmworkers in this country, and possibly more, are undocumented. The lack of immigration status affects many aspects of farmworkers’ lives, including their ability to speak up against abusive employers, access healthcare, and fully participate in their communities.

As made clear by the current coronavirus pandemic, diseases do not discriminate based on borders or immigration status. Unfortunately, many of the U.S. government's public benefits programs do. This may make it difficult for workers to access the critical care or nutrition they need for themselves or their families. Undocumented immigrants may also be ineligible for important safety net protections such as unemployment insurance, meaning the loss of a work opportunity can be especially crippling economically. For this and other reasons, individuals are often reticent to speak up regarding safety, wage or other violations at their workplace, for fear of retaliation.

National Farmworker Awareness Week Blog: Celebrating 10 years of the Affordable Care Act

This week, as we celebrate National Farmworker Awareness Week, we also take a moment to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Over the last 10 years, farmworkers and their family members gained access to comprehensive health insurance and health care thanks to the ACA.

National Farmworker Awareness Week Blog: Heat Stress is an Increasing Risk for Farmworkers

The last few years have been the hottest on record, and scientists predict that temperatures will continue to climb. These high temperatures put farmworkers at increased risk for heat related illnesses, including heat stress and heat stroke. Heat related illnesses occurs when the body is subjected to and/or produces more heat than it can dissipate due to ambient environmental factors or to physical activity, and can be exacerbated by existing medical conditions or other individual factors. The resulting increase in core body temperature can lead to dehydration, fatigue, and if permitted to continue, to neurological impairment, multi‐organ failure, and eventually death. Additionally, heat stress impairs an individual’s judgment, so he or she may have trouble recognizing or communicating heat illness symptoms before it is too late.

Farmworker Justice Update: 3/27/2020

 

Farmworkers Face Threat From COVID-19

This past month has brought an explosion of uncertainty to farmworker communities with the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States and around the world.  The COVID-19 crisis highlights the inadequacies and the inextricable links between our healthcare system and our immigration system, leaving many farmworkers in particularly vulnerable positions. Food and agriculture has been labeled an essential sector, meaning that many farmworkers will likely continue to work as this crisis unfolds. In many cases, farmworkers do not  have health insurance or sick leave. Some states have reopened their ACA enrollment period, and the Trump administration is receiving pressure from Congress to open a special enrollment period on healthcare.gov, where eligible uninsured individuals could sign up for health insurance coverage amid this public health threat. In addition to these difficulties, farmworkers often are fearful of immigration enforcement at places like hospitals where they may need to get life-saving treatment if facing a severe case of the COVID-19. ICE has pledged not to enforce immigration laws against those seeking medical care, but many undocumented individuals are still fearful of accessing these needed services.

Farmworker Justice is collaborating with farmworker-serving organizations and many other organizations across the United States to help farmworker families confront the very serious challenges caused by COVID-19.  We are gathering information and devising strategies to help farmworkers and their organizations advance solutions for the health and well-being of farmworkers, their children and their communities. Farmworker Justice’s complete statement on the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on farmworkers can be found here. In addition to the challenges described above, H-2A visa workers face additional uncertainty related to COVID-19. Confusion abounded last week as the immediate future of the H-2A foreign guestworker program became unclear when the Trump administration announced that U.S. consulates would no longer process visas, and later, that the southern border would be shut except to vital industries. Eventually, the Administration clarified that agricultural workers would fall under the vital industries category, and that returning agricultural employers are eligible for this exemption. Similarly, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has entered into an MOU with the Department of Labor looking at transferring workers that are already in the country to other employers.

Farmworker Justice and farmworker advocates on the ground will continue to monitor the situation to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the H-2A visa process. Also, we will urge the Administration to require stronger worker protections from agricultural employers. Farmworkers should be treated as the essential workers they are, and their health and safety should be a prime consideration, not just an afterthought.

  Cuccinelli Not Properly Installed as Head of USCIS

On March 1, a federal judge ruled that Ken Cuccinelli was unlawfully appointed to head the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The court ruled that the Trump administration violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act when it appointed Cuccinelli. Under the law, the “first assistant” will take over if the Senate confirmed director steps down. However, Cuccinelli did not work for USCIS prior to taking the helm. Instead, the acting head of DHS at the time, Kevin McAleenan, appointed Cuccinelli. As a result of this ruling, at least two of the asylum policies rolled out by Cuccinelli, who is a hardliner on immigration issues, may be overturned. The Trump Administration is expected to appeal the decision.

Labor Contractor Violated Visa Requirements at North Carolina Based Farm

On March 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that a labor contractor, SBHLP Inc., had been found in violation of H-2A guestworker visa requirements. Among the violations, the labor contractor did not feed the workers three meals per day, made them pay their own visa expenses, and did not pay for the workers’ travel expenses as required by law. The workers were working on five North Carolina based farms. The labor contracting company must pay $224,249 in wages to 194 employees, and a $239,430 civil penalty to DOL. They are also debarred from the H-2A visa program for 3 years.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules that Workers be Paid for Time Putting on Gear

On March 19, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that workers cannot negotiate away pay for time spent putting on and taking off protective gear. The lawsuit began in 2010 when around 230 current and former employees sued for back wages for the time spent dealing with protective gear. The lower court ruled in the employees’ favor, and the case went directly to the state’s Supreme Court. The farm defended their actions by stating that the workers had given up the right to compensation for time spent dressing during collective bargaining, and that the de minimis doctrine applies in the case. That doctrine permits employers to disregard otherwise compensable work that takes only a few seconds or minutes beyond scheduled working hours. The court ruled that these arguments were not valid and that employees cannot negotiate away the time spent on protective gear under state law. Additionally, the compensation added up to several hundred dollars per year, which undermined the de minimis argument. The case is not finished. The Wisconsin Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court to review claims that were not addressed in the first ruling, including that the ruling would unjustly enrich the employees.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Maryland Passes Chlorpyrifos Ban

On March 18, the Maryland legislature passed a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos in the state.  Farmworker Justice supports this ban and testified in the Maryland legislature in favor of the bill. The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2021 and sunsets in 2024, and it allows for some limited excepted uses. Advocates say that it is a step in the right direction. Maryland is the fourth state to ban the pesticide, but only the second one to do it through legislative action. (After the bill was introduced, the Maryland Department of Agriculture announced that it would take steps to prevent chlorpyrifos use. However, the proposed steps were much weaker than those suggested in the bill.) The bill currently awaits Governor Larry Hogan’s signature.

ACA Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

On March 23, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) celebrated its 10th anniversary. The ACA’s passage was a monumental achievement; it increased access to comprehensive health care for low-income individuals, including farmworkers. Among the ACA’s achievements are: Medicaid expansion, the establishment of health insurance marketplaces and subsidies to lower the cost of health insurance, and additional funds to community health centers providing farmworkers with benefits to which they would not otherwise have access. While the law has been attacked from several angles, it continues to provide access to healthcare for many Americans every year.FJ will continue to promote policies that increase access to health insurance and health care for farmworkers and their families. More information about the ACA and farmworkers can be found on our website.

 

Farmworker Awareness Week

National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW) is a week of action for organizations, community members and students to raise awareness about farmworker issues in communities throughout the United States. This year heralds the 21st annual celebration and events highlighting the many contributions of farmworkers as well as the challenges they face. This year, NFAW will run from March 25th-31st. This important effort is coordinated by Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF). Farmworker Justice has participated in the planning committee for a number of years and will be posting a series of blogs and Facebook posts throughout the week. The complete list of themes and more information about the week can be found here.

National Farmworkers Awareness Week Blog: Dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos banned in Maryland

Last week, Maryland became the fourth state in the U.S. to ban chlorpyrifos, thanks to the tireless efforts of a broad coalition of farmworker, environmental and public health advocates. The ban will take effect on January 1, 2021 and will sunset in 2024. It also provides some limited waivers for certain crops. In spite of these limitations, the bill is still a significant victory for the health of Maryland’s farmworkers and general population. Farmworker Justice’s Senior Staff Attorney Iris Figueroa testified in favor of the chlorpyrifos ban before the Maryland General Assembly last month.

Chlorpyrifos is a highly neurotoxic insecticide developed from World War II-era nerve gas. In addition to the developmental dangers it poses to babies, exposure can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, numbness in the limbs, loss of intellectual functioning and death. Toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos are just one of the many ways in which farmworkers and their families are routinely exposed to high levels of pesticides in the fields where they work and the communities where they live.  Farmworkers’ persistent exposure to pesticides results in thousands of reported pesticide poisonings, illnesses and injuries each year.  Even the children of farmworkers cannot avoid exposure due to the proximity of their homes, schools and playgrounds to the fields where pesticides are applied.

In 2000, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in residential settings because of emerging evidence that it posed unacceptable risks to young children.  But the agency allowed continued use of the pesticide in agriculture, a double standard that has exposed an entire generation of farmworkers and their families through airborne drift, water contamination, and even the residues on workers’ clothes.  In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected the recommendations of the EPA’s own scientists and refused to ban further agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, even though the agency’s own risk assessment found that there are no safe levels of the pesticide in food or water, that unsafe exposures to farmworkers continue on average 18 days after applications, and that workers who mix and apply chlorpyrifos are exposed to unsafe levels even when using protective gear.   

In response to the EPA’s decision to ignore its own science, Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice and various other organizations filed a lawsuit seeking a federal chlorpyrifos ban.

While EPA continues to delay action to ban chlorpyrifos, lawmakers at the federal and state level are also taking action. At the federal level, last year Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the “Protect Children, Farmers and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2019”and  Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) introduced similar legislation, the “Ban Toxic Pesticides Act of 2019.” These bills would ban all food uses of chlorpyrifos.

 Several states have also banned use of the pesticide at the state level, including Hawaii, New York and California. Maryland has now become the fourth state to join this list, and only the second state to do so via legislation, providing decisive protections in the face of federal inaction. Similar efforts to ban chlorpyrifos are currently underway in other states, including Oregon, Washington and Connecticut. Farmworker Justice applauds these state and federal efforts to take swift action where EPA has failed to uphold its mission to protect human health and the environment.

We are all in this together: Farmworkers are helping us get through this crisis. Let’s thank and support them, too

National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), March 25th-31st, celebrates the many contributions made by farmworkers to our communities and our very livelihoods.  This year NFAW arises at a time as the world watches in fear as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe.

Empty grocery store shelves left behind by worried shoppers preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic have put into focus our reliance on an often-overlooked group of essential workers: farmworkers. Farmworkers form the backbone of our food supply chain, being responsible for planting, tending, harvesting and packing our fruits and vegetables; additionally, they are critical in the production of dairy and meat. Farmworkers, with the help of others in the food supply chain, help keep grocery stores stocked in the good times, and they will help re-supply the shelves while the country fights this pandemic. Yet despite their importance to the country’s food security, farmworkers are highly vulnerable to the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 emergency. It is important that we recognize the sacrifices they make and unite in supporting better work and health conditions for agricultural workers.

The average farmworker makes less than $20,000 per year, and the average income for a farmworker family is below $25,000, according to the 2016 National Agricultural Worker’s Survey. Since many states do not give them the right to paid sick leave, every day of missed work means greater financial hardship for them and their families. This lack of paid sick leave means that workers may feel the need to go to work even when they are ill, which may put them and others at risk. Housing, transportation and working conditions are another concern. Some farmworkers, particularly immigrants without families, live in group housing. The crowded conditions and poor sanitary facilities many of them experience create perfect environments for viral infections to spread. Many farmworkers also rely on shared transportation to and from work, which puts them in close quarters with others. Furthermore, a scarcity of handwashing facilities in the fields also increases the risk for the spread of disease. As if this weren’t challenging enough, language barriers and lack of action by employers could leave farmworkers without the information they need to know how to protect themselves.

Due to their living and working conditions, the toll of COVID-19 on farmworker communities could be significant. Only 47 percent of farmworkers have health insurance. Although the federal government has promised to make COVID-19 testing free of charge, treatment costs may still result in large medical bills. Living in rural areas reduces farmworkers’ access to care even further, since many have to travel long distances to rural hospitals and clinics that were already strapped for resources even before the pandemic. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule created a chilling effect that makes many immigrants – who make up the majority of the agricultural workforce-- wary of using public health services. Many of the approximately one million farmworkers who lack legal work authorization are also likely to avoid seeking care if they get sick. Despite assurances by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they will not arrest and deport undocumented immigrants for seeking care, the agency’s aggressive immigration enforcement stance has created a climate of fear among those without legal work status.

Farmworker Justice, in collaboration with other farmworker-serving organizations, assembled a joint statement and set of policy priorities on farmworker communities and COVID-19. Those policy priorities include addressing the risks created by lack of proper sanitation in the fields and in farmworker housing; the economic hardships resulting from lack of unemployment insurance and paid sick leave; and lack of access to proper medical care.  That statement can be found here.

Today, more than ever, we should thank and support our farmworkers. It is no exaggeration to say we are all in this together. Please join Farmworker Justice this week in honoring the important contributions of farmworkers throughout the United States. More information on this celebratory week can be found on the Student Action with Farmworkers website.

Statement by Farmworker Advocates on COVID-19 and the Risks to Farmworkers

Statement on COVID-19 and the Risks to Farmworkers

The undersigned organizations represent the interests of the estimated two to three million farmworkers who are employed throughout the United States. Farmworkers feed the world through their labor, bringing fruits, vegetables and other crops to homes across the nation. Their work is critical, yet they and their work have not been properly valued. Farmworkers earn poverty wages, work under substandard conditions and face a myriad of health and other issues due to their living and employment conditions.

Given this reality and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are gravely concerned about the health and welfare of the farmworker community, their families and the security of our entire food supply. While political leaders are swiftly taking measures in order to contain the outbreak, slow the spread of the virus and save lives, decisions are being made that have an impact on the lives and livelihoods of workers, including farmworkers.

Among these, measures have been taken to close schools, businesses and international borders to address this health crisis. We are grateful for all of those who are addressing this issue at all levels of government, not to mention those who are on the frontlines battling it. It is our hope that as these plans are being devised, farmworkers are not forgotten or left behind. To this end, we seek to raise concerns around some of the risks to the farmworker community should sweeping policies be enacted or procedures adopted without care to the unique concerns of differing communities.

We feel that it is urgent to raise some of the pressing issues here.

Health

While farmworkers are susceptible to the COVID-19, as with the general population, there are unique health considerations to account for, including:

     ● Many farmworkers often lack access to handwashing facilities with soap and water at work, making it difficult for them to routinely wash their hands as is necessary to prevent contracting or spreading of the virus.

     ● Farmworkers often move and work in groups, and travel in vehicles with large numbers of workers, making the social distancing requirements difficult, if not impossible, to comply with.

Access to Medical Care

Farmworkers often lack access to preventative medical assistance, health insurance and medical treatment:
     ● If farmworkers become ill with the COVID-19, there is concern that there are insufficient funds to provide the necessary treatment.

     ● Farmworkers may not have the financial resources to seek medical attention or insurance to cover the costs of their care.

     ● Farmworkers may not live near or have access to transportation to get them to a medical facility.

     ● If they are able to seek medical attention, farmworker community members may confront language barriers that make it difficult for them to get the care they need.

Housing

Farmworker housing conditions pose another concern and risk factor for potential transmission and spread of the COVID-19 within the farmworker community, especially for workers who are living in farmworker labor camps, shared dwellings and for those who are homeless. The close proximity of individuals in overcrowded dwellings is of deep concern:

     ● Despite the fact that there are existing housing regulations that dictate the dwelling conditions for farmworkers, particularly migratory workers, farmworkers across the nation live in homes that are overcrowded, sometimes with multiple inhabitants sleeping and living in one room.

     ● Many farmworkers share bathing, restroom and cooking facilities among multiple, unrelated workers.

     ● Some farmworkers even lack potable water, bathing facilities and soap in camp housing.

These conditions could easily give way to the spread of the COVID-19 and could potentially result in transmission to dozens and, potentially, hundreds of workers at one camp or facility. While we are concerned about the health risks to farmworkers and their families, farmworkers also play an important role in food safety and seek the education, training and protections needed to assure the safety of our food supply.

Employment

Layoffs due to business disruptions, quarantines, illness, and stay-at-home or isolation orders from city, state or federal officials could have immense financial consequences for the farmworker community:

     ● Farmworkers, unlike other professionals, are not afforded the same safety nets that would permit them to miss a day, let alone multiple weeks, of work.

     ● Most farmworkers are not entitled to unemployment benefits, and therefore, unemployment insurance is an unrealistic option for workers whose employers may be forced to shut down on a short- or long-term basis.

     ● Where state or local governments issue orders to stay at home but contain exceptions for agricultural workers to produce our food, there should be special consideration of the risks that such decisions of the government pose to farmworkers and their family members.

     ● Workers who become sick or have to care for a sick relative do not have paid leave to allow them to care for themselves or their loved ones.

     ● Even where paid leave laws are in place, there is concern that these laws will not be enforced.

     ● Workers lack guarantees that will help ensure that they maintain their jobs if they are forced to take time off for illness or to care for sick family members.

     ● Some farmworker-serving programs receive funds to run employment centers for workers. Federal funding guidelines require them to stay open and in operation, which poses a risk to the workers applying for jobs, as well as those who work at the employment centers.

     ● Farmworkers who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) financial benefits for their families are required to show that they are applying for jobs, which means that many of them regularly visit employment centers in person to apply. Large numbers of workers visit these centers daily, placing the job applicants, as well as the job center employees at potential risk.

For farmworkers, missing a day of work or an entire paycheck could mean the difference between being able to feed their families or go hungry, despite the fact that their work brings food to family tables across our nation.

Education and Childcare

Like families across the nation, farmworker parents are concerned about school and childcare closures:

     ● If schools and childcare centers are closed, there is a strong possibility there will be no childcare available to support working parents. Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) centers, a federally-funded program established in 1969 across 38 states, are being asked to close their doors despite parents’ continued need to work in the fields. Program closures leave nearly 20,000 families and 30,000 children without guaranteed access to educational early care, important nutritional needs, and healthcare needs.

     ● Few families have the financial means to pay for quality, alternative childcare, which may be limited in rural communities.

     ● Failure to have viable childcare options will require parents to miss work in order to care for their children, which will result in less income for the family.

     ● If one parent is forced to stay home from work, this will likely result in an unbalanced negative impact on farmworker women, who are likely to bear the brunt of these childcare responsibilities. 

     ● Single parents may be at a loss for childcare options altogether, either resulting in forced time away from work or making the decision to choose alternative, unregulated child care arrangements that may be inferior and dangerous.

     ● A particular concern is that parents might feel compelled to take their children to work with them in the fields, which could result in exposure to the virus, pesticides and other treacherous conditions.

Immigration and Migration

The large majority of America’s farmworkers are immigrants; they work hard to achieve the American Dream but are often living and working in difficult circumstances. More than half of farmworkers in our nation are undocumented, and many live in mixed-status families and communities. Our broken immigration system presents a threat to farmworkers’ health and safety:

     ● Undocumented or farmworkers living in mixed-status families may be afraid to seek medical attention if they become ill for fear of immigration action against them and their families.

     ● There is a risk that undocumented farmworkers or workers who are working in the US on an H-2A guestworker visa may not qualify for stimulus aid, health or other kinds of insurance that may become available to aid those who are impacted by this illness.

     ● At present time, it is unclear as to whether guest worker visas may be revoked and workers returned to their countries of origin prior to the end of their contract, not to mention whether incoming workers will be permitted to fulfill contracts that they have been recruited for given the current situation.

     ● There are concerns that restrictions might be placed on ground travel, either through the potential for a state or national quarantine, which would make it impossible and, potentially even unlawful, for farmworkers to migrate to follow the agricultural stream for work.

Violence and Exploitation

Farmworkers already face high rates of violence and exploitation at work, including gender-based violence and labor exploitation:

     ● The existing circumstances related to the pandemic are ripe for both violence and exploitation against farmworkers due to the increased levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of helplessness, coupled with the overall vulnerability of this population.

     ● Domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking are all real threats against farmworkers during this time of instability.

     ● Labor recruiters or contractors might feel more empowered to cheat workers out of their wages or commit other violations against them because they know that workers are desperate to keep their jobs, particularly when so much financial instability exists.

While the list of concerns related to the COVID-19 and its potential impact on the farmworker community is lengthy, there are also solutions that exist to limit the impact that this virus could have on farmworkers, their families, consumers and other community members. Even though farmworkers have been denied many of the basic protections afforded to other workers and workforces in the past,1 political leaders must take into account the ongoing and emerging needs of the farmworker community. These priorities must be considered as protocols, policies and programs are being developed to create an all-community plan to address, curb and end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

Justice for Migrant Women

Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

Farmworker Justice

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

MAFO, A National Partnership of Farmworker & Rural Organizations

Migrant Legal Action Program

National Farmworker Ministry

National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association

PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union

United Farm Workers Foundation

UMOS


1 The exclusion of farmworkers from labor protections is a shameful, racist legacy of the Jim Crow era. Because of a compromise made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to get Southern segregationist legislators to support his New Deal, agricultural and domestic workers – who at the time were primarily black workers – were intentionally carved out of federal labor laws. Today, decades later, the only thing that has changed is the demography of our nation’s farmworkers. They are now primarily Hispanic (83%), but, like the primarily black farmwokers of the 1930s, they are still marginalized people of color.
 

 

 

Farmworker Justice Statement: Our Dedication to Helping Farmworker Families Confront the Challenges of COVID-19

         Farmworker Justice is collaborating with farmworker-serving organizations and many other organizations to help farmworker families confront the very serious challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are gathering information and devising strategies to help farmworkers and their organizations advance solutions for the health and well-being of farmworkers, their children and their communities.

            FJ has a long history of working on health, occupational safety, labor and immigration issues using a diverse set of tools.  These tools include collecting, analyzing and disseminating information for farmworker-serving organizations and farmworkers themselves; policy and legal analysis and advocacy; training and technical assistance; corporate social responsibility initiatives; public education; and coalition-building.  All these tools and more are needed now.

            There are about 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S., not including their spouses and children.  Farmworkers are not alone in the threats they face from the COVID-19, but they are among the most vulnerable.  Farmworkers often are in unique circumstances that cause them to be especially vulnerable during public health crises. 

         Farm work ranks among the most dangerous jobs in terms of deaths and injuries, while also remaining among the lowest-paid occupations in the nation.  Fringe benefits such as paid sick leave or health insurance are rarely offered.  Federal and state labor laws often discriminatorily exclude agricultural workers from basic protections.  Farmworkers often live in crowded, unsafe housing in isolated geographic areas.  And a majority of farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. All of these factors exacerbate the potential impact of public health crises on the farmworker community.

            The current COVID-19 crisis highlights the inadequacies and the inextricable links between our broken health care and immigration systems.  In addition, the nature of farm work means that telecommuting is not an option and there are serious limits to social distancing and other mitigation measures.     

         The many concerns farmworker families face regarding COVID-19 include the following:

•          Lost work and lost wages and the serious consequences that follow

•          Lack of unemployment compensation

•          Lack of health insurance/ inability to become insured

•          Lack of access to health care

•          Lack of childcare

•          Lack of adequate education and nutrition programs when schools close

•          Unsanitary, crowded housing and the risk of losing housing due to job loss

•          Lack of paid sick leave

•          Impacts of the broken immigration system

           •         lack of immigration status for a majority of farmworkers

           •         threats of immigration enforcement

           •         uncertainty regarding the H-2A agricultural guestworker program

           •         closing of U.S. consulates’ visa processing

•          Lack of access to accurate, timely, information in appropriate languages

•         Stress and anxiety and lack of mental health resources

         Farmworker Justice will continue its efforts to help farmworkers confront these and many other challenges.  As this crisis evolves, we will also provide updated information and resources.  

         Our staff is following CDC guidelines to keep themselves, families and co-workers safe; we are all telecommuting.  We are thinking of all the farmworker families we serve, our many collaborators and our supporters, at this difficult time. 

         Thank you for your support.

Farmworker Justice Features Exciting New Work on Preventing Childhood Obesity

Rodrigo and Juana step into the migrant head start center in their local community after a long day of harvesting strawberries. Their young children, Amelia and Mario, have attended pre-school here for the past year, and the whole family is happy with the program; the children are excited about the activities and Juana and Rodrigo receive much-needed support from the teachers and administration. When they arrive home, the children pile out of the car and immediately clamor for attention. Juana looks in exasperation at Rodrigo, both recognizing they have a lot to do before bedtime arrives, yet conflicted because they want to spend time with their children after a day apart.

Moments such as this served as inspiration for Farmworker Justice (FJ) in the creation of the Juntos Nos Movemos training. Recognizing the constraints faced by many farmworker families due to long and physically exhausting work days, FJ sought to create a series of activities for families that could be fun, purposeful, culturally-appropriate and honor the daily life of farmworkers. FJ partnered with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Collaboration Office to develop Juntos Nos Movemos, a curriculum for agricultural worker families with a specific focus on increased physical activity as a means of reducing and ultimately preventing childhood obesity in agricultural worker children. Juntos Nos Movemos aims to increase both the frequency and variety of physical activity that agricultural worker parents can engage in with their children when they are home. It seeks to help parents make the most of limited free time with their children by giving parents the skills to identify several short (15 to 20 minutes) blocks of time in which to engage in a variety of fun and culturally appropriate physical activities with their children.

Juntos Nos Movemos is designed as a train-the-trainer model. Community health workers, outreach staff, and family service workers will be the trainers and their primary audience is agricultural worker parents. Staff will train other staff at the health centers and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers (or applicable sites), sharing the skills and knowledge taught in the training, while simultaneously providing staff with the opportunity to deepen and refocus different aspects of the training to better address realities and challenges of physical activity experienced by agricultural workers in their community. 

Juntos Nos Movemos provides training participants with materials for staff and agricultural workers, including a flipchart for trainers and a worksheet (“My Week”) for families. The curriculum is designed as a training manual for outreach workers, family service workers, and other applicable staff. The flipchart is designed for use with agricultural worker families; the curriculum contains a component for staff to learn how to use this tool most effectively with their intended audience. There is a user-friendly guide for the flipchart that helps guide the trainer in a page-by-page approach. The My Week Worksheet is a take-home resource for agricultural worker families to help them track their physical activity after they receive the training. The Juntos Nos Movemos curriculum, flipchart and worksheet are intended to be used together to achieve the greatest impact.

You can access these innovative materials on Farmworker Justice’s website. We encourage you to reach out to Rebecca Young, Senior Project Director – Community Engagement, at [email protected] for more information about this training.  

Farmworker Justice Update: 2/28/2020

 

Public Charge Rule is Now in Effect 

Pursuant to recent Supreme Court decisions, on February 24, the Administration's public charge rule went into effect in all 50 states. Farmworkers applying for LPR status in the U.S. as well as those applying for visas at U.S. consulates abroad will now be subject to the new public charge assessment. It is important that farmworkers and farmworker service providers receive accurate information about public charge, including the new public benefits definition and the other factors in the totality of circumstances test.

FJ recently updated its fact sheet on public charge, available here. FJ also developed a farmworker-focused module, part of a daylong service provider training, available on the California Primary Care Association website. More information about the public charge rule, including community resources, can be found on the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) website. Although the Supreme Court overturned the preliminary injunctions against the rule, several lawsuits, including one in which Farmworker Justice is a plaintiff, are ongoing.

Press Conference in Support of FWMA

On February 26, several grower groups and members of the House of Representatives from both sides of the aisle came together to urge the Senate to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038). The bill passed with a bipartisan majority of 260-165 in the House in December. Farmworker Justice strongly supports the bill, and our factsheet on the bill can be found here.

The National Labor Relations Board Releases Final Joint Employer Rule   

On February 26, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published its final Joint Employer rule in the Federal Register. The new rule restricts the circumstances in which businesses that use workers hired through third parties can be held jointly liable for violations of the National Labor Relations Act, which does not apply to farmworkers.  This new rule parallels the regulation released by the Department of Labor (DOL) last month under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which regulates the minimum wage, child labor and overtime pay (farmworkers are excluded from overtime pay under FLSA). This rule – by placing “employer” status on only one business when two or more businesses share responsibility for employing workers -- shields many businesses from liability for workers’ rights violations and from the obligation to bargain in good faith with labor unions. FJ has been part of a coalition of labor advocates that have fought against legislation in Congress promoted by employer associations seeking to restrict the use of the joint employer doctrine. The DOL rule is already being challenged by 17 states and the District of Columbia in the Southern District of New York, and it is likely that this new rule from the NLRB will similarly be challenged.

“PRO Act” Passes the House

On February 6, the House passed the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019,” or “PRO Act” (H.R. 2474). The bill was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and passed by a vote of 224-194. The bill would make it easier for workers to certify unions, change how employers classify workers, prevent workers from being denied collective bargaining rights because of immigration status, and eliminate state right-to-work laws, among other measures. The PRO Act faces severe opposition from many Republicans, including President Trump, and its path forward in the Senate is unclear.

Florida Considers Bill Requiring E-Verify

The Florida state legislature is currently considering whether to impose E-Verify, a government run program to verify the identity of workers, on Florida employers. There are ongoing negotiations over the “Verification of Employment Eligibility Act” (S.B. 1822). Gov. DeSantis supports the proposal while many employers do not. During committee hearings, an exemption for private employers, including agricultural employers, amended the bill. Private employers could still use the federal I-9 program that is already available. This amendment infuriated the bill’s sponsor, and he claims he will urge the governor to veto the bill in its current form.

President Trump Releases Proposed 2021 Budget

On February 10, President Trump unveiled his proposed FY 2021 budget. The proposed budget includes large cuts to safety net programs, including Medicaid and housing subsidies, federal broadcasting, and student loan initiatives, while at the same time increasing spending in areas such as border enforcement and the military. Over the course of his presidency, few of President Trump’s budget proposals have made it into law.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

State-Level Efforts to Ban Chlorpyrifos

On February 26, Corteva, one of the main producers of chlorpyrifos, announced that they would stop selling the chemical by the end of 2020. Sales of the highly toxic pesticide have been dropping as places like the European Union and California, whose ban on the chemical went into effect on February 6, have banned the pesticide. Sen. Udall (D-NM), sponsor of the “The Protect Children, Farmers and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2019” (S. 921) said in response to Corteva’s announcement, “The science on chlorpyrifos is clear and unambiguous, and it has no place on our food or in our fields.” Advocates continue to work on state, federal, and agency action to ban chlorpyrifos use.

On February 19, the Oregon house passed H.B. 4109, a ban on chlorpyrifos, in a vote of 32-24. Under HB 4109, aerial pesticide applications of chlorpyrifos would be prohibited immediately, as would spraying within 300 feet of a school campus, before the a full ban takes effect in January 2022. Farmers would also immediately have to prevent workers from entering areas treated with the chemical for eight days. However, the bill allows exemptions on certain crops. Following the House floor vote, the bill has passed through the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. It now awaits a full Senate floor vote.

Last week, the Maryland Department of Agriculture announced that it would begin the regulatory process of phasing out the use of chlorpyrifos. The timing of this announcement is hardly coincidental, however, as the state legislature is currently considering a complete ban on chlorpyrifos. Earlier this month, a broad coalition of advocates testified in favor of the proposed ban, including Farmworker Justice and the Migrant Clinicians Network. The Smart on Pesticides coalition stated in response to the announcement, “The Hogan Administration’s sudden change of heart in favor of considering regulating the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos is surprising, after three years of active opposition to legislation that would ban it. The proposal is not acceptable.” The sponsors of the legislation intend to continue work on the bills despite the announcement by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

UC Davis Study on Farmworker and Employer Responses to Wildfire Smoke

California has increasing fire events that create an unsafe work environment for farmworkers. According to a recent study by UC Davis, employers and farmworkers know that they need to take measures to protect against smoke inhalation. However, few employers have a plan in place for when smoke events occur. Farmworkers are often unwilling to stop work because of economic concerns regarding lost wages. Last year, California OSHA enacted emergency regulations to protect farmworkers if the smoke index reaches a certain point. Cal OSHA is in the process of enacting permanent regulations and guidelines for wildfire protections for workers. Sen. Merkley (D-OR) introduced “The Farmworker Smoke Protection Act of 2019” in Congress last year (S.B. 1815). You can find our factsheet on the bill here.  

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