Immigration and Labor Rights

Farmworker Justice Condemns House Amendment to the DHS Appropriations Bill Expanding the H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program to Year-Round Jobs

The House Appropriations Committee today, in the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security, inserted a fundamental, substantive policy change to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program. The amendment would expand the scope of the H-2A program to allow H-2A visas to be issued without regard to whether the jobs are temporary or seasonal.  Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) led this effort.

 

Farmworker Justice Update - 07/06/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 07/06/18

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

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

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

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

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

California Judge Issues Family Separation Injunction

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

ICE Raids May Further Silence Undocumented Workers

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

USDA’s Legacy of Discrimination against Black Farmers

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

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Farmworker Death from Heat Stress

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

Need for Government Action to Prevent Heat Stress Deaths

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

Child Labor in Tobacco Fields

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

Oral Arguments in Chlorpyrifos Case Set for July 9

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

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Resigns

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

Farmworker Justice Update - 04/26/18

Farmworker Justice Update: 04/26/18

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

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

Tobacco Workers: FLOC Expands Boycott of Reynolds

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

Farmworker Women Call for Improvement of Protections against Sexual Harassment

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ Reverses Decision to Halt Legal Orientation Program

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

Data Shows Sanctuary Policies Encourage People to Report Crime

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

Recent DACA Court Decision Could Eventually Lead to New Applications

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

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

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

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

Global Warming Already Having an Impact on Texas Farmworkers

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

Remembering Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993)

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

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.

The “Family Farm,” Industrialized Agriculture and Farmworkers’ Labor Rights

It’s true that most of our food grown in the U.S. can be considered to come from “family farms.” But many of those “family farms” are incorporated and are sizeable businesses.  

The exclusion of farmworkers from many employment laws is justified partly on a misunderstanding about the business of agriculture.  Farmworkers mostly work for big farms, not the “small family farm” of yore or the new wave of urban and semi-urban growers of the produce in your Community Supported Agriculture delivery.  

In a new report, “Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service discusses the trend toward larger farms, which the report notes is longer than 30 years.  The industrialization of agriculture was famously described in “Factories in the Field,” a book by Carey McWilliams published in 1939.   

Many, many small family farms dot rural landscapes but their share of farm production is tiny and they don’t employ many farmworkers.  There are about 2.1 million farms in the U.S. The report states that “nearly 1 million farms—or 48 percent of the total — had GCFI [gross cash farm income, a measure of annual sales] of less than $10,000, and collectively accounted for less than 1 percent of production.”

Of those 2.1 million farms, just 63,500 had sales of $1 million or more per year.  Yet, that group, amounting to 3% of farms, accounted for 51% of the value of all farms’ sales of agricultural products.  

And of those 3% of farms with $1 million or more in annual sales, 90% can be characterized as “family farms” in the sense that they are owned or controlled by a family even if the farm is technically owned by limited liability company (LLC) or corporation.  

Most farmworkers are laboring in the labor-intensive sector of agriculture, which includes fruits, vegetables, and nursery (or horticultural) products, which are referred to as “specialty crops.”  

Specialty crop growers also have consolidated into larger farms.  “Very large farms,” those with sales of $5 million or more per year account for 48.3% of the value of production (sales).  An additional 27.8% of sales come from “large farms,” defined as those with sales of $1 million $5 million per year. The USDA ERS report is available here.1  

A separate economic analysis estimates that a majority of the nation’s farmworkers are employed on about 10,000 large farms across the U.S.  The roughly 8,200 farms in the U.S. that had payrolls of hired workers of $500,000 or more accounted for about half of the nation’s payroll expenses for hired farm labor.2

The anachronistic exemptions in employment laws for agriculture should end.  “Family farms” may employ most farmworkers, but other businesses – especially medium and large businesses -- are not exempt from employment laws merely because the owner is a family.   Farmworkers deserve the job standards, legal protections and respect that we extend to other occupations’ workers.

1. The USDA ERS report is co-authored by James M. MacDonald, Robert A. Hoppe, and Doris Newton.

2. Philip Martin, Issue Brief:  Immigration and Farm Labor, (Migration Policy Institute 2017), p. 2 and fn. 1.

Farmworker Awareness Week Immigration Blog

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.

"I’m one more person who comes to this country looking for a better life for myself and my family. During the months I’ve been with this company I’ve worked with different plants and vegetables… I miss Oaxaca [Mexico], my wife and my son. But what makes me happy is that they are doing better."

– Jose Silva (farmworker)

The vast majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are immigrants, and at least half of them are undocumented. We depend on these many immigrants, who have come in search of a better life, for our nation’s abundant and safe food supply.  Yet, the U.S.’ broken immigration system has created an untenable situation for farmworkers. Immigration policy and status impact every facet of farmworkers’ lives—from a workers’ ability to speak up about other challenges they may be facing, including labor rights violations, unsafe working conditions or a need for healthcare services, to farmworker parents’ fears of being separated from their children.

Under the Trump administration we have seen an increase in widespread and indiscriminate immigration enforcement. Even though many farmworkers have been in the country for years and even decades, current immigration enforcement policies may result in undocumented farmworkers being subject to immigration arrest, detention, and removal - regardless of how long they have been in the country, whether or not they have committed any crimes, and whether they have U.S. citizen children, spouses or other family members. One of the greatest fears among many immigrant farmworkers and other immigrant community members is the threat of family separation. The recent tragic deaths of a farmworker couple in California while being chased by immigration authorities highlights the depth of this fear.

With the recent escalations in immigration enforcement, an additional consequence is that agricultural employers are increasingly turning to the H-2A guestworker program. As they depend more on H-2A workers, agribusiness is unfortunately increasing their lobbying efforts to weaken the H-2A program’s already inadequate labor protections and oversight in the program.  One such piece of legislation, Rep. Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Act, would create a new, highly exploitative guestworker program—the H-2C program—which would eliminate almost all protections found in the H-2A program, restrict worker access to justice, and seek to convert our entire system of food workers into a system of captive workers. The H-2A program is already a highly exploitative program, where employers exert a great deal of control over workers due to the fact that workers are tied by their visa status to the employers that brought them to the U.S. Moreover, many H-2A workers come from impoverished communities and may arrive in debt, having borrowed money to pay the illegal but all too common recruitment fees and other costs.  In addition to the challenges workers face due to their dependent non-immigrant status, debt and related issues, the problem of family separation is a painful reality H-2A guestworkers also face. Some guestworkers brought into the U.S. on H-2A temporary agricultural visas are separated from their families for months on end and year after year.

Our immigration system should not depend on migration models that force people to choose between financial support for their families and family separation. We should respect the valuable role of farmworkers in our agriculture and food system and reform our broken immigration system to ensure that they enjoy the democratic and economic freedoms of this nation.  The first step toward a modern agricultural labor system must be to stabilize our current farm labor force through sensible immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for farmworkers and their families. The Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 2690/S.1034) does just that.

National Farmworker Awareness Week - Overtime Pay

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.

"Although it’s so very hot, even so we work 13 hours each day without resting a single day, planting and picking fruits and vegetables so that people here can eat. Well, the truth is that we suffer a lot by being here..."

A.R.C. (a farmworker)

Every day Americans enjoy an abundance of food thanks to the labor of the roughly 2.4 million farmworkers who engage in back-breaking work to ensure America’s food security. As noted in the above quote, farmworkers often work long hours without rest, particularly during peak harvest times. Yet these workers are excluded from many of the basic workplace protections that other Americans take for granted – including the overtime protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and even the FLSA’s minimum wage protections for certain small employers and industries.  The basic labor protections for workers that were enacted during the 1930s should apply to farmworkers: the people who labor on farms and ranches to feed us.  This year marks the 80th anniversary of the FLSA.  It is about time – really long past the time – for Congress to end the discrimination against agricultural workers in FLSA.

The exclusion of agricultural workers from the minimum wage and overtime pay was never fair and can be traced back to racism and political expediency.  The sponsors of the New Deal era labor legislation, including FLSA, mustered enough votes for passage by appeasing southern states’ legislators, who demanded the exclusion from coverage of agricultural and domestic workers. At the time, the farmworker population in the South was predominantly African American, and often was subjected to plantation-like conditions. Today, the majority of agricultural workers are Latino. Discrimination in our immigration and labor laws has persisted, depriving farmworkers of basic workplace protections and fundamental human and democratic rights.

It is time to remedy the discrimination farmworkers face in their minimum wage and overtime protections. In 2016, California recognized the need to provide farmworkers overtime protection.  California’s overtime law for farmworkers ensures farmworkers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. California is the most successful agricultural production state and has the largest population of farmworkers. Not only do farmworkers outside of California deserve an end to discrimination in labor laws, but agricultural businesses in California should not have to compete with growers that save money on labor costs because the federal law and their state laws discriminate against farmworkers in employment laws. The U.S. Congress needs to learn a lesson from California and end the exclusion of farmworkers from FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage protections.

The treatment of farmworkers in this country is unreasonable and unsustainable.  As in generations past, today’s farmworkers experience high rates of poverty: low wages and lack of overtime pay are key contributing factors.  Farm work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the country, with routine exposure to dangerous pesticides, arduous labor and extreme heat.  Such poor conditions and discriminatory laws have resulted in substantial employee turnover, leading to instability in our labor force.  We all want to feel good about the food we purchase and consume, and the continuing discrimination in employment laws against farmworkers – the people who produce our food – perpetuates a stain on our food system that should be eradicated.

Please sign this petition supporting federal legislation to address this issue.  

 

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.

 

Farmworker Justice Update - 02/16/18

Farmworker Justice Immigration Update – 02/16/18

Results of Senate Immigration Vote and Possible House Debate on Immigration/Guestworker Legislation

On February 15, the U.S. Senate rejected four immigration proposals, none of which garnered the 60 votes needed to pass in the chamber. The result of the brief voting session, which occurred more than five months after President Trump’s rescission of the DACA program, means that there is still no solution or clear path forward for Dreamers. The Senate’s failure to help Dreamers came after strong opposition to the bipartisan amendments from President Trump and his Administration as well as a veto threat.  President Trump continues to hold the Dreamer youth hostage to his anti-immigrant agenda.

The “USA Act,” Senate Amendment (SA) 1955, introduced by Senators McCain and Coons, which provided a narrow compromise of a clean DREAM Act coupled with border security, received 52 votes in favor and 47 against. (There is a total of 100 Senators, but Senator McCain was absent due to health reasons, so only 99 votes were cast.) The second amendment, SA 1948, an anti-sanctuary cities amendment from Senator Toomey which did not address the DACA issue, received 54 votes in favor and 45 against. The “Immigration Security and Opportunity Act,” SA 1958, introduced by Senators Rounds and King, and championed by moderates in both parties, similarly received 54 votes in favor and 45 against. The fourth and last amendment, Senator Grassley’s “Secure and Succeed Act,” SA 1959, which encompassed the “four pillar” immigration framework recently proposed by President Trump, received the least support of all the proposals, with 39 votes in favor and 60 votes against. That rejection of the President’s racist and anti-immigrant framework principles was thus the only idea to receive 60 votes.  Information on how your Senators voted on each of the amendments can be found here. At the beginning of the week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the Senate consideration of the issue of immigration would not extend beyond this week, so the path forward on immigration in the Senate remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the House is currently considering its own potential votes on immigration proposals. One of the bills that could be brought to the floor is Rep. Goodlatte’s “Securing America’s Future Act,” even though it still does not have enough votes to pass in the House and would almost certainly be rejected in the Senate given that it is even more anti-immigrant than the Grassley proposal. One of the provisions of Rep. Goodlatte’s bill is the Agricultural Guestworker Act (AGA), the anti-immigrant, anti-labor bill he first introduced in October 2017. Some changes have been made to the AGA in an attempt to win over more agribusiness support.

Congress will be in recess next week, which means that even if immigration were taken up again it would not happen until at least late February. The DACA program is set to formally expire on March 5. During recess, some members of Congress will be holding town halls and other events in their local offices. Supporters of the Dreamers will be taking this opportunity to remind elected representatives that the majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and ask them what they will be doing to achieve that goal.

 

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