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Farmworker Justice Statement on the Passage in the House of Representatives of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 5038

 

Farmworker Justice thanks the Members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038, which passed the House today.       

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) resulted from lengthy, complex negotiations led by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), a farmer and former Director of Washington State’s Department of Agriculture, and additional colleagues.  To help reach agreement, Members of Congress involved farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice, as well as agricultural employer trade associations and other stakeholders. 

“Achieving compromise on complex, polarizing labor-management and immigration issues was possible because of the wide recognition that farmworkers are essential to our nation's food and agriculture systems,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and results in great unfairness, as over one-half of the 2.4 million people who labor on our farms and ranches to feed us are undocumented immigrants.  This bill, despite shortcomings that are inevitable in any compromise, is a responsible effort to fix our broken immigration system and enable many farmworkers and their families to gain a greater measure of justice.”       

The large majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are immigrants, and a majority lack authorized immigration status. Undocumented farmworkers and their family members live in fear of arrest, deportation and the breakup of their families. Many farmworkers are reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair treatment in their workplaces and their communities.  At times, they cannot go to work or their children’s school functions due to the presence of immigration enforcement agents.  “The country’s farms and our food system depend on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and they deserve a greater measure of justice,” Goldstein added.

 The Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill provides a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  Removing the threat of immigration enforcement would help farmworker families and farming businesses. “With legal status, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and seek enforcement when their limited labor rights are violated,” said Goldstein. These improvements would result in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.  The earned legalization program’s requirements are more rigorous, lengthy and expensive than we preferred, but are acceptable in the effort to reach a realistic, bipartisan compromise,  

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address farmworker and employer concerns with the program. 

Farmworker advocates have pressed for reforms to reduce widespread abuses under this flawed program, while agricultural employers have lobbied heavily to remove most of its modest labor protections, claiming that the program is unduly expensive and bureaucratic.  “The bill’s lengthy provisions on the H-2A guestworker program include important new protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers, as well as changes to address agricultural employers’ demands that Farmworker Justice has historically opposed,” said Goldstein. Compromise was necessary to achieve legislation that could become law and address serious harms imposed on farmworker families by our broken immigration system. 

Farmworker Justice supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because it would help hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members improve their lives.  Our fact sheet on the bill is available on our website’s Resource Center under Legislative Proposals/116th Congress.

Farmworker Justice Statement on the Passage in the House of Representatives of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 5038

 

Farmworker Justice thanks the Members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038, which passed the House today.       

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) resulted from lengthy, complex negotiations led by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), a farmer and former Director of Washington State’s Department of Agriculture, and additional colleagues.  To help reach agreement, Members of Congress involved farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice, as well as agricultural employer trade associations and other stakeholders. 

“Achieving compromise on complex, polarizing labor-management and immigration issues was possible because of the wide recognition that farmworkers are essential to our nation's food and agriculture systems,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and results in great unfairness, as over one-half of the 2.4 million people who labor on our farms and ranches to feed us are undocumented immigrants.  This bill, despite shortcomings that are inevitable in any compromise, is a responsible effort to fix our broken immigration system and enable many farmworkers and their families to gain a greater measure of justice.”       

The large majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are immigrants, and a majority lack authorized immigration status. Undocumented farmworkers and their family members live in fear of arrest, deportation and the breakup of their families. Many farmworkers are reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair treatment in their workplaces and their communities.  At times, they cannot go to work or their children’s school functions due to the presence of immigration enforcement agents.  “The country’s farms and our food system depend on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and they deserve a greater measure of justice,” Goldstein added.

 The Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill provides a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  Removing the threat of immigration enforcement would help farmworker families and farming businesses. “With legal status, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and seek enforcement when their limited labor rights are violated,” said Goldstein. These improvements would result in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.  The earned legalization program’s requirements are more rigorous, lengthy and expensive than we preferred, but are acceptable in the effort to reach a realistic, bipartisan compromise,  

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address farmworker and employer concerns with the program. 

Farmworker advocates have pressed for reforms to reduce widespread abuses under this flawed program, while agricultural employers have lobbied heavily to remove most of its modest labor protections, claiming that the program is unduly expensive and bureaucratic.  “The bill’s lengthy provisions on the H-2A guestworker program include important new protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers, as well as changes to address agricultural employers’ demands that Farmworker Justice has historically opposed,” said Goldstein. Compromise was necessary to achieve legislation that could become law and address serious harms imposed on farmworker families by our broken immigration system. 

Farmworker Justice supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because it would help hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members improve their lives.  Our fact sheet on the bill is available on our website’s Resource Center under Legislative Proposals/116th Congress.

Farmworker Justice Statement on the Passage in the House of Representatives of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 5038

 

Farmworker Justice thanks the Members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, HR 5038, which passed the House today.       

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA) resulted from lengthy, complex negotiations led by Rep. Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA), a farmer and former Director of Washington State’s Department of Agriculture, and additional colleagues.  To help reach agreement, Members of Congress involved farmworker advocates, including the United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice, as well as agricultural employer trade associations and other stakeholders. 

“Achieving compromise on complex, polarizing labor-management and immigration issues was possible because of the wide recognition that farmworkers are essential to our nation's food and agriculture systems,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.  “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and results in great unfairness, as over one-half of the 2.4 million people who labor on our farms and ranches to feed us are undocumented immigrants.  This bill, despite shortcomings that are inevitable in any compromise, is a responsible effort to fix our broken immigration system and enable many farmworkers and their families to gain a greater measure of justice.”       

The large majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are immigrants, and a majority lack authorized immigration status. Undocumented farmworkers and their family members live in fear of arrest, deportation and the breakup of their families. Many farmworkers are reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair treatment in their workplaces and their communities.  At times, they cannot go to work or their children’s school functions due to the presence of immigration enforcement agents.  “The country’s farms and our food system depend on immigrants, both documented and undocumented, and they deserve a greater measure of justice,” Goldstein added.

 The Farm Workforce Modernization Act bill provides a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.  Removing the threat of immigration enforcement would help farmworker families and farming businesses. “With legal status, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and seek enforcement when their limited labor rights are violated,” said Goldstein. These improvements would result in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.  The earned legalization program’s requirements are more rigorous, lengthy and expensive than we preferred, but are acceptable in the effort to reach a realistic, bipartisan compromise,  

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address farmworker and employer concerns with the program. 

Farmworker advocates have pressed for reforms to reduce widespread abuses under this flawed program, while agricultural employers have lobbied heavily to remove most of its modest labor protections, claiming that the program is unduly expensive and bureaucratic.  “The bill’s lengthy provisions on the H-2A guestworker program include important new protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers, as well as changes to address agricultural employers’ demands that Farmworker Justice has historically opposed,” said Goldstein. Compromise was necessary to achieve legislation that could become law and address serious harms imposed on farmworker families by our broken immigration system. 

Farmworker Justice supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because it would help hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members improve their lives.  Our fact sheet on the bill is available on our website’s Resource Center under Legislative Proposals/116th Congress.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act Heard in House Judiciary Committee

 

On November 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (FWMA), H.R. 5038, out of the Committee by a roll call vote of 18-12, with all Democrats present voting for the bill.  The vote followed debate on the bill that took place on November 20.

The FWMA is a bipartisan compromise reached as a result of months-long negotiations between worker representatives, including the UFW, Farmworker Justice and UFW Foundation, and agricultural employers. The bill currently has 26 Democratic co-sponsors and 23 Republican co-sponsors. Farmworker Justice supports the bill. You can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here.

The mark-up of the bill in the Judiciary Committee lasted approximately four hours. During the mark-up, two Democratic amendments were proposed to the bill. The first, which was adopted, was an amendment by Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX) allowing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) status holders to apply for Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. Rep. Jayapal (D-WA) introduced a second amendment, which would ensure the eligibility of CAW individuals and their dependent family members for the ACA's plans, tax credits and cost-sharing reductions; however, in recognition that further education is needed in order to reach a consensus on this issue, Rep. Jayapal withdrew the amendment prior to a vote. Rep. Jayapal also read aloud several stories that Washington farmworkers shared with her during a visit to her office in support of the bill. Rep. Correa also welcomed the UFW and UFW Foundation farmworkers who traveled to DC to support the bill and were in the audience during the proceedings.

Republican members also offered amendments, all of which were voted down by large margins, with all Democratic committee members opposing the amendments. Rep. Lofgren and other Democratic members, such as Reps. Nadler and Raskin offered strong arguments against many of these amendments. The amendments focused on anti-worker and anti-immigrant issues such as lowering wages, undermining the legalization program, limiting workers’ access to legal remedies, and reducing other key protections for workers. Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) offered two amendments attacking key protections obtained for H-2A workers in the legislation: 1) the right to coverage under the principal federal employment law protecting farmworkers, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA) and 2) creating a “right to cure” for employers after a complaint is filed.

Rep. Lesko (R-AZ), Rep. Chabot (R-OH), and Rep. Buck (R-CO) also offered amendments that would have limited the ability of farmworkers to participate in the legalization program and path to lawful permanent residency. In addition, Rep. Steube (R-FL) introduced a variety of amendments to provide additional anti-worker reforms to the H-2A program in the bill, such as lowering farmworker wages and having USDA administer the H-2A program rather than DOL. The compromise already included significant wage concessions from farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice appreciates the Judiciary Committee’s vote in favor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 because the bill, if passed, would enable hundreds of thousands of farmworker families to improve their living and working conditions and their participation in our economy and democracy.

Farmworker Justice Update: 12/04/19

 

Immigration Policy: House Judiciary Committee Approves Farm Workforce Modernization Act  

            On November 21, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019” (FWMA), H.R. 5038, following debate the day before. The bill would make substantial revisions to immigration law regarding agricultural workers and their employers. The bill was the product of negotiations among Democrats and Republicans as well as farmworker advocates and employer trade associations. The bipartisan bill currently has 27 Democratic co-sponsors and 24 Republican co-sponsors. The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 18-12, with all Democrats present voting for the bill and all present Republicans voting against. 

The challenges to achieving a compromise that passes Congress are evidenced in the proposed amendments submitted during the Judiciary Committee’s markup of the bill. Some proposed amendments would have imposed unacceptable obstacles in the bill’s path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their family members.    Some Committee members sought to lower wage rates and make other anti-worker changes in labor protections in the provisions revising the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. All of these harmful amendments were defeated by strong margins. While some supporters of the bill expressed their desire to improve the bill by making it more helpful to farmworkers, they voted for it as written because they recognized that the bill is the product of complex, delicate compromises.

            Farmworker Justice, which helped the United Farm Workers negotiate the bill, strongly supports this legislation. You can read a summary of the bill’s provisions here. Although the bill has extensive support among stakeholders in agriculture, there are some farmworker organizations and agricultural employer associations that, for various reasons, are opposing or remaining neutral on the bill. You may wish to read a critique by a longtime pro-farmworker journalist, David Bacon.    

USDA Releases Farm Labor Survey

            On November 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the annual results of its Farm Labor Survey. The FLS is based on surveys of farm employers. The findings regarding wages paid during FY 2019 are of particular interest because they will be used by the Department of Labor (DOL) to set the 2020 “adverse effect wage rate,” which is one of the minimum required wage rates under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The survey category used by DOL is the annual average wage for field and livestock workers combined. At the national level, the rate was $13.99, up 6 percent from the 2018 average of $13.25 per hour. The DOL issues wage rates for each state based on regional survey results, which ranged from $11.71 per hour to $15.83. States with the lowest rates included Florida and Georgia; the highest rates were in Oregon and Washington; California was at $14.77.

Employers of Sheepherders Will Only Be Eligible for Temporary H-2A Workers

On November 21, the Hispanic Affairs Project and Towards Justice announced a settlement reached with the federal government to protect sheepherders. In the case, Hispanic Affairs Project, et al. v. Scalia, 15-cv-01562 (D.D.C.), Hispanic Affairs Project challenged the practice of bringing sheep and goat herders to fill a permanent labor need under the H-2A program, which is limited to temporary or seasonal work. Under the terms of the settlement, DHS and DOL agreed to modify the rules governing the use of guestworker visas for foreign sheepherders working in the United States to ensure that the program is not being used for permanent employment. On November 14, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a policy memo stating that effective June 1, 2020 sheep and goat herders can no longer be brought in under the H-2A temporary foreign worker program if they are being hired for year-round jobs. Comments on the new guidance are due December 14.

Farm Must Pay for Failing to Provide Safe Housing and Transportation

            On November 21, an administrative law judge found New Jersey farm, Sun Valley Orchards, guilty of labor violations. As a result, the farm must pay workers around $556,000 in back wages and penalties. Some of the violations included failure to provide sanitary housing, transporting workers in unsafe vehicles with unlicensed drivers, charging workers for meals, and firing workers without cause after they refused to sign false statements. Sun Valley Orchards continues to deny the claims and states that they will appeal.

Appropriations Deadline Pushed to December 20th

Congress recently extended the continuing resolution (CR) for FY 2019, which was set to expire on November 21, to December 20. The CR was sent to President Trump on November 21, and he signed the extension that evening. Many expect arguments over border wall funding to play a significant role in passing a full FY 2020 budget.   

Correction from 11/12 Farmworker Justice Update - In the last update, regarding the H-2A program, we stated, “This year saw only 57 denials of the 1,974 applications submitted;” however, that information was for Quarter 4 of the H-2A data not 2019 as a whole. The percentage of applications approved for FY 2019 was 96%.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Children Working in Agriculture Unprepared for Risks

            Research from a variety of sources outlines the dangers children face in agricultural work. They do not receive adequate safety training, and as a result, more children die in agriculture than in any other industry. On June 20, Rep. Roybal-Allard introduced the “Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety of 2019’’ or the ‘‘CARE Act of 2019,” H.R. 3394, with the hope of improving conditions for children and closing some of the discriminatory exemptions from child labor rules available to agricultural employers.

Farmworker Justice Update: 11/13/19

 

Farm Workforce Modernization Act Introduced

            On October 30, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA), introduced the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.” This bipartisan legislation, H.R. 5038,  was the result of complex negotiations between members of Congress, farmworker advocates, including the UFW, UFW Foundation, and Farmworker Justice, and agricultural employer organizations.   

Of utmost importance, the legislation would recognize the important contributions of farmworkers to our nation's food and agriculture systems. It would eliminate the constant fear of deportation by enabling hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their immediate family members to obtain a lawful immigration status and a pathway to citizenship. At least half of the nation’s roughly 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. With legal status and a path to citizenship, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and challenge serious labor abuses. This would result in a more stable farm labor force, and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.

The bill also would revise the existing H-2A visa program to address some farm worker and employer concerns with the program. Farmworker advocates have pressed for reforms to reduce widespread abuses under this flawed program, while agricultural employers have lobbied heavily to remove most of its modest labor protections. The compromise codifies many of the existing protections in the program and includes some important new protections for farmworkers, but also contains various difficult concessions that were made in order to reach a bi-partisan agreement. Because the bill, if passed, would improve significantly the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members, Farmworker Justice supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.  We urge you to contact your Members of Congress and ask them to support the bill.

DACA Goes to the Supreme Court

            On November 12, the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was heard in the Supreme Court. Farmworker Justice stands with all recipients of DACA and joined an amicus brief challenging the Trump administration’s rescissions of the program and highlighting the DACA enrollee’s reliance interest in the DACA program.

November 21 Appropriations Deadline Approaching

November 21 marks the deadline for the current continuing budget resolution, which was passed at the end of September.  According to reports, Congress is expected to extend the deadline for another month, until approximately Dec. 20.

DOL Releases Fourth Quarter H-2A Data

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released 2019 fourth quarter data on the H-2A program. The program’s growth continues, with an increase of 10.8%, bringing the H-2A program to a record 257,666 worker positions certified for FY 2019. Another noticeable change was that California now sits as one of the top four H-2A program users, beating out North Carolina, which previously held the fourth spot, by nearly 2,000 workers. The top states in descending order are Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, and North Carolina. As always, very few applications were denied. This year saw only 57 denials of the 1,974 applications submitted.

Article Highlights Lack of Overtime Pay for Farmworkers

On November 6, Civil Eats released an article highlighting the exclusion of farmworkers from overtime pay under federal law. The article notes that some states are beginning to address the discrimination farmworkers face in access to overtime pay. New York and California have both passed legislation through their state legislatures that establishes overtime pay protections for farmworkers, with California phasing in overtime pay after 40 hours a week and New York providing for overtime pay after 60 hours per week. In Washington state, a class action brought by farmworkers is challenging the exclusion of farmworkers from overtime pay as unconstitutional. The court held oral arguments on October 24th and a decision is expected in the next 4-6 months. As noted by Columbia Legal Service’s Lori Isley, “Excluding farmworkers who are doing some of the most dangerous work in our state violates their fundamental rights.”  

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Raul Grijavala re- introduced “The Fairness for Farmworkers Act,” H.R. 1080, earlier this year. Farmworker Justice supports this bill.  

Workers’ Rights Advocates Look to Chobani to Improve Dairy Farm Conditions

            On November 5, Forbes wrote about the conditions on dairy farms and the attempts to bring the yogurt company Chobani into efforts to improve labor rights for dairy workers. Dairy workers experience dangerous conditions on the job with long hours, low pay and few benefits, and no access to protections such as overtime pay (unless, as noted above, farmworkers are in one of the few states that provide any overtime protections to farmworkers). Organizers in New York are attempting to unionize workers to improve conditions, and they are hoping that Chobani, as a large buyer of dairy products, will step in to demand better conditions on the farms from which they purchase products. Chobani entered into an agreement with Fair Trade USA to address issues regarding dairy farmworkers, but the unions criticized the FTUSA system as weak on worker empowerment.  Separately, Chobani demurred on getting directly involved in New York state politics to help pass the farmworker labor law (S.6578) that was passed last session, but they are in the process of rolling out their Milk Matters plan by 2025, which includes workers’ rights.   

El Salvador TPS Holders Receive One Year Work Visa Extension

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted to individuals from a country where it is temporarily unsafe for them to return for reasons such as natural disaster or war. Following action by the Trump administration to end TPS status for many countries, despite ongoing safety issues in the countries, the administration was enjoined in October 2018 from ending TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Following that, USCIS published a notice earlier this year with plans to follow the court order but still end the program for the above countries.      

On October 28, El Salvador and the U.S. announced an agreement regarding TPS holders in the United States. The U.S. will extend TPS status for those from El Salvador for one year, moving the ending deadline to January 2, 2021. Other countries including Haiti, Sudan, Honduras, Nepal, and Nicaragua are also currently protected until 2021, but that protection could end as soon as six months after the abovementioned injunction is lifted if the administration wins the pending court case.   

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

EPA Announces Proposed Changes to the AEZ  

            On November 1, the EPA published a proposal to reduce the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ), which is a buffer zone around pesticide applications meant to help avoid human contact, either directly or through drift. The proposed rule would restrict the AEZ to just within the farm owner’s property as well as exempt certain individuals, such as the farm owner’s family members and easement workers, from certain AEZ protections. This change puts workers and bystanders at increased risk. Fields are often close to each other or to public areas, and refusing to acknowledge that workers and others can be close by while not strictly on the property being sprayed, will likely lead to increased exposures.

California Fires Disrupt and Endanger Farmworkers

            In late October, a wildfire started in Sonoma County leaving hundreds of farmworkers without homes and wages. The large wildfires growing increasingly common in California are also endangering farmworkers’ health. The advice given to residents during times of high smoke is to remain indoors and limit exertion, but that is almost impossible when the work is in the fields lifting heavy boxes of grapes and other agricultural products. California failed to pass a smoke protection act in the previous session, but the state did put in emergency protections in July. These protections require an employer to check the air quality before and during work, and if it rises above a certain threshold the employer must either move the workers or provide smoke masks. However, the masks make breathing difficult. After the fire erupted, officials allowed growers to harvest the last of their grapes. Advocates worried that farmworkers, who are mainly Spanish speakers, were not receiving adequate safety information. Earlier this year, Senator Merkley introduced the federal Farmworker Smoke Protection Act of 2019 (S. 1815), which would provide protections to farmworkers in such emergencies. Farmworker Justice supports this bill.      

The Department of State Released a Proposed Rulemaking on Public Charge

            On October 10, the Department of State (DOS) published an interim final rule to align the requirements on U.S. foreign consulates with those finalized by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this year. The DHS rule is currently enjoined, but that ruling does not directly affect this rulemaking. DOS revised its Foreign Affairs Manual last year, and it does not appear that the agency has plans to repeal those changes in favor of this new rule. Farmworker Justice submitted comments.

ACA Health Insurance Open Enrollment

            Open enrollment for 2020 health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplaces opened on November 1 and runs through December 15 in most states. Lawfully present farmworkers, including H-2A workers and their families are eligible to enroll in health insurance coverage through the marketplace and for tax credits and cost-sharing reductions to reduce their monthly premiums and co-pays. While there is no longer a federal tax penalty for those who do not have health insurance, some states do have a tax penalty in effect. For more information about health insurance options, go to healthcare.gov or your state’s marketplace website. Materials for farmworkers on the ACA can be found on FJ’s website. We also encourage you to reach out to your local health center where there are certified enrollment assisters who can help enroll interested farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice Update: 10/21/19

 

H-2A International Recruitment Fraud Puts Workers into Debt

Under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program, it is unlawful for recruiters to charge recruitment fees to workers. Nevertheless, it is all too common for recruiters in the H-2A program to charge workers high fees in exchange for connecting them with potential employment in the United States. Moreover, fraud and misrepresentation are also common problems, with workers facing scams and costs associated with employment opportunities that never materialize. Last January, more than a hundred people in Guatemala fell victim to one such scam, paying thousands of dollars over a year, only to arrive at the U.S. Embassy and find out they had been scammed. The fraud and other abuses in the H-2A program are particularly significant as the U.S. government has sought to promote the H-2A program in response to the migration crisis in Guatemala. Essentially, the U.S. government is taking steps to funnel potential migrants into the exploitative worker-2A program, rather than addressing the humanitarian crisis causing individuals to flee their home countries and ensuring our asylum and refugee systems work as they are intended to. The H-2A program is not an immigration program- it is a temporary visa program with no path to immigration status or citizenship. The H-2A program is a flawed and abusive program and will not help migrants seeking to build a stable life in a safe country away from persecution. 

California Law Creates Opportunities for More Farmworker Housing

On October 7, California Governor Newsom signed AB 1783 into law. The new law sets forth standards and resources to build new farmworker housing in rural communities. The law has two parts. First, it subsidizes farmers who build housing on their land. The housing will be run by a third party and must remain affordable for 35 years. The second part of the law prohibits the funds from being used to build dormitory housing, which is the type of housing often favored by employers to house H-2A workers. H-2A workers can use the new housing units, but the style of housing must not emulate that of a bunkhouse. Agricultural producers oppose the new law. Meanwhile, worker advocates believe that more housing could help ease the housing shortage currently plaguing rural America.

November Appropriations Deadline Approaching as Funding Deal Remains Elusive

November 21 marks the deadline for when the continuing resolution passed at the end of September, which extends funding for FY 2019, is set to end. Congress must either pass another continuing resolution or a budget for FY 2020 by that date. Farmworker Justice continues to monitor the appropriations process given our concern about a harmful rider on the House FY 2020 DHS appropriations bill, which would expand the H-2A program to year round agricultural employment.  As of today, no funding agreements have been made public.  

DACA Recipients Encouraged to Renew Status before Supreme Court Hearing

On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear whether DACA will continue protecting individuals who came to the U.S. as children. Advocates strongly encourage  individuals to renew their status as soon as possible to make sure they are better protected from a potentially adverse Supreme Court decision. Farmworker Justice joined other advocates in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court supporting DACA recipients.

Former Acting DHS Head McAleenan Departs Agency

On October 11, Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced his resignation. McAleenan never received Senate confirmation after he assumed the position following former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure in April 2019.  During his tenure as Acting Secretary, McAleenan implemented some of President Trump’s most hardline policies including reducing the number of migrants allowed in the country through the remain in Mexico policy, allowing a historically low number of refugees into the country, rolling out the public charge rule, and ending the policy of releasing immigrant families from detention into the U.S. McAleenan tried to distance himself from President Trump’s policies even as the agency he oversaw implemented them. Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ken Cuccinelli is the leading candidate to take over the position. Cuccinelli recently made national news by suggesting that the famous poem found on the Statute of Liberty was intended to mean that only immigrants who can “stand on your own two feet” are welcome into the United States.

 

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

Several Courts Issue Injunctions Stopping Implementation of Public Charge Rule  

The Trump administration’s final public charge rule is currently prohibited from implementation as a result of litigation. The rule was slated to go into effect on October 15, but on October 11, three injunctions went into effect across the country, followed by two more the following week.

The first nationwide injunction came from the Southern District of New York on October 11. The plaintiffs in that case are five organizations that work to aid immigrants, as well as the governments of New York, New York City, Connecticut, and Vermont. The same day, a U.S. District Court in Washington also granted a nationwide injunction. The plaintiffs in that case are Washington and 13 other states: Virginia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

Also on October 11, a judge in California issued a more limited injunction applicable to San Francisco city and county, Santa Clara county, California, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Maine, and Pennsylvania, or to anyone who is part of a household that includes a person from those areas. Farmworker Justice was one of the plaintiffs in this action. Overall, the case included three different actions including several advocacy organizations and government entities.

Soon after, on October 15, an Illinois federal judge issued a similarly limited preliminary injunction, applicable only in Illinois, while a judge in Maryland issued another nationwide injunction on the rule.

Given that several of the injunctions issued have nationwide applicability, the public charge rule cannot currently be implemented anywhere in the country, unless and until the nationwide injunction is lifted. For a summary of the final public charge rule and its potential impact on farmworkers, please visit our website.

State Department Issues Related Public Charge Rule

Meanwhile, also on October 11, the State Department issued a proposed rule on public charge, meant to provide guidance to consular offices around the world about how to implement the DHS public charge rule discussed above. The State Department public charge rule will impose the same factors on immigrants applying to enter the U.S., aligning the State Department’s definition of public charge with the DHS public charge rule. Comments on this proposed rule are due November 12.

President Trump Issues a Proclamation Requiring Health Insurance to Enter the Country

On October 4, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation stating that starting November 4, 2019 individuals seeking to immigrate to the U.S., who do not have health insurance or the ability to pay their medical bills, will be denied entry. Farmworker Justice does not believe that it will affect H-2A workers or other nonimmigrant visa applicants.    

California Reaches Agreement Banning the Sale and Use of Chlorpyrifos

Starting on February 6, 2020 chlorpyrifos will no longer be available for sale in California. Corteva Agriscience (Dow Dupont’s agricultural division), which is the maker of chlorpyrifos, recently reached an agreement with the state of California, in which the company agreed that they will no longer sell the pesticide in the state. Growers will no longer be able to possess or use the chemical as of December 31, 2020. Chlorpyrifos has been linked to brain damage in children while also raising environmental justice concerns as it mainly effects disadvantaged communities. After the California agreement became public, New York advocates reiterated their call for Governor Cuomo to finally sign a bill passed in the New York legislature this past session that would ban chlorpyrifos in the state. As of today, Gov. Cuomo still has not signed the bill. In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to pass legislation banning chlorpyrifos  at the state level.  FJ is currently involved in litigation against the EPA seeking a federal chlorpyrifos ban, in accordance with the agency’s own science regarding the chemical’s toxicity.

EPA Issues Draft Risk Assessments for Paraquat

On October 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its draft risk assessments regarding Paraquat, an herbicide. In the past, scientific and health organizations have raised concerns that use of Paraquat may be linked to Parkinson’s Disease. However, in its draft risk assessment, the EPA claims that if the applicator follows the label instructions, such a risk does not exist. The risk assessment is currently open for comments, with a deadline of December 16. Earlier this year, Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) introduced “The Protect Against Paraquat Act of 2019,” H.R. 3817, which would ban the sale and use of Paraquat. FJ supports this bill.

EPA Creates Guide to Aid Translation of Pesticide Labels

On October 17, EPA announced a new guide to help manufacturers and individuals translate pesticide labels into Spanish. EPA regulations only require English labeling, but many of the individuals applying or working around pesticides are Spanish speakers. Farmworker Justice and other advocates have petitioned the EPA for years to require Spanish-language labels. While manufacturers are still not required to put Spanish labeling on their products, this guide provides a helpful tool for improving worker safety.  

Texas Has the Highest Rate of Heat Related Workplace Deaths in the Country, but the State Continues to Have No Heat Stress Protections for Workers

A recently published article in GateHouse Texas recounts a tragic incident that occurred in July 2017, when a man in his mid-twenties collapsed and later died while working on an excessively hot day. Earlier, his supervisor had denied him permission to go home even after the worker made clear that he felt ill. Texas has more heat related deaths in the workplace than any other state, but, like most states across the country, does not have adequate protections for workers against heat stress. At the federal level, OSHA has also failed to implement heat stress standards to protect workers despite calls from advocates. Meanwhile, people are dying as they work without breaks, water, and shade on hot days that will only get worse as the planet gets hotter. Representative Judy Chu’s (D-CA) bill, “The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act of 2019” H.R. 3668, which directs OSHA to institute protections for workers from heat stress was introduced a few months ago in the House. FJ supports this bill.

Farmworker Justice Update: 09/27/19

Farmworker Justice and Other Advocates Submitted Comments to the DOL Regarding Proposed H-2A Program Changes

           On September 24, Farmworker Justice and many other organizations and advocates responded to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) published request for comments to proposed changes to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program (the notice published in the Federal Register in July). The DOL proposed many changes to the H-2A program, including a new calculation for wage rates, shifting some transportation costs to workers, expanding the program to pine straw and reforestation workers, weakening recruitment requirements for U.S. workers and allowing employer applications with staggered entry dates for guestworkers, among many other proposed changes.

Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) Released H-2A Quarterly Report

            OFLC’s third quarter report on the H-2A program is now available. While the FY 2018-’19 growth rate for the third quarter was slower than that from FY 2017-’18, DOL still certified a record 82,776 H-2A workers for this quarter. Theories for the slowing growth rate of the program include that use of the program is maturing and that this was a particularly tough harvest year.   

DOL Released Final Rule on Their Proposal to Switch From Newspapers to Online Recruitment

On September 20, DOL published its final rule on modernizing recruitment requirements in the Federal Register. In order to qualify for H-2A workers, an employer must demonstrate that no U.S. workers are available for the job, and as part of this process, DOL has certain recruitment requirement that employers must fulfill. The new rule switches from a requirement that employers advertise available positions in a newspaper to an electronic system managed by DOL. The agency will publish employer job notices on their new online system, SeasonalJobs.dol.gov. The agency will also instruct state workforce agencies to pass the job openings to organizations that provide employment and training services to workers who are likely to apply for the jobs, and/or to place written notices at physical locations where such workers are likely to gather. A concern with the new requirement is that U.S. workers may not know about the online system, so the DOL must reach out to the farmworker communities letting them know of the change. The rule will go into effect on October 21.

Senate Confirmed Anti-Worker Secretary of Labor

            On September 26, the Senate confirmed a new Secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia. He has come under fire throughout his confirmation process for being pro-business and anti-worker. He has a history as an attorney representing companies seeking to avoid liability for violating employment and health and safety laws and seeking to minimize the protections under those laws. An agency intended to protect workers is now directed by an individual with a commitment to business’s positions regarding employment at the expense of workers’ law. The Senate confirmed Scalia on a 53-44 vote.   

A Federal Judge Put a Temporary Stay on a DOL Ordered 50% Wage Increase for Blueberry Pickers

On September 5, a federal judge blocked a wage increase that had been ordered by the DOL for Washington blueberry pickers. The employees at Zirkle farm were to receive a wage increase from 50 to 75 cents per pound. Zirkle sued in the U.S. Court of Eastern Washington, claiming that the wage increase was too much of a burden, and it would have to leave blueberries in the field and eliminate hand picking from future harvests, which would put farmworkers out of work. The injunction will stay in place until the conclusion of the trial. 

  

Update on Farmworker Health and Safety

After Years of Decreased USDA Oversight, Rural Public Housing is Falling Apart

On September 23, NBC News released a story detailing the crumbling conditions of the Okeechobee Center in Belle Glade, Florida. The public housing is meant for farmworkers and falls under USDA jurisdiction. However, the building is in decrepit condition with mold, holes in the walls and ceilings, and insects and rodent infestations. Over the years, USDA oversight has loosened as priorities and resources shifted away from the housing inspection program. The property managers submitted a plan earlier this year to the agency on how they would improve the conditions, but part of the plan included a rent increase on the residents. Farmworkers put food on America’s table and deserve to have safe, clean housing for themselves and their families.   

Pesticide Exposure Makes Around One Hundred Workers Sick in California Fields

            This June, around 100 California farmworkers were exposed to pesticides in two separate incidents. While the number of affected workers is high, what is even more troubling is the ongoing fear that workers feel. When they are exposed, many workers feel that they will die, and they worry that the effects will be permanent. In California, safety policy enforcement is up to the counties, and incidents rates are going up. There was a 10% increase from 2014 to 2015 as the latest published numbers.

Fighting for Farmworkers & Our Environment: NHLA & Farmworker Justice Statements on EPA Nomination and Proposed Pesticide Applicator Rules

Latino Leaders Oppose the Confirmation of E. Scott Pruitt to the Position of Administrator of the EPA

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 of the nation’s preeminent Latino advocacy organizations, unanimously adopted a motion, presented by the Hispanic Federation, opposing the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing his long record working to undermine the environmental protections and enforcement entrusted to this vital agency.

The mission of the EPA and its administrator is to protect public health and safeguard our environment. However, over the past five years, Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt has used his position to repeatedly attack crucial clean air and clean water protections to the detriment of the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

As Latino leaders we have cause to be particularly troubled by this choice. Asthma and other respiratory diseases are more prevalent in Latinos living in inner cities near polluting power plants, truck routes, and factories. Latinos also make up a disproportionately large number of the workers in agricultural field occupations, where they are exposed to health hazards, bad air quality, and economic impacts of extreme weather. Meanwhile Latino children are more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children, and many states that are home to the country’s largest Latino communities are ground zero for the impacts of climate change, including extreme heat, drought, and sea level rise.

“Our communities strongly support efforts to reduce air, water, and climate pollution, and we support policies that cre ate good paying clean energy jobs,” said Hispanic Federation President, José Calderón. “With millions of Americans negatively impacted by air pollution, water pollution, and climate change, we simply can’t afford to have an administrator who doesn’t believe in the value of protecting our environment,” continued Calderón.

“EPA plays an important role in protecting agricultural workers and their families from exposure to pesticides and other toxins. We need an EPA administrator who will work hard to protect the health of the agricultural communities that are a vital part of the social and economic fabric of American rural communities,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice.

Nine in 10 Latinos want action on climate, while 97 percent of Latino voters agree we have a moral obligation to take care of our environment. We now look to the Senate to ensure that the next leader of EPA is someone one who will advance environmental and health protections for Latinos and for all Americans.

Farmworker Justice’s Statement on EPA’s Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule

Farmworker Justice is pleased that the EPA has published important changes to regulations that govern the certification, training and supervision of individuals who apply high-risk pesticides. The Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule (40 CFR 171), which has not been updated in nearly 40 years, provides national competency standards for those who may purchase and apply ‘restricted use pesticides’ (RUPs). A pesticide is classified as restricted if it poses heightened risk to people or the environment.

The new rule imposes stricter standards to protect human health and the environment and reduce risk to those applying pesticides. Currently there is wide variance among state certification and training programs for pesticide applicators, and requirements for supervision of non-certified applicators. We are hopeful that the new national standards will provide greater consistency in the knowledge and competency of applicators across the nation. In addition, those who apply pesticides aerially or by fumigation will have to demonstrate competency to use these application methods which pose high risk to applicators, farmworkers and surrounding communities.

Many farmworkers applying RUPs are non-English speaking, non-certified applicators who are applying these chemicals “under the supervision” of certified applicators. These are the applicators that are the most vulnerable to occupational injury from pesticide exposure. The vast majority are unable to read the application instructions and safety information printed on the pesticide labels, which are almost entirely in English. Although we are disappointed that the EPA does not require pesticide labels to have bilingual content, the revised rule requires supervisors to provide to non-certified applicators the label information about safety precautions and detailed use instructions in a manner and language that the non-certified applicator can understand. The revised rule also includes improved standards for supervision, establishes a minimum age of 18 for applicators, and requires non-certified applicators to receive pesticide handler and safety training in a language they understand.

We hope that the improved regulation will result in greater awareness by pesticide applicators of the risks they face, stronger protections from exposure, and ultimately, fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

Take action to support farmworkers in the UK

Despite massive national and international opposition, the UK Government is pushing ahead with its plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) which sets minimum pay and conditions for farmworkers. The existence of the Agricultural Wages Board ensures that agricultural workers know that there is a system in place to help them exercise their rights and address power imbalances between rural workers and employers.

The U.S. based agricultural workers’ union Unite, has this week stepped up protests and actions in solidarity. We ask that you also step up to protect workers' rights for all farmworkers.

The action is not limited to UK residents so please take a moment to add your name to the international petition.

http://iuf.org/cgi-bin/campaigns/show_campaign.cgi?c=740 

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