Latest News

Below are our latest news on important news and events relating to policy changes and issues affecting farmworkers and their families.

May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018

For Immediate Release

Farmworker Justice Statement on Cabinet Announcement of H-2A Program “Modernization”

This afternoon, Secretary of Agriculture Perdue, Secretary of Labor Acosta, Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen, and Secretary of State Pompeo issued a joint statement announcing that their Departments are working in coordination to “streamline, simplify and improve” the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. The announcement does not specify what changes may be made to the H-2A program, nor a timeline for any proposed changes.

Farmworker Justice is concerned that this announcement portends that the Administration will be engaging in rulemaking to eliminate or otherwise reduce the H-2A program’s limited but critically important protections.  Based on the announcement’s one-sided focus of delivering “for American farmers” as well as the current Administration’s ties to agribusiness interests and focus on anti-immigrant, anti-worker and anti-regulatory actions, Farmworker Justice fears the upcoming changes to “simplify” or “streamline” the H-2A program could include changes that would reduce obligations for agricultural employers to effectively recruit U.S. workers, lower farmworkers’ wages and working conditions, and weaken government oversight of the program. 

While agribusiness has engaged in an aggressive campaign to critique the H-2A program’s rules and requirements, these modest requirements were put into place based on lessons learned from past guestworker programs. The protections are intended to ensure that U.S. workers do not face displacement and that the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers aren’t adversely impacted by the ability of employers to bring in unlimited numbers of captive visa workers from abroad.  In fact, the existing protections are inadequate and they need to be strengthened, not weakened. Just last week, the Department of Justice indicted several individuals for committing fraud and abuse under the H-2A program, and there have been various recent cases of violations of the program’s protections, including wage theft, inhumane housing conditions and discrimination against U.S. workers. The statement includes language regarding the need to reinforce “the program’s strong employment and wage protections for the American workforce.” We hope this is a true commitment and not a ploy to mollify the “America first” audience.

Today’s announcement includes no mention or recognition of the immigrant farmworkers who work every day to tend and harvest our nation’s abundant food supply. Farmworkers are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity, not commodities to be imported cheaply or “streamlined” in the service of employers’ bottom lines. Moreover, the announcement fails to recognize the devastation that the Trump administration’s harsh immigration enforcement actions are having on farmworker families and communities. Immigration reform with a path to citizenship is urgently needed, but it must be fair, humane and respectful of farmworkers and their family members.

www.farmworkerjustice.org

April 27, 2018

For Immediate Release— April 9, 2018          

Contact:

Virginia Ruiz, Farmworker Justice director of occupational and environmental health, 202-800-2520 [email protected]

Carrie Apfel, Earthjustice staff attorney, 202-667-4500 ext.4310

Washington, D.C.— Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to turn over communications between EPA and interest groups related to the anticipated gutting of pesticide safeguards that protect farmworkers, families, and communities from toxic chemicals.

The lawsuit demands the release of documents reflecting communications between EPA and representatives of the agricultural and chemical industries that occurred after the Trump Administration took office, as well as notes from a meeting of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Program’s Federal Advisory Committee that preceded EPA’s decision to revisit crucial protections in the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule (CPA Rule).

“Scott Pruitt’s EPA has shown time and time again a complete disregard for rules and regulations that we know protect farmworkers and their families. These documents may be key to understanding why EPA suddenly decided to reject safeguards that it took decades to study and approve,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “The fact is, there is no justification for delaying common-sense measures to prevent pesticide poisonings and deaths.”

Last December, Trump’s EPA signaled it would review recent improvements to the WPS and CPA Rule, particularly updates that prohibit employers from requiring children to work with pesticides, provide farmworkers with better access to information about the pesticides to which they are exposed, and protect untrained workers from direct exposure to pesticides. Farmworker and public health organizations expect EPA to officially propose gutting these safeguards later this year.

Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA for the records in late December, days after EPA announced its intention to revisit these protections. The request went unanswered. Now, these groups are asking the court to order EPA to provide the documents within 20 business days.

“The WPS and CPA Rule are tremendously important safeguards that will protect 2.5 million farmworkers, nearly 1 million pesticide applicators, and countless families from pesticide exposure. Yet EPA is planning to gut them,” said Carrie Apfel, staff attorney for Sustainable Food & Farming Program at Earthjustice. “Farmworkers and their families have a right to know who EPA met with and what was discussed leading up to this terrible decision.”

The updated WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for most workers who mix, load, and apply pesticides, provides farmworkers the right to request pesticide information via a designated representative, and mandates that pesticide application stops if an untrained worker is likely to be hit by pesticide spray or drift. The revised CPA Rule improves the quality of training materials, and says unless exempted, certified pesticide applicators must be at least 18 years old.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, comes less than a month after the same district court ruled EPA had illegally delayed implementation of the CPA Rule last summer.

 

April 27, 2018

Farmworker Justice  March 22, 2018

In a major win for farmworker and health groups, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Wednesday, March 21, 2018 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Administrator Scott Pruitt illegally delayed implementation of key pesticide safety rules regarding “restricted-use pesticides” (RUP’s) – the most toxic class of pesticides -- applied by certified pesticide applicators.

Virginia Ruiz of FJ is co-counsel with Earthjustice attorneys.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Farmworker Association of Florida, United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Pesticide Action Network North America.  The case is PCUN v. Pruitt, 17-cv-03434.

The revision by the Obama Administration of the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) Rule prevents minors from applying restricted-use pesticides and also improves the quality of training materials, and says certified pesticide applicators must be able to read and write. The main purpose of the CPA rule is to protect workers and the public from poisonings, by ensuring that those who handle the most dangerous pesticides are properly trained and certified.

After years of reviews, EPA published the revised CPA Rule in the last days of the Obama Administration.

But the then-incoming Trump Administration quickly delayed the rule, as it placed a mandatory freeze on all regulations coming out of federal agencies. The move prompted health-promotion and farmworker organizations represented by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice to file suit.

The federal judge, Jeffrey S. White, agreed that there was no valid justification for delaying common sense measures to prevent pesticide poisonings and deaths and that the agency and Pruitt violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which concerns federal regulatory actions, including by failing to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking.

The court declared the original March 6, 2017 effective date of the CPA rule as the effective date, making its ruling effective immediately.  The ruling comes three months after the EPA said it wants to revise crucial parts of the CPA rule (to weaken it) It’s still unclear when the EPA will open the proposed changes for public comments.

According to the EPA, there are about one million certified applicators nationwide. Before delaying implementation, the agency said the revised rule could prevent some 1,000 acute poisonings every year.

Now the EPA must work with state agencies to revise the certification processes for applicators of restricted use pesticides to implement the new safety standards.  The defendants have the right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

We continue our advocacy and litigation on other actions by the Trump EPA and Pruitt to weaken pesticide safety standards that prevent pesticide exposure to farmworkers and their children.