Farmworker Justice Statement on Bipartisan Senate Immigration Principles

Farmworker Justice commends efforts by eight Senators to reach an immigration policy solution that would grant a road map to citizenship for eleven million undocumented people in this country. "After years of delay that have harmed farmworkers and their families, we see the potential for positive immigration reform but recognize that much work lies ahead to achieve legislation that respects the people who grow and harvest our fruits and vegetables," said Farmworker Justice’s President Bruce Goldstein. “We are pleased that the Senators’ statement of principles specifically recognizes the valuable contributions to the nation by agricultural workers who perform ‘very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages.’”

Read moreFarmworker Justice Statement on Bipartisan Senate Immigration Principles

Thank You for Supporting Farmworker Justice

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With your assistance we have made important progress in helping farmworkers and their families live better lives.
With warm holiday wishes for a happy New Year from all of us here at Farmworker Justice.

Victory for Farmworkers: Florida Potato Grower Charged with Labor Trafficking Agrees to Settlement

 A Florida potato grower charged with labor trafficking violations for employing homeless, drug-addicted men recruited from the streets of Jacksonville has reached a settlement in federal court with the workers and agreed to reform its labor contracting procedures.

A complaint filed against Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm and farm labor contractor Ronald Uzzle by Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services in April accused Bulls-Hit and the contractor of taking advantage of the workers’ drug dependencies to provide Bulls-Hit with a compliant and low-cost workforce.
The settlement agreed to by Bulls-Hit owner Thomas R. Lee and submitted to the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville entitles the workers to back-pay for the duration of their employment at Bulls-Hit. Lee has also agreed to reform a number of employment practices, including paying workers directly rather than by channeling money through a contractor, and retaining only reputable licensed contractors.

Litigation against the labor contractor, with whom Bulls-Hit has severed ties, is ongoing.
“Abusive treatment of workers is far too common in modern agriculture,” said Farmworker Justice’s Director of Litigation, Weeun Wang. “The men and women working to put food on our tables deserve better. The litigation achieved an important goal by holding the grower accountable for the labor violations and not allowing it to use the labor contractor as a shield against liability.”

The complaint filed in April alleged that the contractor took the workers to a squalid, overcrowded labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs, and made to work under virtual servitude conditions. Bulls-Hit was previously sued in 2004 when using a different labor contractor for similar abuses, including preying on vulnerable homeless workers, feeding their drug addictions and driving them into debt.
 

Farmworker Justice Celebrates Food Day 2012

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Food Day is an opportunity to celebrate real food and the growing movement to fix the food system that includes addressing the working and safety conditions of farmworkers.

Food Day is a chance to celebrate what our food system does right, and take action to bring us closer to a food system with “real food” that is produced with care for the environment, animals, and the women and men who grow, harvest, and serve it. Food Day’s priorities are to:
• Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers
• Promote safer, healthier diets
• Supporting sustainable and organic farms
• Reduce hunger
• Reform factory farms to protect the environment


Farmworker Justice was excited to be a part of the planning process for Food Day and share with the public the contributions that agriculture and farmworkers make to local communities. Food Day is not just a day-long event, but an opportunity to make a permanent change that supports a more sustainable and healthy future for farmworkers and the public.

Learn more about the Food Day Movement at www.foodday.org

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: United to End AIDS

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A letter from Ramon Ramierz, Chair of Board of Directors. National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) was established in response to the impact of HIV and AIDS in the Hispanic/Latino communities and serves as a national community mobilization and social marketing campaign that unites Latinos in efforts to raise HIV awareness. This year’s theme “Hispanics United to End AIDS! Get tested for HIV” provides me, as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Farmworker Justice , an opportunity to reflect on the HIV/AIDS prevention work FJ has been engaged in since 1998 while also fortifying my personal commitment to seeing the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We first began developing its HIV work after hosting a National Farmworker Women’s Conference where farmworker women identified HIV/AIDS as a serious concern in their lives. Seeing Farmworker Justice’s HIV programs expand to include coalition building for rural HIV prevention, community mobilization training, and capacity building assistance reassures me that we are working hard to address the health issues farmworker communities face.

 

HIV/AIDS is a serious concern for all communities and especially farmworker communities due to their limited access to health care. In comparison to other Latino groups and the U.S. population as a whole, migrant workers are at increased risk for this disease. Few farmworkers have employer-provided or government-subsidized health insurance. Additionally, language barriers, illiteracy and the difficulties of a highly-mobile lifestyle conspire to impede migrants' access to HIV prevention information and services.

It is my great honor to lead the Farmworker Justice Board and to support the work of the Health team at Farmworker Justice. Together, we can stop the spread of this epidemic. If you are one of the more than half of US adults that have never been tested for HIV, now is the time to get tested– for you, your family, and your community.

Ramon Ramirez, PCUN

Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Oregon's Farmworker Union)

Farmworker Justice’s Socially Responsible Wine Tasting: Join us on November 14th

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Our annual wine tasting enables our friends and supporters to come together for an enjoyable evening. It is also an engaging way for Farmworker Justice to promote wines from companies where farmworkers have a voice, receive fair wages and work under safe conditions. This year, we will drink a toast to two longtime farmworker advocates who are retiring from our Board of Directors, Gene Ortega of New Mexico and Humberto Fuentes of Idaho.

Wednesday, November 14th from 6pm to 8:30pm

1126 16th Street, NW Washington, DC

Sponsorship Opportunities still available, learn more here.

Individual tickets are available for $90.

Farmworker Justice Applauds Establishment of New César E. Chávez National Monument

Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for the rights of farmworkers, today praised President Obama’s dedication of a new monument to civil rights and labor leader César E. Chávez in Keene, California.

Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, made the following statement:

“The death of César Chávez in 1993 left a void in the hearts of thousands of Americans. It’s only fitting that we honor his legacy with the dedication of this national monument. Mr. Chávez brought unprecedented hope and unity to the unrepresented, mostly immigrant workers in this nation’s bountiful agricultural sector. His progressive ideals, organizing skills and activism empowered farmworkers to win significant improvements in their wages and working conditions and in workers’ rights. His optimism inspired tens of thousands of farmworkers to truly believe in his slogan, ‘Si, se puede,’ or “Yes, we can.”

The Chávez monument on the National Register of Historic Places will educate future generations about the important struggles to achieve justice for all Americans and serve as a symbol of hope to those who dream of one day creating a better life for themselves in the United States of America.

For all the progress Mr. Chávez helped create, the monument is also a reminder of the many challenges for farmworkers which lie ahead. While the United Farm Workers, co-founded by Mr. Chávez and Dolores Huerta, helped usher in a new era for farmworkers’ rights, farmworkers remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalized workforces in the nation. The men and women working to put food on America’s tables deserve the best from our country and we will continue to fight for their rights.”

EPA Bans Sale of AZM: AZM Exposure has Poisioned Farmworkers & Familes

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reconfirmed that all sales of the pesticide azinphos-methyl (AZM) will be banned after September 30, 2012. AZM is a highly neurotoxic insecticide that attacks the human brain and nervous system. However, while AZM can no longer be sold or distributed, stocks purchased prior to that time can be used up until September 30, 2013 due to growers having a backlog of the pesticide due to unusual weather patterns, the EPA said.

In 2004, farmworkers and environmental groups represented by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice sued the EPA for allowing the continued use of AZM, despite numerous poisonings every year of workers and people who live near the fields. To settle the lawsuit, the EPA agreed to consider alternatives to AZM and the toll it takes on people and to reconsider allowing its continued use. In November 2006, EPA decided that the harm to workers and families is so great that all uses of AZM must be phased out by September 30, 2012, and it required reduced usage and additional protections for workers during the phase-out period.

EPA gave industry and growers an opportunity to make the case for continuing AZM uses. It reviewed new information and arguments made, but today confirmed that the harm to people is still too great to allow this nerve poison to be used on our crops. The last uses of AZM to be eliminated are on apples, cherries, pears, blueberries, and parsley. The highest uses occur in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, and New York.

Earthjustice Vice President Patti Goldman, who represented the farmworkers in court, applauded the end of the use of AZM: “This deadly chemical is far too harmful to be used on our food. It has taken us going to court to force the EPA to protect the American people from this deadly chemical. AZM will be off the market in a month and out of the air and our food in one year. It has taken too long but we will finally see the end of this nasty pesticide.”

Virginia Ruiz with Farmworker Justice said: “Unfortunately AZM can still be used for one more year, so farmworkers and their families will still be subject to the harmful effects of this pesticide. We’re deeply disappointed that growers can still purchase this poison for another month and then use it for another season.”

 

Farmworker Justice’s OpEd: We’re a nation of immigrants, not ‘guests’

With the nation’s attention focused on Tampa Bay for the Republican Convention, Mitt Romney’s party has adopted a platform on immigration policy that is increasingly focused on enforcement and “self deportation.” The party also called for a new “guest worker program” to import foreign workers under temporary work visas.

But our country has already relied on marginalized guest workers for too long. It’s a system that is broken and inhumane. Guest worker programs shouldn’t be enlarged, they should be abandoned.

In agriculture, growers have long relied on immigrant labor. Currently, most farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. Many growers already import significant portions of their work force each year by requesting (through the U.S. Department of Labor) agricultural guest workers who enter the country with H-2A visas. The program is rife with abuse and offers a glimpse into the problems inherent with the any guest worker program.

Guest workers equal good business in the minds of some employers, since their visas tie the workers to a single employer, in effect, depriving them of flexibility to negotiate higher wages or better working conditions. It creates a system that gives the growers access to their idea of the ideal employee: skilled, vulnerable and inexpensive. It also leads growers to prefer guest workers over U.S. workers, which keeps wages low for everyone. The end result is an increase in profits for farmers and a decrease in job standards for the workers.

Despite these advantages, major agribusiness interests have launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to win the ability to recruit still bigger armies of agricultural guest workers at the expense of U.S. workers and to relax the wage and other modest protections guest workers currently have. Since guest workers cannot vote, growers enjoy a great political and legislative advantage.

Even before the Republicans approved their platform last week, candidate Romney issued a statement in June outlining his national immigration strategy. The Romney plan includes making the “system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers and other seasonal workers functional for both employers and immigrants.” That should be a nonstarter since a system in which vulnerable guest workers are prevalent can never be “functional” for the worker.

A large-scale guest worker program conflicts with our country’s historic concept that people who live and work in this country, native or immigrant, should be able to strive to succeed, earn the right to vote, pay taxes, raise families and settle into their communities. The foundation of our nation has always rested on the idea that we become stronger by giving those who move here to find work a chance.

What if the millions of immigrants who came through Ellis Island in the 19th and early 20th century had been given a guest worker visa and told they should expect to return to their home country?

It’s discouraging that the Republican platform identifies recruiting still more guest workers as part of the path forward on immigration policy. But the party’s embrace of guest worker expansion is in part reaction to recent complaints from constituents: Powerful growers across the country who complain of “labor shortages” on their farms. They say their crops are rotting and there aren’t enough workers available for the harvest. But what’s wrong with that picture?

Typically, when workers with particular skills are in short supply, the scarcity of those skills leads to higher pay. Growers who complain about “worker shortages” in an industry notorious for low wages and deplorable working conditions should recognize that shortages are aggravated by their insistence on maintaining high profit margins by keeping wages low. Restrictive state immigration laws like the ones passed in Georgia and Alabama make the situation worse.

Growers looking for a reliable workforce should find ways to offer better wages and working conditions rather than campaign for the importation of more exploitable guest workers. Guest worker programs should be phased out and current guest workers and other immigrant farm workers in the United States should be presented with a viable roadmap to immigration status and citizenship. We are a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guests.

Bruce Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. that works to improve living and working conditions for migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

Miami Herald, August 30, 2012