Federal Court Grants Farmworker Groups an Injunction Against U.S. Department of Labor’s Decision to Freeze Wages Under the H-2A Guestworker Program

(Washington, D.C.)  On Wednesday, a federal court in California enjoined the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to freeze, and effectively lower, several hundred thousand farmworkers’ wages employed at farms that use the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. A preliminary injunction was issued by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd in Fresno in a lawsuit filed by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the UFW Foundation, represented by Farmworker Justice and the law firm WilmerHale. The new regulation was set to take effect on December 21 and regulate wage rates beginning in January 2021.  

In announcing the new regulation, DOL estimated that nationwide H-2A guestworkers would suffer wage losses of $57 million in 2021, $139 million in 2022 and an average of $170 million annually over ten years. DOL also admitted that U.S. farmworkers (i.e., non-H-2A workers) would suffer wage losses, but made no estimates of how much those losses would be.  

The H-2A agricultural guestworker program, which allows employers to hire foreign workers on temporary visas for seasonal jobs, has been expanding rapidly in recent years.  In fiscal year 2020, the DOL approved over 275,000 H-2A positions and the State Department issued more than 204,000 H-2A visas in 2019.    

The H-2A law prohibits the DOL from approving employers‚Äô applications for guestworkers if the wage rates offered would ‚Äúadversely affect‚ÄĚ the job opportunities or wage rates of U.S. farmworkers. The principal H-2A wage protection is the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which DOL had been setting for each state based on regional average hourly wage rates for field and livestock workers combined, as determined by the USDA Farm Labor Survey (FLS).¬† This minimum wage applies to both foreign and domestic farmworkers working for H-2A employers. The DOL has been using the USDA FLS to set the H-2A AEWRs for decades because it is a measure of the current market rate wage for farmworkers.¬†¬†

In a related case, the United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its September 30 decision cancelling the FLS and the corresponding annual Farm Labor Report on which the AEWR is based.  On October 28, Judge Drozd issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting the USDA from cancelling the FLS and the annual Farm Labor Report.  In the new case against the DOL, the court noted that the USDA data will now be available to continue the former regulation’s methodology.  

The 2020 AEWRS vary by state, averaging $13.99 per hour. The AEWRs have been increasing modestly in most states in recent years based on the USDA FLS results; data for the first half of FY2020 show the rates rising by 3% from the previous year. 

The new regulation would freeze wages for 2021 and 2022 at the 2020 AEWRs (which are based on 2019 FLS wage data).  In 2023 and later years, DOL would adjust the 2020 rates by using DOL’s more general Employment Cost Index (ECI) instead of the FLS.  DOL acknowledged that ECI, a broad measure of labor wages that excludes the agriculture industry, has been rising more slowly than farmworkers’ wages.  In justifying its decision, DOL said the wage freeze would create stability and predictability for agricultural employers regarding wages.

The court ruled that the DOL’s new regulation violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act in several ways, including, by failing to comply with the legal requirement to prohibit adverse effects to farmworkers’ wages, and by selecting wage-setting methodologies that bear no relation to the farm labor market.  The court also held that the DOL violated the APA by failing to give the public notice and an opportunity for comment on its new methodology for calculating wages, which was not previewed in the preliminary rule published in July 2019. 

Because USDA had sought to cancel the FLS, the data necessary to determine the 2021 AEWR will be delayed until February 11.  In its decision to enjoin the DOL regulation, the court asked the parties to address how to prevent wage losses for farmworkers during the delay. 

Farmworkers’ wages are among the lowest of any occupation in the nation.  About one-third of farmworker households’ incomes fall below the poverty line. In the last few years, farmworkers’ wages have been rising modestly.  Judge Drozd concluded that farmworkers would be seriously and irreparably harmed in the absence of an injunction.

‚ÄúWe are very pleased that the court entered a preliminary injunction against the unjustified decision by Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to lower wage rates of several hundred thousand farmworkers.¬† Secretary Scalia‚Äôs decision to freeze farmworkers‚Äô wage rates for two years is an utterly arbitrary and unlawful act that inflicts grave harm to some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation,‚ÄĚ said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, and one of the attorneys in both lawsuits.¬†

Click here for more information regarding the DOL’s November decision on H-2A Guestworker wage-rates. Information about the H-2A program is available on our website resource center at https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/resources/h-2a.

 

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. FJ founded in 1981 is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.  For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

 

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

Eva Longoria se une a Farmworker Justice para las festividades

Washington, D.C.- En esta temporada navide√Īa, Eva Longoria y Farmworker Justice se unen para destacar el gran impacto que tienen los trabajadores agr√≠colas en la vida de todos los estadounidenses. √Ārboles de Navidad, rellenos, carnes asadas y pasteles de frutas son solo algunas de nuestras delicias navide√Īas favoritas que no estar√≠an disponibles sin los miles de trabajadores agr√≠colas de este pa√≠s.

“Este a√Īo ha sido dif√≠cil para todos, pero incluso antes del COVID-19, los trabajadores agr√≠colas trabajaban en condiciones dif√≠ciles por salarios inadecuados y est√°ndares de seguridad en el lugar de trabajo insuficientes”, dijo Bruce Goldstein, presidente de Farmworker Justice. ‚ÄúLa pandemia ha hecho que la vida de un trabajador agr√≠cola sea mucho m√°s dif√≠cil en los √ļltimos 9 meses; se estima que 269,000 trabajadores agr√≠colas han contra√≠do COVID-19 desde marzo. Tambi√©n continuaron trabajando durante los incendios forestales en California, exponi√©ndose a peligros a√ļn mayores sin el equipo de protecci√≥n personal adecuado‚ÄĚ.

A pesar de estos obstáculos, los trabajadores agrícolas han persistido y, al hacerlo, han mantenido intacta nuestra cadena de suministro de alimentos. Farmworker Justice se ha mantenido firme junto a estos trabajadores, presentando demandas y presionando a los legisladores para que brinden a nuestros trabajadores agrícolas el alivio que necesitan y merecen.

“Los trabajadores agr√≠colas de Estados Unidos trabajan en algunas de las condiciones m√°s opresivas y debemos apoyarlos a ellos y a las personas que luchan todos los d√≠as para mejorar sus vidas a trav√©s de la defensa y el sistema legal” dice Eva Longoria, actriz, productora y activista desde hace mucho tiempo en temas de inmigraci√≥n.

Eva Longoria ha estado luchando apasionadamente por los derechos de los trabajadores agr√≠colas migrantes durante a√Īos, utilizando su plataforma para educar al p√ļblico y recaudar fondos para las comunidades necesitadas. Produjo dos documentales, The Harvest (2010) y Food Chains (2014); The Harvest describe a tres ni√Īos trabajadores agr√≠colas durante las temporadas de cosecha y Food Chains profundiza en la campa√Īa por salarios justos, centr√°ndose en los trabajadores agr√≠colas en Immokalee, FL. Su trabajo de defensa la ha llevado a la Casa Blanca y al Congreso, donde ha abogado por cambios en el tratamiento de los inmigrantes en este pa√≠s.

Vea su entrevista con el presidente de Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein, sobre el estado de los trabajadores agrícolas durante el COVID-19 y el trabajo de Eva sobre el tema aquí.

√önase a Eva en esta temporada navide√Īa y done a Farmworker Justice para que podamos continuar luchando para mejorar las vidas de las comunidades de trabajadores agr√≠colas de Estados Unidos.

Puede donar visitando https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/support-farmworker-justice/

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Farmworker Justice es una organización nacional de defensa para los trabajadores agrícolas. Fundada en 1981, Farmworker Justice tiene su sede en Washington, D.C. y colabora con organizaciones en todo el país para empoderar a los trabajadores agrícolas para mejorar sus salarios, condiciones de trabajo, seguridad ocupacional, estado migratorio, salud y acceso a la justicia.

Para obtener más información, visita nuestro sitio web www.farmworkerjustice.org y síguenos en Twitter @FarmwrkrJustice.

Contacto para medios

BA Snyder
Veritas Group para Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

Eva Longoria joins Farmworker Justice for the holidays

Washington, D.C.- This holiday season, Eva Longoria and Farmworker Justice are coming together to highlight the vast impact farmworkers have on the lives of all Americans. Christmas trees, stuffings, roasted meats and fruit pies are just a few of our favorite holiday treats that wouldn’t be available without the thousands of farmworkers in this country.

‚ÄúThis year has been difficult for everybody but even before COVID-19, farmworkers worked in harsh conditions for inadequate wages and insufficient workplace safety standards.‚ÄĚ said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. ‚ÄúThe pandemic has made the life of a farmworker much more difficult in the past 9 months; an estimated 269,000 farmworkers have contracted COVID-19 since March. They also continued to work through the wildfires in California, exposing themselves to even greater dangers without adequate PPE.‚ÄĚ

Despite these obstacles, farmworkers have persisted and in doing so, they have kept our food supply chain intact. Farmworker Justice has stood firmly alongside these workers, filing lawsuits and pressing lawmakers to give our farmworkers the relief they need and deserve.

‚ÄúAmerica‚Äôs farmworkers work under some of the most oppressive conditions and we need to support them, and the folks that fight each and every day to improve their lives through advocacy and the legal system,‚ÄĚ says Eva Longoria, actress, producer and a long time activist for immigration issues.¬†

Eva Longoria has been passionately fighting for the rights of migrant farmworkers for years, using her platform to educate the public and fundraise for communities in need. She produced two documentaries, The Harvest (2010) and Food Chains (2014); The Harvest profiles three child farm workers during the harvest seasons and Food Chains delves into the campaign for fair wages, focusing on the farmworkers in Immokalee, FL. Her advocacy work has brought her to the White House and Congress where she has advocated for changes to the treatment of immigrants in this country.

Watch her interview with Farmworker Justice President, Bruce Goldstein, regarding the status of farmworkers during COVID-19 and Eva’s work on the issue here. 

Join Eva this holiday season and donate to Farmworker Justice so that we may continue to fight to improve the lives of America’s farmworker communities. 

You can donate by visiting https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/support-farmworker-justice/ 

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. Founded in 1981, Farmworker Justice is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.

For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

Farmworker Justice y EarthJustice presentan una serie de demandas contra la revocación de Zona de Exclusión de Aplicaciones (AEZ)

(Washington, D.C.) РLa semana pasada, Farmworker Justice y Earthjustice presentaron una serie de demandas contra la regla de la EPA que revisa el Estándar de Protección del Trabajador (WPS) para reducir la Zona de Exclusión de Aplicaciones (AEZ). La AEZ requiere que un radio específico alrededor del área de aplicación de pesticidas esté libre de personas mientras se aplica el pesticida. La nueva regla de la EPA reduce la zona de amortiguamiento, poniendo a los trabajadores agrícolas y otros residentes rurales en riesgo de estar expuestos a químicos tóxicos. La oficina del Fiscal General de Nueva York lidera una coalición de cinco estados en una demanda que busca revertir estos cambios.

 La regla limita la AEZ a los límites del establecimiento agrícola, aunque la deriva de pesticidas a menudo cruza los límites de la propiedad. Otros ajustes a la regla permiten la aplicación de pesticidas sin importar si los trabajadores u otras personas están en la propiedad. Anteriormente, la regulación estipulaba que solo los manipuladores de pesticidas capacitados y equipados podían estar en la propiedad durante la aplicación. Estos cambios aumentan el riesgo de exposición a pesticidas para las personas que no son trabajadores agrícolas, así como para los hogares, escuelas y hospitales cercanos.

¬†Con el pretexto de “aclarar y simplificar” las regulaciones, la EPA ha puesto a los trabajadores agr√≠colas en mayor riesgo de los efectos a corto y largo plazo de los pesticidas. Ha elegido la conveniencia de los productores por encima de la seguridad y el bienestar de las personas que producen los alimentos de esta naci√≥n.

¬†La propia EPA estima que cada a√Īo se lanzan 70 millones de libras de pesticidas a objetivos no deseados. En medio de la pandemia, una medida que exponga a m√°s personas a sustancias qu√≠micas t√≥xicas es irresponsable, peligrosa y est√° en completo desacuerdo con el mandato establecido de la EPA.

¬†El presidente de Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein, dijo ‚ÄúEl fallo de la EPA prioriza deliberadamente la conveniencia de los agricultores y pone en peligro la salud de las personas que trabajan en los campos. Las nuevas regulaciones no tienen en cuenta la deriva a√©rea de estos pesticidas que van m√°s all√° de los l√≠mites de propiedad arbitrarios. Las regulaciones anteriores deben restablecerse por la seguridad y la salud a largo plazo de los trabajadores agr√≠colas‚ÄĚ.

La nueva regla está programada para entrar en vigencia el 29 de diciembre de 2020. La coalición presentó una moción de emergencia para suspender la entrada en vigor de la regla. La audiencia para esa moción está programada para el miércoles 23 de diciembre a las 5:00 p.m. ET.

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Farmworker Justice es una organización nacional de defensa para los trabajadores agrícolas. Fundada en 1981, Farmworker Justice tiene su sede en Washington, D.C. y colabora con organizaciones en todo el país para empoderar a los trabajadores agrícolas para mejorar sus salarios, condiciones de trabajo, seguridad ocupacional, estado migratorio, salud y acceso a la justicia.

Para obtener más información, visita nuestro sitio web www.farmworkerjustice.org y síguenos en Twitter @FarmwrkrJustice.

Contacto para medios

BA Snyder
Veritas Group para Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

EarthJustice and Farmworker Justice File Complaint Against EPA’s Rollback of Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ)

(Washington, D.C.) ‚Äď Last week, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice¬†filed a series of complaints against the EPA‚Äôs rule revising the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) to reduce the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ). The AEZ requires that a specific radius around the pesticide application area be free of people while the pesticide is being applied. The new rule by the EPA shrinks the AEZ buffer zone, putting farmworkers and other rural residents at greater risk of being exposed to toxic chemicals. The New York Attorney General‚Äôs office is leading a coalition of five states in a lawsuit seeking to reverse these changes.

The rule limits the AEZ to the boundaries of the agricultural establishment, even though pesticide drift often crosses property boundaries. Other adjustments to the rule allow pesticide application regardless of whether non-employees are on a property if they are subject to easement ‚Äď in other words, if they have a right to be on the property. Previously, the regulation stipulated that only trained and equipped pesticide handlers could be on the property during application. These changes increase the risk of pesticide exposure pesticides for non-employees as well as nearby homes, schools, hospitals.

Under the guise of aiming to ‚Äúclarify and simplify‚ÄĚ the regulations, the EPA has put farmworkers at increased risk of the short- and long-term effects of pesticides. It has chosen the convenience of growers over the safety and well being of the people that produce this nation‚Äôs food.

The EPA itself estimates that 70 million pounds of pesticides blow onto unintended targets every year. In the midst of the pandemic, a move that exposes more people to toxic chemicals is irresponsible, dangerous and at complete odds with the EPA’s established mandate. 

President of Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein, says, ‚ÄúThe EPA ruling willfully prioritizes the convenience of growers while endangering the health of the people who work in the fields. The new regulations do not account for the aerial drift of these pesticides that go beyond arbitrary property lines. The previous regulations must be reinstated for the safety and long-term health of farmworkers.‚ÄĚ

The new rule is scheduled to take effect on December 29, 2020. The coalition filed an emergency motion to stay to prevent the rule from taking effect. The hearing for that motion is scheduled for Wednesday, December 23 at 5:00 pm ET. 

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. Founded in 1981, Farmworker Justice is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.

For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

U.S. President-Elect, Joe Biden Nominates Tom Vilsack for Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) ‚Äď Farmworker Justice supports the President-elect’s nomination of former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack is the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who served under President Obama‚Äôs administration.¬†

Farmworker Justice worked with Tom Vilsack during his time in the previous administration. He was the first Secretary of Agriculture to welcome farmworkers into the building to hear their concerns, a significant departure from the past and from the current administration in which the USDA views agricultural employers, but not farmworkers, as key constituents. 

Former Secretary Vilsack named a plaza at the USDA headquarters after C√©sar Ch√°vez, labor activist and leader of the United Farm Workers union. At the event, he described how being raised in an orphanage helped him recognize the ‚Äúdignity of those who for far too long were orphaned in this country because they worked the land, picked our food, processed our food and packaged our food, sacrificing under extraordinary conditions.‚ÄĚ

In 2016, in comments regarding a project to improve housing for farmworkers Vilsack praised farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants, saying,‚ÄúAmerica‚Äôs farmers, ranchers and the businesses supporting our rural communities depend on these hardworking individuals to ensure we remain a productive, food-secure nation.‚ÄĚ

Farmworker Justice looks forward to working with Vilsack again to help farmworkers improve their living and working conditions, access to safe, healthy food and infrastructure in rural communities. ‚ÄúThere is still much progress needed for farmworkers and their communities even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed these essential workers,‚ÄĚ said Farmworker Justice President, Bruce Goldstein.¬†¬†

Farmworker Justice continues to actively follow President-elect Biden’s cabinet nomination process. Farmworker Justice Supports the U.S. President-Elect’s Nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as Department of Homeland Security Secretary. We’ve expressed our views on President-elect Biden’s Nomination of California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, as Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services. 

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. FJ founded in 1981 is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.

For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

 

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

Farmworkers Must Be Prioritized for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

(Washington, D.C.) ‚Äď Federal, state and local governments and health care providers should place farmworker families among the highest priority for access to COVID-19 vaccines and make strenuous efforts to overcome barriers to access faced by farmworkers and their families.

Farmworkers have been designated essential workers and are expected to continue to work to ensure our nation’s food security and protect our economy. Farmworker communities are at the front lines of the pandemic, risking their health to ensure stability in the U.S. food supply chain. As low-income, rural, majority Latino communities, they are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 269,000 agricultural workers have contracted COVID. A recent study in the major agricultural production area of Monterey County, California found a 13% positivity rate among participating workers. 

Due to their working and living conditions, farmworkers are at substantially high risk of COVID exposure. In the fields, orchards, dairy farms, and produce packing houses, farmworkers must often work close to each other with limited access to protective equipment or sanitation supplies. Many farmworkers share transportation to and from the fields and, due to their low wages, often live in crowded, shared housing. Limited access to health care, inability to quarantine, and the lack of paid sick leave availability means that workers are more likely to work when COVID-19 positive. Unfortunately, many employers have failed to provide adequate workplace protections. Workers are also at higher risk for COVID-19 complications due to poor health outcomes, including diabetes and heart disease, among other chronic conditions.

For these reasons, it is imperative that farmworkers and their families are designated as high priority for vaccine distribution, immediately after health care workers and first responders. Vaccination strategies should be developed with farmworker communities, engaging farmworker organizations, community members, researchers, and agricultural employers to ensure widespread access and adoption. A comprehensive strategy must address the unique needs of farmworker communities and include outreach and education that is linguistically accessible and respectful of cultural values. 

Priority vaccine access is one crucial element to ensure farmworkers are able to stay healthy and continue their essential work. Other crucial elements include access to testing and treatment. Most importantly, due to their high risk of exposure at work, employers must implement workplace protections to limit COVID-19 transmission. Federal and state governments should mandate workplace protections and benefits to prevent COVID-19 and assist workers affected by the pandemic.

We rely on farmworkers for our food supply. We must prioritize their health and well-being as we aim to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. FJ founded in 1981 is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.

For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

U.S. President-Elect, Joe Biden Nominates California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services

(Washington, D.C.) ‚Äď President-elect Joe Biden announced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to hold this office.¬† Becerra‚Äôs mother was born in Mexico and his father, born in California, was raised in Mexico.¬† His father early in his career “picked crops in the fields of California” to provide for his family. Farmworker Justice collaborated with Becerra when he was a member of Congress from Los Angeles and has appreciated his recent litigation against Trump Administration policies on health, immigration and other issues affecting farmworkers.¬†¬†

Farmworker Justice supports the nomination of Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services, who could make considerable strides in helping farmworkers improve their health and access to health care. Farmworker families need and deserve more equitable and extensive access to health information and health care. We are hopeful that the Biden-Harris Administration and the DHHS under Xavier Becerra will address these critically important needs.

HHS administers the system of migrant health centers that serve farmworkers around the country but has had difficulty reaching many farmworkers who need services.  These community health centers provide primary care but generally do not offer the services of specialists. The Department plays a major role in the delivery of health services, including telehealth and applying other technological innovations. HHS funds research on health and occupational safety but much more needs to be done to learn about the challenges faced by farmworkers and their family members. 

Major decisions will be made regarding the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which are needed by farmworkers who are designated as essential workers during the pandemic and face  special risks due to their occupation, rural location, low wages, lack of health insurance, lack of paid leave, language barriers and immigration status.  

Farmworker Justice is very hopeful that through the nomination of Xavier Becerra, if confirmed, and other appointments to positions in federal positions regarding health and safety the Biden/Harris Administration will help farmworkers and their children improve their health and access to health care. ‚ÄúThere is much in Becerra‚Äôs family and professional background to provide farmworker families with hope for great progress on health,‚ÄĚ said Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein.¬†¬†

Related News:

Farmworker Justice supports the consideration of Arturo Rodriguez as a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture

Farmworker Justice Supports the U.S. President-Elect’s Nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as Department of Homeland Security Secretary

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Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. FJ founded in 1981 is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice.

For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.

Media Contact: 

BA Snyder
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
512.630.6337
BA@TheVeritasWay.com

Farmworker Justice Statement on Trump Administration Testimony by OSHA and NIOSH before the House Education and Labor Committee

Today, the leaders of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in the CDC at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services testified before the House Education and Labor Committee Subcommittee on Workforce Protections about their activities regarding worker safety and health during the COVID-19 pandemic.¬† NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, is a career official; NIOSH is primarily a research agency.¬† Loren Sweatt is the “Principal Deputy Asstant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health,” as there is no Assistant Secretary for OSHA, which adopts and enforces job safety standards.

“The Trump Administration officials utterly failed to explain in any rational sense the refusal by OSHA to issue binding occupational safety standards to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.¬† The Administration’s immoral failure of leadership is most blatantly demonstrated in the refusal to issue mandatory job safety rules to protect workers whom the Administration designated as “essential workers” in a critical economic sector,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. that has worked on job safety for farmworkers since its inception in 1981.

Farmworkers have been designated “essential workers” by the Trump Administration and state governments, and the agriculture and food system has been designated as a critical infrastructure sector.¬† There are approximately 2.5 million farmworkers; they continue to be among the lowest-paid workers in the nation and their jobs are ranked among the most dangerous.

“Farmworkers are expected to go to work every day but their working and living conditions often place them in tremendous risk of COVID-19 that can be reduced if mandatory job safety rules are adopted and enforced,” said Goldstein, an attorney who has worked on farmworker issues for over 3 decades.

“Unfortunately, too many employers in the agriculture sector have not been willing or have not been able to implement adequate protections, including social distancing, accurate information in a language workers understand, handwashing facilities, sanitizers, face masks, paid sick leave, access to testing and access to health care.”

Farmworker Justice is very concerned that as the harvest seasons ramp up, the high rates of positive COVID-19 tests that have developed in some rural areas, will be widespread.  Terrible illness, hardship and death can be averted but this Administration signaled that is has no intention of taking action.

“The immoral failure of leadership by the Trump Administration necessitates action by Congress to adopt specific occupational safety standards and specific requirements on the Department of Labor to enforce them, as well as other public health and economic support initiatives,” said Goldstein

 

May 28, 2020

Bruce Goldstein, bgoldstein@farmworkerjustice.org

Farmworker Justice and Other Organizations Send Letter of Support to Congress Advocating for Farmworker Priorities in Next CARES Bill

We are organizations representing the interests of the estimated two to three million US farmworkers, officially deemed ‚Äúessential workers‚ÄĚ by the federal government but denied the aid, rights and protections needed to mitigate the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Farmworkers feed the world through their labor, bringing fruits, vegetables, and dairy to homes across the nation. As the backbone of this country‚Äôs food source, their work is critical to keep food on our tables and grocery stores stocked, yet they and their work is not properly valued.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act brought much-needed relief to communities across America, but excluded the undocumented community, including many farmworkers, from critical relief. We are deeply concerned that the pressing health and welfare concerns of the farmworker community is not receiving the attention and urgency needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens their lives as well as the security of our entire food supply.

Farmworkers earn poverty wages, work under substandard conditions and face a myriad of health and other issues due to their living and employment conditions. We are outraged at the proposed farmworker pay cut while they continue to work on the front lines and struggle to feed their families. Even though farmworkers have been denied many of the basic protections afforded to other workers and workforces in the past, Congress must take into account the ongoing and emerging needs of the farmworker community.

We urge Congress to act quickly to support the passage of a fourth COVID-19 relief package that includes the following provisions for these vital members of our communities:

Economic and Food Security

  • Ensure the nutrition of the people that feed us by ensuring that recipients of federal funding, such as the child nutrition programs and the Commodity Assistance Program, are required to develop plans to provide services to farmworker communities.
  • Relax requirements for individuals to be able to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) without having to prove that they are participating in work activity or doing the daily employment applications at job centers, including job centers specifically established for farmworkers.
  • Ensure farmworkers can feed their own families by removing eligibility restrictions for nutrition assistance, including the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and other federal programs that would provide assistance to cover basic household needs. Studies of migrant and seasonal farmworkers have found that food insecurity rates range from 50 to 65 percent of the population.

Occupational Safety and Health

  • As a condition of all the subsidies, payments and other benefits agricultural employers are receiving, employers should be required to develop a written plan that follows Center for Disease Control recommendations to help prevent transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace as well as farmworker housing units, including through social distancing, providing adequate soap and handwashing facilities and sanitizers, training offarmworkers and their supervisors, and posting of information in appropriate languages where workers will routinely see the information. The plan should address protections regarding transportation and/or housing if the employer provides or arranges housing and/or transportation for farmworkers. The plan also should include emergency responses.
  • Provide paid sick leave for all farmworkers, regardless of size of farm, documentation status, and employment status. Workers should be eligible to apply for this leave from the first day that they are sick, rather than having to be out of work or sick for a prolonged period to qualify. Farmworkers should not have to fear losing their job or wages, or possible immigration detention when they feel sick themselves, have a known exposure to COVID-19 and need to self-isolate, or if they need to care for a sick family member.
  • Ensure free access to COVID-19 medical tests and treatment, regardless of immigration status. In particular, immigration restrictions on the new Medicaid State Option for COVID-19 testing should be eliminated to ensure that everyone is able to receive free testing and access treatment and care for the virus.
  • Dedicate investments in rural health care, including but not limited to increased funding for migrant health centers and rural hospitals, as well as health care infrastructure such as broadband to support telehealth services and medical equipment, including respirators, testing kits, and personal protective equipment for medical and outreach staff. Migrant and Community Health Centers need funding to ensure financial stability, both short-term and long-term.

Employment and Training

  • Ensure full and equal access to Unemployment Insurance for all farmworkers impacted directly and indirectly by COVID-19, regardless of employer size, and prohibit any employer receiving financial assistance related to COVID-19 pandemic from laying off farmworkers or reducing their work hours. Laid-off farmworkers are not able to absorb the cost of unemployment, and the many undocumented farmworkers are ineligible for the expanded unemployment benefits program provided by previous stimulus bills.
  • Provide hazard pay to ensure the integrity and abundance of our food supply, in line with pay for other frontline workers in our country‚Äôs critical infrastructure. Farmworkers are critical to maintaining our food supply and are considered essential workers. They must be compensated accordingly for the risk they assume by continuing to work.
  • A substantial supplemental appropriation for the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) to allow program grantees needed added capacity to reach farmworkers with critical coronavirus information and provide them with increased, enhanced supportive and career services. The appropriation provision should also give the United States Department of Labor the authority to delay program competition during the coronavirus health emergency, discount crisis-impaired performance data, and adjust income-based eligibility factors to expand eligibility for farmworkers and their families.

Education and Technology

  • Provide mandated childcare for essential workers, including farmworker children.
  • Ensure that farmworker and other rural children have access to food and homework¬†assignments during the school closures. When schools moved towards virtual learning, many children in low-income, farmworker and rural communities were left behind.
  • To ensure the children of farmworkers do not fall behind and have access to the basic tools that would enable them to participate in online education, we urge dedicated investments:

–¬†in the technology available to rural schools and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers, in addition to broadband expansion.

–¬†directed to tailored support programs and the tools this student population would need to fully participate in online learning.
–¬†funding for purchase of electronic devices, such as laptops and smartphones, and internet service to provide them with access to their virtual education.

Immigration

  • Until the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R.5038) can become law, all essential workers including farmworkers should be given immigration status with work authorization.
  • Allow farmworkers and ‚Äúmixed status‚ÄĚ families receive the economic support and COVID-19 rebates included in the COVID-19 stimulus packages. Future COVID-19 legislation must provide farmworkers with access to economic relief regardless of their immigration status, whether they filed taxes in the last two calendar years and irrespective of whether they filed their taxes with a social security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Require employers that utilize the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program to adopt occupational safety and health plans and practices for their US and foreign workers as described below.

Our nation’s food security depends on farmworkers, and they deserve our gratitude and our support. As Congress considers policy solutions to address this evolving crisis, we must ensure farmworkers are not left out or forgotten again.

Sincerely,

Justice for Migrant Women
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.
East Coast Migrant Head Start Project
Environmental Working Group
Farmworker Justice
Food Policy Action
MAFO, A National Partnership of Farmworker & Rural Organizations National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association
UMOS