FJ Blog

Monday, 18 August 2014

Today is the last day that the EPA will accept public comments on proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) that provides the regulatory minimum for occupational pesticide exposure protection. Other workers who are exposed to toxic substances are covered by stronger protections, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The result is that the men, women, and children who produce the nation’s food are less protected from workplace hazards than other workers.

Although the proposed changes to the WPS will not address all the challenges in the fields, they are a step in the right direction to prevent pesticide illness. If the final rule includes our recommended improvements, the results will include greater awareness by farmworkers of the risks they face and preventative measures; and fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.

The agricultural industry is working hard to dissuade the EPA from adopting the rules that benefit farmworkers the most. Today, Politico reported the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture submitted comments that “call on the EPA to scrap the proposed changes.”

Farmworker Justice and other farmworker advocates have provided the EPA with extensive information to justify stronger protections for farmworkers. Your voice is needed to make sure farmworker safety does not take a back seat to the interests of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.

Please join Farmworker Justice and urge the EPA to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. You have until midnight tonight to submit comments.

Visit our website to use our model comments and submit by midnight tonight!
 

by Jessica Felix-Romero
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Monday, 04 August 2014

Over the last few weeks of its legislative session before a 5-week long summer recess, the House enacted several anti-immigrant measures, even as they failed to provide needed reforms for our broken immigration system.

The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border

Congress has begun its recess without providing any additional funding to the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. The administrative funding to house and process tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors is expected to run out before the end of the Congressional recess and President Obama has requested Congress to authorize $3.7 billion of emergency supplemental funding. Last week, the Senate tried to pass a supplemental funding bill for $3.57 billion, but it was blocked in a vote of 50-44 (60 votes were needed). Friday, the House passed a bill to authorize $694 million in additional funding for the border but the amount falls far short of the needed appropriations. The bill includes harmful changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that would reduce due process protections for the children, allowing the government to deport the children at a faster pace. The House took this action despite the fact that a broad majority of Americans see these children as refugees. Advocates are concerned that if the process of removal is expedited many children who are eligible for asylum or some other form of relief would be deported, possibly to their death. The bill is unlikely to become law as the Senate Democratic Leadership opposes these changes to current law and President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it comes to his desk. 

House Leadership once again caved to the extremist anti-immigrant minority in the House as part of a deal to get conservative House members to vote for the supplemental funding bill. In conjunction with the border funding bill, the House also voted on a bill to prevent any expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and any new individuals from enrolling. Eleven Republicans voted against the bill, they are mostly from districts with a high percentage of Latino voters; and four Democrats, Representatives Mike McIntyre (NC), Rahall (WV), Collin Peterson (MN) and John Barrow (GA), voted for the bill. After House Republican Leadership killed any chance for immigration reform legislation this year, it adds insult to injury that they ended the summer legislative session by passing bills that would harm refugee children and that would allow DREAMers to be deported. 

The Child Tax Credit 

Last week, the House passed a bill that would expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to higher income families, while failing to extend an expiring provision of law that allows working poor families earning as little as $3,000 per year to access the CTC. The bill would also require that parents applying for the CTC (ACTC) have a Social Security number, effectively denying the credit to millions of poor families, most of which have U.S. citizen children. Again, the House managed to pass a bill that hurts immigrant families while failing to bring up any immigration reform legislation.

Affirmative Relief

Over 100 faith leaders and immigrant activists were arrested on Thursday in front of the White House protesting the President’s deportation policies. The groups are urging President Obama to go bold in his plans for administrative relief for undocumented immigrants. The groups also said that the government should focus on expanding resources for the unaccompanied children at the border fleeing violence in their home countries. The action was followed by additional immigration relief events, including an August 2 rally at the White House. 

Advocates have been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss proposals for an affirmative administrative relief program that would provide relief from immigration enforcement and work authorization for some sector of the undocumented population. Some reports have stated that the the administration is looking at providing relief for around 4 to 5 million undocumented immigrants. However, on Sunday a senior White House advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, called those numbers “uninformed speculation.” Farmworker Justice, in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials, stressed the importance of affirmative immigration relief to farmworker families and the agricultural sector and the need for a broad, bold program to stay deportation and grant work authorization. We also described the unique circumstances farmworkers face so that they may be taken into account in creating the eligibility criteria and implementation plans in any affirmative relief program.

Agribusiness continues to push for immigration reform for agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Partnership for a New American Economy released an advertisement that focuses on a labor shortage in agriculture; unfortunately, there was no discussion of the need to legalize the estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers. While there is a shortage of documented farmworkers, there is not a national shortage of workers. There are pockets of oversupply of farmworkers in some parts of the country and other areas where the labor market is tighter. An affirmative relief program for undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their family members would help stabilize the labor market and would better enable farmworkers and others to work without fear. Growers also have access to the unlimited H-2A temporary agricultural guestworker program, which has greatly expanded in recent years. Ultimately, however, Congress must legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and offer them the opportunity to become citizens. 

Workplace Raid in Florida Packing Plant

The urgent need for immigration reform is evidenced by a disturbing workplace raid that took place in a Naples, FL fruit and vegetable packing plant on July 16th. The Florida Insurance Fraud Division arrested 105 workers purportedly for using false identification. Reportedly the investigation was triggered due to a discovery that a worker who sought workers’ compensation had admitted to using false identification. It is unclear whether any of the other workers applied for workers’ compensation. According to one report, some of the workers are being charged with third degree felonies of identity theft and/or workers’ compensation fraud. According to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, some of the workers have been transferred to ICE custody. Others could be picked up and deported at a later date. The Florida Immigrant Coalition’s executive director, Maria Rodriguez, called the actions a cruel immigration raid. She stated, “It is no secret that many immigrant workers are forced to use invalid Social Security numbers, often with a wink and a nod from their employers, if they want to survive and feed their families. Employers knowingly rely on these workers for their own economic survival.” Beyond the devastating impact to this community, the raid may have a chilling effect on workers in the broader Florida immigrant community who may be entitled to benefits such as workers’ compensation. 

One last thing: Read Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-OH) op-ed in the Nation on her visit with tobacco workers in North Carolina and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s work to improve their wages and working conditions.

Your support enables Farmworker Justice to help farmworkers win a more just immigration system.

by Megan Horn
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Friday, 01 August 2014

Democrats and Republicans rarely find common ground in Congress these days, but apparently attacking Department of Labor’s(DOL) efforts to protect our nation’s vulnerable farmworkers is one area in which they agree. On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing titled “To review the impact of enforcement activities by the Department of Labor on specialty crop growers,” in which the DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil and Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian testified.

Under the hot goods provisions, goods produced in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage, overtime and child labor provisions are considered “hot goods” because they are tainted by the labor violations and pollute the channels of interstate commerce. The FLSA makes it illegal for anyone to transport, ship, deliver, or sell “hot goods” in interstate commerce. Section 17 of the FLSA authorizes the Department of Labor to seek a court order forbidding anyone from placing tainted goods into the stream of interstate commerce (a “hot goods order”). Hot goods orders are a powerful remedy against illegal practices that harm low-paid workers who cannot afford to wait to be paid properly. To read more about the hot goods provisions, see our fact sheet.

The Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture subcommittee is led by members from farming districts: Chairman Austin Scott (R-GA) and Ranking Member Kurt Schrader (D-OR). Both of these members seem to have a bullseye on farmworkers. Rep. Schrader has introduced two bills to limit farmworkers’ rights to healthcare and labor protections. Rep. Scott has also introduced legislation to defund the Legal Services Corporation just days after the legal services program in Georgia announced that it had assisted an EEOC determination that a Georgia grower in Scott’s district was discriminating against US workers in favor of H-2A agricultural guestworkers.

Rep. Schrader’s vendetta against DOL on behalf of “my” farmers was clear in the many, many, many questions he asked. Many of the questions were related to a 2012 case in which DOL invoked the hot goods provisions against 3 blueberry growers in Oregon for failure to pay the minimum wage to many workers and for violation of child labor laws. Although the cases settled, two of the growers sought to vacate the settlement agreements almost a year later by claiming that their due process rights had been violated and they had been coerced into accepting the settlements due to the threat of a hot goods injunction. A federal district judge overturned the settlement agreements and reopened the case. DOL has requested permission to appeal the decision; the case is still pending.

With the sole exception of Wage and Hour Administrator Weil, the hearing lacked any consideration of the farmworker perspective, including the extensive labor law violations in agriculture or the experiences of the farmworkers in the controversial Oregon cases. Instead, the underlying sympathies and assumptions seemed to be that contrary to widespread statistics, growers are not really violating the law, and thus, are the real victims. There were many questions about how the poor beleaguered farmers will recoup their attorneys’ fees, legal costs, etc.

Of course, not all agricultural employers break the law. In fact, the primary purpose of the hot goods provisions is to protect law-abiding employers from being competitively undermined by unscrupulous employers seeking unfair business advantage by unlawfully lowering their labor costs.

The hearing sent a clear message to the Obama Administration to curtail enforcement of the hot goods provision in agriculture. We urge the DOL to continue to enforce the FLSA hot goods provision to maximize its limited enforcement capabilities, to incentivize compliance with the law, and to ensure that all workers receive their fair day’s pay. Representatives Scott and Schrader have filed a bill, HR 1387, that would exclude perishable agricultural goods from the hot goods provisions of the FLSA. Congress should end the discrimination against farmworkers in our nation’s labor laws, not seek to expand the exclusions.
 

by Megan Horn
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