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August 19, 2014

Farmworkers, public health advocates, labor organizations, and public officials, were among the more than 175,000 who submitted comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calling on the agency to strengthen its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS is the only federal standard designed to protect the nation’s more than 2 million farmworkers from one of their greatest occupational hazards: pesticide exposure.

“Farmworkers face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm. “While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are not protected by the same health and safety standards.”

“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” said Margaret Reeves, PhD, a senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also mean protections for farmworker children and families.”

“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. “We hope EPA responds to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who submitted comments in support of stronger protections and acts quickly to implement a Worker Protection Standard that prevents needless illness, injury, and death in farmworker communities.”

The groups are calling on EPA to change the proposed standard to include:
● Parity with safety rules provided to workers in non-agricultural industries
● Improved safety training annually and starting before workers enter treated fields
● Easily accessible information about pesticides used on the farm and in nurseries
● No children under 18 years of age allowed to handle hazardous pesticides
● Strict adherence to no-entry rules for areas recently treated with pesticides
● Improved protections and safety monitoring for pesticide handlers

Elvia Vasquez of Oxnard, California worked in the fields of Southern California picking strawberries, lettuce and broccoli for nearly a decade. "I would get rashes and headaches when forced to enter the strawberry fields that had been sprayed with pesticides only hours before," said Vasquez, who now works with Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc. to educate farmworkers on the dangers of pesticide exposure.

“We know the EPA has all the information they need to finalize a stronger, better WPS that actually provides real protections for the people who feed our nation,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida . “The administration has heard the stories from farmworkers and they know what is needed to do the right thing.”

"Millions of farmworkers are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals without adequate safeguards to protect their health," said Murshed Zaheed, Deputy Political Director at CREDO. "The least the EPA can do is take basic steps to protect farmworkers from being exposed to these toxic chemicals."

Indeed the administration has been hearing from workers and advocates for over a decade now - the WPS was first adopted in 1995 and has been awaiting revision since 2000. EPA is finally expected to issue the finalized rule by early 2015, after closing its public comment period on their proposal for a revised WPS at midnight on Monday, Aug 18.

More than 175,000 petition signatures were collected by Earthjustice, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, and CREDO.
 

August 11, 2014

About 2.5 million men and women work on our nation’s farms and ranches; nobody knows how many of them are laboring on Monroe County’s more than 450 farms. It is hard work, made worse by our inhumane national immigration system which Congress seems determined not to fix.

Today the system serves neither our economic interests nor does it protect farmers and their workers, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. In the Rochester area, many work picking apples, which is particularly dangerous given the risks of pesticide exposure. Their wages are low and fringe benefits are rare. Housing, when available, is often decrepit and crowded. Undocumented status inhibits workers’ ability to speak up against wage violations, sexual harassment and other abuses.

Agriculture contributes $5.7 billion annually to New York’s economy, yet farmworkers do not have the right to join a union free from retaliation or to overtime pay, and they aren’t guaranteed a day of rest. Bills to address these basic needs stalled in New York’s State Senate. Both of us have first-hand experience with these issues. After entering the United States at age 15 as an undocumented immigrant, Librada joined her brothers picking apples in New York. A single apple tree might be sprayed three times a week or more with a dangerous mix of pesticides, exposing workers to serious long and short-term health risks. In college years later, Librada learned what her rights were and what workplace standards apply to the farms where she had worked. As a public interest lawyer and policy advocate, Bruce and his colleagues help farmworkers remedy their problems.

Our broken immigration system remains a barrier to progress for farmworkers.After months of negotiations between farmworker and agricultural stakeholders, a bipartisan group of senators in Washington produced a tough-but-fair compromise that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. But obstruction in the House of Representatives has led to demands for President Obama to alleviate the harm unfairly inflicted on law-abiding,undocumented immigrants. The President should act, but only Congress can grant aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal residency and citizenship.

Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. Paz, a former farmworker, is the Robert F. Kennedy human rights laureate for 2012 and a Brockport resident.

August 11, 2014

About 2.5 million men and women work on our nation’s farms and ranches; nobody knows how many of them are laboring on Monroe County’s more than 450 farms. It is hard work, made worse by our inhumane national immigration system which Congress seems determined not to fix.

Today the system serves neither our economic interests nor does it protect farmers and their workers, a majority of whom are undocumented immigrants. In the Rochester area, many work picking apples, which is particularly dangerous given the risks of pesticide exposure. Their wages are low and fringe benefits are rare. Housing, when available, is often decrepit and crowded. Undocumented status inhibits workers’ ability to speak up against wage violations, sexual harassment and other abuses.

Agriculture contributes $5.7 billion annually to New York’s economy, yet farmworkers do not have the right to join a union free from retaliation or to overtime pay, and they aren’t guaranteed a day of rest. Bills to address these basic needs stalled in New York’s State Senate. Both of us have first-hand experience with these issues. After entering the United States at age 15 as an undocumented immigrant, Librada joined her brothers picking apples in New York. A single apple tree might be sprayed three times a week or more with a dangerous mix of pesticides, exposing workers to serious long and short-term health risks. In college years later, Librada learned what her rights were and what workplace standards apply to the farms where she had worked. As a public interest lawyer and policy advocate, Bruce and his colleagues help farmworkers remedy their problems.

Our broken immigration system remains a barrier to progress for farmworkers.After months of negotiations between farmworker and agricultural stakeholders, a bipartisan group of senators in Washington produced a tough-but-fair compromise that is included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill. But obstruction in the House of Representatives has led to demands for President Obama to alleviate the harm unfairly inflicted on law-abiding,undocumented immigrants. The President should act, but only Congress can grant aspiring Americans the opportunity to earn legal residency and citizenship.

Goldstein is president of Farmworker Justice, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. Paz, a former farmworker, is the Robert F. Kennedy human rights laureate for 2012 and a Brockport resident.

Featured Blog

August 22, 2014

President Obama is expected to announce his plans regarding immigration policy in the coming weeks upon completion of a review by agency officials.

However, some Democratic Senate candidates prefer that he wait to take administrative action on immigration until after the November elections. Senate Democratic leadership has not taken a position on the timing of the President’s announcement, saying that it is up to the President.

Some advocates predict that the President will create an affirmative relief program for millions of undocumented immigrants who are not a priority for deportation. These individuals would apply, undergo a background check and receive protection from deportation and work authorization for a temporary period of time. The program’s criteria could be similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Applicants could be required to demonstrate residence in the U.S. for a certain number of years in the U.S. There could also be application criteria based on relationship to family members who have immigration or citizenship status in the U.S.

There have been some who question the President’s authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. However, many legal scholars and immigration experts have argued that the President has ample legal authority to create a broad affirmative relief program. Such a program will improve the administration’s execution of the law and use of enforcement resources to apprehend serious criminals, such as human traffickers and members of drug cartels, and focus on securing the border. The President’s authority is explained in NILC’s factsheet available here.

Farmworker Justice is part of a group of labor unions and immigrants’ advocates urging the Administration to provide greater protections for immigrant workers in labor disputes. Currently, undocumented workers who win a case for being fired for joining a labor union or filing a complaint for sexual harassment cannot obtain reinstatement to their job; for this reason many workers will not take such risks. Such workers should be eligible for a temporary stay of deportation and work authorization. Similarly, workers on temporary visas have little recourse to enforce their labor rights because their visas often expire before the case is adjudicated and they are forced to return home. Worse still, some employers contact immigration authorities to have workers deported if they join a union organizing drive or challenge illegal job practices. Such retaliation has a profound chilling effect on other workers experiencing rights violations. Granting deferred action to workers exercising their civil and labor rights would send a strong message to bad-actor employers that they can no longer use the immigration system to exploit workers. The New York Times Editorial on this issue is available here.

Business groups including growers’ associations have also been meeting with Obama Administration officials to discuss their priorities for administrative relief. High tech groups are requesting that the Administration make some changes to the high-skilled visa system such as the way that the yearly caps on greencards are counted.

Despite the fact that over half of the farm labor force is undocumented, there does not appear to be a strong unified push by agribusiness groups for affirmative relief in the form of protection from deportation and work authorization for undocumented farmworkers. Some groups have asked for reduced immigration enforcement in agriculture. One growers’ association said that it is not pushing for aggressive executive action because its members do not want to anger Republicans and spoil the chances for legislative action.

Statements by some agricultural trade associations further indicate that many of them do not support affirmative administrative relief:

United Fresh Produce Association (representing shippers, processors and marketers) states: “there are unique considerations that agriculture has to deal with and so blanket initiatives may not be as helpful to agriculture as might be intended.”

AmericanHort (representing nurseries and greenhouses) states: “first “do no harm,” meaning, avoid measures that might accelerate the attrition of agricultural and seasonal workers at a time of worsening labor shortages.”

Some growers assume that farmworkers who receive work authorization will leave agriculture; therefore, the President should not grant them work authorization and they should remain working in agriculture with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers and many others are encouraging the Administration to include farmworkers in any administrative relief program. It would be morally reprehensible, legally questionable and economically disastrous to exclude farmworkers. Farmworkers who are undocumented suffer in the form of low pay and poor conditions, and their lack of status should not be perpetuated. Moreover, agricultural employers should compete in the marketplace by improving wages, benefits and working conditions to retain workers.

In addition, it is not necessarily true that most farmworkers would leave agriculture upon obtaining relief. Many people make their careers doing farm work and some lack the education and language skills for other jobs. More than 20 years after the farmworker legalization program in the 1986 immigration reform, 2007-09 data show that 17% of foreign-born workers still performing agricultural work had been legalized by that program; many others would have aged out, died or were promoted to management.

Some growers associations are also asking the Obama Administration for changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program rules, but one noted that it is unlikely to be an Obama Administration priority. Farmworker Justice opposes any changes to the H-2A program rules that would lower wages or reduce worker protections for H-2A workers and domestic workers in corresponding employment. As explained in our H-2A report, No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Program Fails US and Foreign Workers, despite the existing protections, H-2A workers are still subject to abuse. Growers have tried this before. In 2008, they convinced the outgoing Bush Administration to make changes to the H-2A program rules that lowered wages and reduced protections for workers. In 2009, the incoming Obama Administration reversed these changes.

In other news regarding the H-2A program, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, has mounted an impressive campaign this summer to expand the number farmworkers under collective bargaining agreements at employers that use the H-2A program. FLOC has been pressing the big tobacco corporations to negotiate along with the growers to reach agreements for fair treatment of farmworkers.

Farmworker Justice continues to press the administration to create a broad, bold affirmative relief program that includes undocumented farmworkers and their families and protects workers.  

Immigration

June 04, 2013

Stay in the know by reading our briefs on the latest happenings in immigration reform and the impacts on farmworkers. 

Immigration reform updates

8/22/2014 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update

8/04/2014 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update

June 04, 2013

Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.

June 04, 2013

Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.