Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein participated in a White House press conference Thursday where President Obama signed a new Executive Order governing labor practices by federal contractors that could benefit American farmworkers, whose existing labor protections are often violated.
The President’s Executive Order requires prospective federal contractors to disclose findings of labor law violations and gives agencies more guidance on how to consider labor violations when awarding federal contracts. Because the federal government is a major purchaser of food for school lunch and other programs, the order could reach into the fields and ranches supplying big food contractors, where workers often are victims of wage theft and work in illegally unsafe circumstances.
The Executive Order includes the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the principal federal employment law for farmworkers. In addition, the EO applies to certain subcontractors, which can mean that when a wholesaler of produce is the government contractor, the grower that supplies the produce to the wholesaler may be subject to monitoring for violations of labor protections.
“We believe the President’s Executive Order, while no substitute for needed congressional action raising the minimum wage, is an important step forward in protecting workers, including those in agriculture. Government contractors and their subcontractors should comply with labor protections. We applaud President Obama for taking these needed steps,” said Goldstein.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing today on the Labor Department’s enforcement of the minimum wage for farmworkers using the so-called “hot goods” section of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Some grower groups and Congressional allies are pressing to exclude perishable vegetables and fruit from coverage under the FLSA’s hot goods section.
Re "Airport, ACLU tussle over ads" (Our Region, July 21): The decision of Sacramento International Airport to not run the informational ads of the California Endowment regarding denial of health care coverage for undocumented immigrants is unjust and deplorable. As a longtime resident of Sacramento and a frequent user of the airport, I applaud the endowment for its efforts to provide factual statements on behalf of those who make considerable economic contributions to our region and state, yet are denied access to health care coverage.
How can we in good faith claim our region to be the farm-to-fork capital when the very people who plant, harvest, pick and pack our food are so unfairly treated? This is a critical public health and food safety issue that ultimately affects us all.
The only controversy I see here is the ignorance of airport officials for not allowing the shameful truth to be on public display.
-- Mario Gutierrez, Sacramento
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.
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7/11/2014 Farmworker Justice Immigration Update
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.
Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.