The federal employment laws meant to provide protection for agricultural workers need more enforcement in order to improve the conditions in our fields, according to a new report released today.
The report by Farmworker Justice analyzes the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) statistics on its enforcement of the minimum wage and other basic labor protections applicable to agricultural workers on farms, ranches, and dairies. Widespread violations of the minimum wage and other wage-hour laws in agriculture harm farmworkers, as well as the many law-abiding businesses suffering competitive disadvantage caused by unscrupulous employers.
In “U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement in Agriculture: More Must Be Done to Protect Farmworkers,” a report based on reviewing 8 years of agency data under two presidents, Farmworker Justice found a mixed record. The number of investigations of agricultural workplaces conducted by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division remained fairly consistent despite the hiring of additional investigators and a stated commitment to improving compliance on farms. The data revealed increases in the amount of time spent by agency investigators on agricultural workplaces, increases in the number of farmworkers at investigated employers, as well as increases in the amounts of backpay assessed for violations.
“Consumers of fruits and vegetables want to know that farmworkers in the field are treated decently, and law-abiding growers do not want to be undermined by businesses that violate wage-hour laws, but the reality is that there are widespread violations in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Labor plays an important role in deterring and remedying violations of law. The agency has modestly improved the quantity and quality of its enforcement of labor-protective laws, but many employers still view the risk and the financial consequences of getting caught as too small to deter them from violating the law,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group in Washington, D.C.
The report’s recommendations include:
• Increase the number of investigations per year and ensure that the Department seeks and collects the full measure of back pay, liquidated damages and civil money penalties.
• Continue increasing the Department’s use of important tools in the law, including the authority to ask a federal court to issue a “hot goods injunction” against the sale of goods produced in violation of the minimum wage. It also should continue increasing its use of the “joint employer” concept when farm operators deny that they “employ” any farmworkers on their farm and seek to impose sole responsibility for minimum-wage violations on farm labor contractors.
• Continue to improve collaboration with farmworker groups on the ground. DOL also should improve its education of the public and Congress about the value of its enforcement efforts on farms.
“The bottom line is that because many farmworkers are suffering systematic violations of basic labor standards, Congress should increase funding for enforcement of the wage-hour laws in agriculture. In addition, the Department of Labor should continue to allocate more investigator time to agriculture and continue to increase its use of all the tools that Congress provided to the agency to remedy and deter violations of employment laws,” added Goldstein.
Most people who assist migrant farmworkers agree with David Winkles of the Farm Bureau that Congress should reform the immigration laws (April 20, “S.C. agriculture needs immigration reform”). But we disagree with the specifics in his op-ed.
The current agricultural guest worker program has worked all too well for growers seeking foreign citizens on H-2A visas. The modest labor protections should be stronger, as should their enforcement, to stop displacement of U.S. workers, undermining of wages and abuses of guest workers.
More importantly, Congress should grant a path to immigration status and citizenship to the many experienced farmworkers who are undocumented immigrants.
We couldn’t disagree more with the contention that the Bracero program was “one of the most successful programs of all times” (“Bring on the Guest Workers” by William McGurn, Main Street, March 24). The Bracero program, which began during World War II to provide foreign labor to U.S. farms, ended in 1964 after years of exposés about its labor- and human-rights abuses. While Mexican citizens often were grateful for the job opportunities, the Bracero program exploited the workers’ vulnerability. The guest workers held a restricted, nonimmigrant status with no right to earn immigration status or citizenship. They were tied to particular employers and depended on the employer for the chance for a visa in a following season. Wages stagnated and U.S. citizens and immigrants were displaced in favor of the more controllable foreign workers. While protections against undermining of U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions existed, they weren’t strong enough and they weren’t enforced effectively.
More important, we already have an agricultural guest-worker program and its history reveals that it should not be a model for this nation’s immigration policy. The H-2A temporary foreign agricultural-worker program also began during World War II and has been revised several times, but the program suffers from the same flaws as the Bracero program. The U.S. should not become a nation of guest workers but instead should remain a nation of immigrants who are granted the opportunity to become citizens and enjoy our economic and political freedoms.
Today is National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD). Today’s generation of youth has never known a world free of HIV and AIDS and they bear a significant burden of the epidemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, youth accounted for 26 percent of new HIV infections in spite of only representing 17 percent of the population. Approximately 50 percent of youth infected with HIV are unaware of their positive status. In comparison, among all HIV positive individuals in the U.S., approximately 14 percent are unaware of their status.
In the United States, one in four new HIV infections per year occurs among youth. Black and Latino youth remain disparately affected compared to youth of other races/ethnicities. According to the CDC, 20 percent of new infections occurred among Latino youth in 2010.
There are a variety of factors that may influence the risk Latino youth face for contracting HIV. These include but are not limited to: low perception of risk, limited opportunities for accessing comprehensive sexual education; cultural and linguistic barriers which deter engaging in preventive treatment and care; lack of health insurance; poverty; higher reported rates of STIs; stigma and discrimination.
Advocates for Youth established NYHAAD in 2013 to increase awareness of the impact HIV/AIDS has on young individuals, and to promote intergenerational dialogue and collaboration in the campaign to achieve an AIDS-Free generation. The theme for this year is “Engaging Youth Voices in the Responses to HIV & AIDS”.
Farmworker Justice encourages our partners, supporters and friends to join us in recognizing National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day by: learning more about the epidemic and knowing the facts; becoming involved in efforts to raise awareness; engaging in open and honest conversation with family, partner and friends; and getting tested.
On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.
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.