FJ Blog

Thursday, 18 June 2015

June 27 marks National HIV Testing Day. This annual awareness day provides an opportunity to recognize the value of knowing your HIV status and to encourage others within your community to get tested.

In the United States, approximately 50,000 people become newly infected with HIV each year. Among the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the US, one in seven is not aware of their positive status. Routine testing is vital to stopping the spread of HIV and saving lives. Individuals diagnosed in the early stages of their HIV infection that begin treatment and remain in care are significantly more likely to successfully control their viral count. Consequently, they are able to experience healthier, longer lives. Furthermore, HIV positive individuals who know their status are more likely to take preventive actions to protect their partners from infection. 

Why is this important to farmworker and Latino serving organizations and supporters? 

Latinos communities in the U.S. are disproportionately burdened by HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 Latinos comprised approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population yet accounted for 21 percent of all new HIV infections. Many Latinos, farmworkers, and other rural or mobile populations experience barriers to accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services. For example, they may have a difficult time finding a testing location, getting to the testing location, receiving HIV testing and counseling services in their native language, accessing medication, or being able to adhere to their HIV medication regiment. As organizations interested in improving the lives and health outcomes of Latinos and farmworkers, it is imperative that we be aware of these persisting challenges and the steps we can take to empower our communities to access HIV prevention, treatment and care. 

Farmworker Justice is a proud partner of the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI), through which we provide education and assistance to organizations interested in increasing HIV awareness, knowledge and action among Latino and farmworker communities. 

As part of our AAALI work, FJ is offering free informational packets to interested organizations in anticipation of National HIV Testing Day. Each packet includes a variety of materials which may be easily disseminated to your community members such as fact sheets, posters and palm cards. Materials are available in English and Spanish. Packet availability is limited. Please email Caitlin Ruppel ([email protected]) for more information and to request materials. 

We encourage you to participate in National HIV Testing Day, by: 

• Getting Tested! Find a testing location near you and tell your family and friends
• Receiving updates via twitter or Facebook
Learning more about the epidemic and how to get involved in raising awareness 

by Caitlin Ruppel
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Friday, 12 June 2015

Status of Executive Action on Immigration

Millions of aspiring Americans await resolution of the lawsuit against President Obama’s DAPA and expanded DACA programs. As we shared earlier, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Obama Administration’s emergency request for a stay of the injunction (requesting the court to allow the programs to proceed while the litigation is pending). The denial of the stay was disappointing but not conclusive, as it was an emergency motion in front of a very conservative panel of judges. While 2 of the 3 judges on the panel were conservative and voted to deny the stay, the 3rd judge dissented and sided with the Administration.

The appeal of the injunction is moving forward with a hearing scheduled for July 10. In a promising development, the appellate court’s order regarding briefing indicated that the judges that will hear the July 10 arguments do not feel bound by the decision denying the stay request. We do not yet know who the three judges on the panel will be. Unfortunately the 5th Circuit is considered the most conservative circuit in the nation.

The House of Representatives meanwhile, on an appropriations bill, voted to prevent the Obama Administration from using any funds to defend its immigration actions in the lawsuit. President Obama has already threatened to veto the spending measure due to domestic spending cuts.

Proposed Legislation on H-2A Agricultural Guestworker Program

Some members of Congress continue to show interest in the failed anti-immigrant, guestworker-only model, rather than seek a balanced solution that includes a path to immigration status and citizenship for undocumented workers. U.S. Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), with the support of Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and 8 others introduced a bill, the BARN Act, that would slash needed protections in the H-2A program and remove important government oversight. The bill is similar to one introduced in the past by former Rep. Kingston (R-GA). Our summary of the bill can be found here. In the Senate, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) seems to hold a similar position, saying “[f]rom my standpoint, if you really want to secure our border, let’s eliminate or drastically reduce the incentives for illegal immigration, starting with a guest worker program.” In March, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he chairs, held a hearing that focused on future guestworker programs. 

Guestworker Program Developments

Guestworker programs, by imposing a temporary, restrictive non-immigrant status deprive people of economic and political freedoms in violation of our country’s values of democracy. The Economic Policy Institute recently conducted a briefing highlighting a study showing that temporary foreign workers’ lack of bargaining power, due to their vulnerable status and dependency on their employers, results in low wages in comparison to those with immigration status and citizenship. Unfortunately we are seeing increased use of the H-2A program. 

DHS’s increased enforcement of immigration laws has been one factor leading to an increased use of the H-2A program. A recent fine of $2.25 million levied against Washington apple grower Broetje Orchards is one of the largest ever levied against an agricultural employer. Since the majority of farmworkers are undocumented, such enforcement is likely to lead more employers to use the H-2A program. 

Media Coverage and Recent Polling

Numerous recent news articles highlight the conditions in which farmworkers are living and working. In Kentucky, Southern Migrant Legal Services and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center filed three separate federal lawsuits on behalf of 39 Mexican guestworkers against six tobacco farmers for squalid housing conditions, back wages, and other violations.

Photographer and journalist David Bacon released a three parts series on the living conditions of farmworkers in California, specifically on their low wages and lack of health care, with a focus on the indigenous community. In Bacon’s first article, he discusses the low wage levels for farmworkers, noting that if (as proposed by the UFW in the late 90s) the price of a clamshell box of strawberries increased by just 5¢, the workers' wages would increase by 25%. Most consumers wouldn't even notice the increase, since the retail price normally fluctuates far more than that. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has used this concept in their penny per pound campaign. Bacon’s second article shares the experiences of a Triqui farmworker and his family (the Triqui are indigenous people from the western part of the Mexican state of Oaxaca). The series concludes with the story of a Triqui farmworker mother sharing her work experience in the pea fields of California and the poverty and health problems she experiences due to her long hours in the field.

Despite the hostile attitude towards immigrants in Congress, there continues to be broad public support for a pathway to legal status for undocumented individuals. According to a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll, 72% of all Americans back a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. 

Administration Coordination on Immigration/Labor Intersection

Immigration status is central to the ability of many farmworkers to feel empowered to assert their rights in the workplace and seek improved wages and working conditions. As part of the President’s November 2014 executive actions, the president created an Interagency Working Group for the Consistent Enforcement of Federal Labor, Employment and Immigration Laws to address the intersection of employment and immigration enforcement. On May 8, the working group, which includes the DOL, DOJ, DHS, EEOC and NLRB, issued an action plan to achieve its goals to “enhance coordination in those cases where federal responsibilities to enforce labor, employment, and immigration laws may overlap, to ensure that workers who cooperate with labor and employment enforcement may continue to do so without fear of retaliation, to ensure that unscrupulous parties do not attempt to misuse immigration enforcement or labor laws to thwart or manipulate worker protections or labor and immigration enforcement, and to ensure the effective enforcement of these laws.” The action plan lists goals to accomplish or begin within the next 6 months, including “[c]lear explanations and methods for accessing any temporary or permanent immigration benefits or relief that may be available as the result of workplace violations or criminal activity in the workplace.” 

FJ believes that access to deferred action or other immigration relief is key to ensuring an improved ability for undocumented workers and guestworkers to assert their workplace rights without fear of immigration enforcement or other retaliation. We look forward to working with our colleagues to help make this a reality for those workers. For those of you on the ground, please share with us any recent examples where immigration enforcement (or fear of it) is interfering with workers’ exercising their rights. 

Farmworker Organizing

Mexican farmworkers in San Quintin Baja California, many of whom are also indigenous people from southern Mexico, organized and appear to have won major improvements that they hope to spread to other areas. While the agreement is a victory, there remain many challenges in implementation of the wage rates and the government’s assurances of social security and overtime (which many US farmworkers are still excluded from). The wage rates are an improvement but are not as high as the workers sought; moreover, they are still low in comparison to US farmworkers' wages for doing the same tasks on the same kinds of fruits and vegetables that are exported to the US and that we pay US prices for. 

Finally, in an event showing the shared struggles in agriculture around the globe, the International Labor Rights Forum held a conference on June 3rd titled Hasta La Victoria! Farm Worker Justice in Global Supply Chains.” The panels, which included FJ’s Bruce Goldstein,, focused on challenges to securing worker rights in agriculture, and labor organizing in the tobacco industry in North Carolina and Malawi. U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), delivered the keynote speech. The two featured speakers, who were also honored during the ILRF’s evening award dinner, were Baldemar Velasquez, President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, and Raphael Sandramu, General Secretary of the Tobacco and Allied Workers Union of Malawi. 

Farmworker Justice will continue its efforts toward a justice immigration system. Please keep with us on our blog, Facebook, and twitter feed. Many materials on immigration, labor, occupational safety, and health are on our website,  

by Adrienne DerVartanian
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Friday, 05 June 2015

Research presented at a recent panel organized by the Economic Policy Institute underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to lawful permanent resident status (LPR) and eventual citizenship. The research demonstrates the precarious position in which both temporary workers and undocumented workers find themselves in the workplace, where they lack bargaining power due to their vulnerable immigration status and dependency on their employers. Legal status with a path to citizenship can help farmworkers and other workers improve wages and prevent the exploitation of undocumented workers and guestworkers by unscrupulous employers (collective bargaining agreements, like those negotiated by the farm labor union FLOC on behalf of H-2A guestworkers, can empower workers to combat the effects of the H-2A visa’s restricted status).

All Immigration Status Is Not Equal: Temporary Legal Status Is Not Sufficient to Improve Wages

For those who are familiar with the challenges facing undocumented workers and guestworkers, the findings from the research are not surprising. According to research by Lauren Apgar, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Indiana Bloomington, both temporary workers and undocumented workers earn significantly less than LPRs. On average, H-2 workers and undocumented workers earn 11% less than LPRs. The research also demonstrated that despite the fact that temporary workers have work authorization, there is no statistical difference between their wages and the wages of undocumented workers.

With regard to H-2A workers specifically, Apgar’s research found that with variables such as trip characteristic and human capital held constant, undocumented workers and H-2A workers earned about 26 to 30 percent less than LPRs; with H-2A workers’ total monthly earnings closer to those of undocumented workers than to LPR earnings. This changed somewhat when factoring in the value for the free housing provided to H-2A worker by their employers. With the addition of an added value for housing, wages for H-2A workers were closer to the wages for LPR workers. The research did not, however, factor in the recruitment costs many H-2A workers pay for the opportunity to work in the United States. Despite the fact that such fees are illegal under the H-2A program, the payment of recruitment fees is rampant. The desperation many H-2A workers feel to repay the recruitment fee debt increases their vulnerability on the workplace. 

In examining factors contributing to lower pay for temporary and undocumented workers, the research notes that despite temporary workers’ legal status, they lack mobility in the workplace and their ability to work in the United States is tied to the employer who brought them into the United States. Because H-2A workers are dependent on their employer for their continued employment, housing, and legal status in the United States, they are less likely to raise concerns or complaints for fear of losing their employment and legal status. Specifically, Apgar notes that “both legal status groups are subject to employer exploitation because they fear retaliation and deportation, and employers take advantage of this fear to pay them the lowest possible wage.”

These findings are significant as we experience a dramatic growth in the H-2A program. The H-2A program, which has no limit on the number of H-2A visas that can be issued per year, more than doubled in size in recent years. The program increased over 140%: from about 48,000 worker positions certified in FY 2005 to about 117,000 worker positions certified in FY 2014. From FY 2013 to FY 2014, several states saw significantly large increases in program usage, including an increase of 17% in North Carolina, 35% in Florida, 44% in California, and 45% in Washington. Despite loud employer complaints about the “bureaucracy” of the H-2A program (really their barely veiled dislike of DOL oversight and the program’s minimal worker protections, as well as housing and transportation costs), the broken immigration system combined with the opportunity to select and control their workforce is enticing more and more growers to the H-2A program.

The H-2A program is designed to protect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers but Apgar’s research points to major structural flaws in the H-2A program and raises important questions about the adequacy of its protections. These findings should also be important considerations as Congressional members yet again propose harsh one-sided guestworker programs as the way forward on our broken immigration system and agriculture.

The ability to pay unauthorized and H-2A workers significantly less than LPRs leads to lower wages for all workers in a workplace that is largely dependent on undocumented workers. Research presented by Tom Hertz of the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlights this point. Hertz examined the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) data and found that unauthorized workers earn 4% less than LPRs and 8% less than naturalized citizens. While the wage data for undocumented and LPR workers shows a smaller wage differential than in Apgar’s research, this can be explained by the fact that Hertz controlled for other characteristics which impact wages, such as years of education and English-language skills. While it may seem surprising that the wage differential for undocumented workers and those who are LPRs and naturalized workers is not greater; one factor may be the fact that the presence of so many undocumented workers has saturated the workforce and resulted in a wage depression that is felt across the industry. Furthermore, despite employers’ claims of labor shortages in the fields, conditions are so bad for all farmworkers that there is little upward pressure on their wages—if there really were a dire labor shortage, the first economic indicator one would expect to see is rapidly increasing wages paid to workers.

Impact of Legalization on Farm Labor Force: Many Agricultural Workers Will Remain in Agriculture after Employment Authorization

Hertz also examined the impact of legalization on the workforce. Hertz found that most workers who legalized in 1986 under IRCA remained in agriculture after legalization, despite stagnant wage rates. IRCA’s primary impact was to accelerate the departure of the 20% of workers who likely were planning to leave agriculture anyway. This research belies the widespread assumption that most agricultural workers will leave agriculture if given a legal status.

The study of farmworker employment post-IRCA provides a rough guide to how today’s farm labor supply would respond to the legalization of a portion of unauthorized farmworkers. Hertz noted that, for instance, if half of current farmworkers are unauthorized and half of them are granted employment authorization through DAPA/DACA, this may cause farm labor supply to decline by 5% over 5 years. This is a far cry from the belief that legal protections will leave farmers with “nothing to replace [their workers] with.”1

In conclusion, the research demonstrates the need for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship—rather than temporary and contingent legal statuses that facilitate exploitation and abuses—and thus highlights the problems that a guestworker approach presents.

See also this article from In These Times:

 1Dan Charles, Farmers Fear Legal Status for Workers Would Lead Them off the Farm, NPR (Feb. 26, 2015)

by Adrienne DerVartanian
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