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Thursday
Jun232016

Congress is Late to the Party: Blocking Farmworkers' Rights to Pesticide Information 

by Elisa Lazzarino, Toxic Free NC 

Farmworkers and their advocates across the country find themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the agrochemical industry, its allies in Congress, and the EPA. At the heart of this conflict is a rider attached to the EPA’s annual funding bill, which would block the agency’s funding to implement and enforce a controversial clause requiring growers to furnish information about the pesticides they use to farmworkers or third-party representatives of farmworkers. Members of the House Committee on Agriculture claim that their decision to constrain the EPA was prompted by the EPA’s lack of transparency in reviving this rule without explicitly notifying members of Congress. However, the dynamics of the situation might reveal more about the Committee’s relationship with industry more than their irritation at EPA’s conduct.

Representatives from the Farm Bureau argue that the requirement places an unfair burden on growers, who might then become targets for activists seeking to use employee disputes to make a political statement, as the clause has no criteria as to who can serve as a third-party representative for farmworkers. Growers and agrochemical producers also fear such a requirement would disadvantage them legally and hurt their profits in the event of a lawsuit from a third-party representative. Growers claim that they would have no objection to requests for pesticide information from the workers themselves, but are strongly opposed to exposing themselves to lawsuits and public criticism. Despite this outcry from powerful voices in the agricultural industry and its supporters in Congress, the EPA chose to continue with the clause after a period of public comment, in which they concluded that the industry brought forth no new information, and support for the measure from those outside industry was overwhelming.

Farmworker advocates, however, argue that growers’ complaints are simply unfounded and ignorant of the legitimate reasons for the provision of third-party representatives for farmworkers, such as the event that a farmworker is ill, injured, or otherwise incapacitated. Given that farmworkers are already greatly disadvantaged in contrast to the immense power that growers and industry hold, particularly their unyielding support from many elected officials and agricultural regulators, farmworker advocates reject growers’ claims of unfairness with respect to the implications of this clause. Advocates point to the numerous legal and social constraints placed on farmworkers.

For example, despite their enormous contribution to the economy and the national food supply, farmworkers have almost none of the labor rights that workers in other industries take for granted, such as protections from employer retaliation against unionizing workers, and the right to collective bargaining. Farmworkers are not guaranteed overtime pay, and despite the high risk of injury and illnesses from exposure to both pesticides and extreme heat, neither do they generally receive workers’ compensation as most growers are exempt from federal requirements. Additionally, only commercial-scale farming operations are required to pay their workers minimum wage, and still many growers only pay their workers according to the quantity of produce they pick, requiring workers to pick several tons of produce to earn the amount that workers in other industries might earn in an hour at indoor, sedentary jobs. Shockingly, child labor laws for agricultural work are also far more lenient than they are in most other industries. Children as young as ten may perform agricultural work around heavy machinery, in intense heat, and in the presence of toxic chemicals with the consent of their parents, where in most other industries the minimum working age is at least fourteen.

In addition to these economic disadvantages, social and cultural circumstances, as well as historical events, created a massive decline in agricultural profits in Mexico and Central America, the origin point of the majority of farmworkers, and made migrant agricultural work in the US one of just few viable options for disenfranchised farmers from this region. Far-reaching trade agreements like NAFTA, which provided generous subsidies to US growers, destabilized the Mexican agricultural market and severely undercut the prices of Mexican producers, driving many of them to come to the US to look for work at much lower pay relative to cost of living. Another crucial distinguishing factor among farmworkers is the fact that large portion that are undocumented are effectively prevented from advocating for themselves through the normal channels used by documented workers of other industries in the US. Fear of retaliation from their employers, which could jeopardize not only their safety and livelihood, but the stability of their families, prevents many farmworkers from speaking out against employer abuses. Finally, perhaps the most pressing reason farmworker advocates support stronger requirements of growers to provide pesticide exposure information to their workers is that this information is often essential to physicians in making an accurate diagnosis of illnesses which are often asymptomatic until years after the initial exposure. In almost any other field, workers exposed to hazardous chemicals would have the freedom to seek necessary information about their illness, but without legal requirements on their employers, farmworkers simply do not have this freedom.

 

Monday
Jun132016

Speaking of bathrooms...

by Clermont Ripley, Workers' Rights Project, North Carolina Justice Center

Speaking of bathrooms…

Who gets to use which bathroom in public spaces in North Carolina has gotten a lot of attention lately thanks to HB2, which was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly during a special one day session in April.  But there is another group of North Carolinians who are also being denied bathroom access: poultry workers.  

Low wage workers at poultry processing plants across the state have long complained about not being given enough time to take bathroom breaks while at work.  Most poultry processing is done by workers lined up along a moving belt with chickens flying by at a rate of 140 birds per minute.  They cannot leave the line to take a break unless someone is there to take their spot on the line.  As a result, workers end up limiting their fluid intake or just holding it – both options have adverse medical consequences.  No Relief, a new publication from Oxfam America as part of their campaign to improve working conditions in poultry plants, reports that many poultry workers resort to wearing adult diapers in order to avoid discomfort and embarrassment at work.  Oxfam also reports that workers who do request bathroom breaks often have to wait an hour to be allowed to go, but many other workers don’t even request breaks because they are scared of punished or threats of retaliation.

Workers at Case Farms in Morganton, North Carolina are fed up with the lack of bathroom access.  They are asking their plant manager to adopt a policy of allowing workers bathroom breaks within a reasonable amount of time after the worker’s request: 10 minutes.  They are also asking the plant manager to ensure that the line supervisors actually carry out this bathroom break policy.  The Farmworker Advocacy Network is proud of the brave stand these poultry workers are taking and is supporting their demand for basic respect and dignity in the workplace.  You can lend your voice to their campaign by signing this petition.  

 

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Join our Workers Memorial Day 2016 service April 28th in Raleigh

Honor the dead, demand the living at NCDOL do more to protect workers.

Join us 10 AM Thursday, April 28th for a press conference and solemn memorial service to honor the 128 workers who died on the job in North Carolina in 2014 and to call for the North Carolina Department of Labor to do more to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities. We will ring a bell 128 times to memorialize each person who died while working for a better life.

Who: NC State AFL-CIO, NC Justice Center, NC Council of Churches, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Student Action with Farmworkers, Action NC, and others

What: Solemn memorial service and press conference on Workers’ Memorial Day

When: Thursday, April 28, 2016, at 10:00 AM – WEAR BLACK!

Where: Bicentennial Mall, across from the legislative building, 16 W. Jones St., Raleigh, NC 27601

Why: 128 workers died on the job in 2014 – 128 too many and evidence that the Department of Labor needs to DO MORE to protect the lives and health of working people on the job

RSVP: bit.ly/wmdral2016

Grab the flyer for WMD 2016 (PDF):

Grab the flyer (PDF)

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Farmworkers and the ACA

The deadline for enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace came and went at the end of January. Though the ACA open enrollment period has passed, those experiencing certain life events – including marriage, moving, or a change in immigration status – may be eligible for a special enrollment period. While these life events may seem obvious to some, others may not realize that they are eligible for coverage.

For H2-A workers who enter this country to work for a specific period of time, once their visas are stamped and they enter the US, they gain lawful immigration status and become eligible for a special enrollment period (SEP) to enroll in health care coverage. However, in North Carolina 90% of all farmworkers do not have health insurance for a variety of reasons. Farmworkers must enroll within 60 days of arriving in North Carolina, and there is a limited number of in-person assisters to help them with their applications, especially since farmworkers work long hours. Finally, growers or workers themselves simply do not realize that H2-A workers are eligible. Likewise, farmworkers require frequent follow-up to help them after the enrollment process to translate mail and troubleshoot errors, such as​ missing tax credits or misplaced insurance payments.

Agricultural labor is one of the most dangerous lines of work. Farmworkers do particularly grueling jobs that involve repetitive motions, exposure to the heat and pesticides,​ and working with heavy machinery. For these reasons, farmworkers need access to health care. With the Affordable Care Act their health plans cover basic care – doctor’s visits, physicals and hospital stays. The average cost for health insurance is $20 to $80 a month. Farmworkers and their families are a particularly vulnerable group and are greatly​ in need of the peace of mind that they will be able to afford health care and be able to continue doing farm labor if they are hurt on the job.

There are many health organizations in North Carolina working hard to improve access to health care for farmworkers. One such group is the North Carolina Farmworkers Project, located in Benson, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping farmworkers improve their living conditions and increasing access to health care. Last year, they enrolled more than 200 workers through collaborations with other organizations at enrollment events in May and July timed to meet workers when they arrive in the state. They have many success stories, one being a farmworker whose insurance coverage started on July 1 and who suffered a broken leg on July 4, but thanks to his health insurance he was able to go to a local hospital and physical therapy was covered when he got out. If he had not had health insurance,​ his bills would have been more than $30,000, and he would have had limited access to local, affordable physical therapy without his insurance.

The NC Farmworkers Project proves that local organizations are needed to do the work of expanding health care coverage to people who require​ it the most, especially in rural areas. Through specialized outreach strategies and community partnerships, we can improve the lives of those who desperately need access to health care and are able to sign up for marketplace coverage.

Monday
Mar072016

The Pay Stub Disclosure Act

From Interfaith Worker Justice (http://www.iwj.org/)

As many as 20 million U.S. working men and women, including farmworker and poultry workers, do not receive pay stubs outlining how their pay is calculated or what deductions were taken from their wages. Too often, workers who don't receive pay stubs are victims of wage theft, cheated of the pay they legally earned.

Currently, there is no there is no federal requirement that employers give workers pay stubs. Without a paystub, workers are not only at a disadvantage in determining if they have been paid correctly, but without documentation, they have difficulty proving the violation.

In January, Representative Bobby Scott has introduced a bill, The Pay Stub Disclosure Act (HR 4376), in the US House of Representatives requiring employers to provide workers with information that employers are already required to keep and thereby help deter wage theft.

The Pay Stub Transparency Act would:

 

  • Require a uniform federal pay stub, making it easier for multi-state employers who currently face a patchwork of varying state laws.
  • Require employers to provide information to employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements, with a pay stub that explain how their wages are calculated, including whether they were paid overtime.
  • Give employees the right to inspect their employers’ pay records.
  • Give employees the ability to go to court to seek financial remedy when their rights to a pay stub or records inspection are violated.
  • Codify the legal presumption that if an employer fails to keep records of an employee’s pay, the employee’s own credible evidence and testimony about his or her pay is presumed to be true.

 

The Pay Stub Transparency Act is important because wage theft, which is rampant in throughout the U.S, is especially devastating for workers in low-wage jobs. Too often, workers’ pay is illegally whittled down by undercounting the hours they worked, paying illegal wage rates or taking unauthorized deductions.

Many workers are paid in cash, by check without any explanation or calculation, or with a payroll debit card that either doesn’t have a pay stub feature or that charges workers a fee to see their pay stubs. One recent study of 4,000 low-paid workers found that 57 percent did not get a paystub.

By requiring employers to provide pay stubs, workers will receive more of their legally owed wages and deter wage theft.

First, employers would think twice about underpaying workers their wages if the hours and wage rates had to be reported regularly on a paystub. Studies show that those employers who pay in cash or without proper paystubs are often ones who steal wages from workers. 

Second, workers who understand how they are paid (or underpaid) would be better equipped to talk with their employers about discrepancies between their own records and the employers’. 

Third, workers who discovered that their employers were cheating and couldn’t resolve the problems directly with their employers would have better information for filing a wage complaint.

The Pay Stub Disclosure Act is a common-sense piece of legislation that will help workers know their rights to be properly paid, will give them the tools to ensure that they are being compensated as they should be, and in if necessary, the proof and documentation they need to help recover stolen wages.

Consider calling your Congressperson to ask that they co-sponsor this common-sense piece of legislation.

 

Friday
Feb122016

New! Facts about North Carolina's Poultry Processing Workers

Farmworker Advocacy Network’s (FAN) Harvest of Dignity campaign has recently published a new factsheet on poultry processing in North Carolina, one of the state’s top agricultural commodities. This new resource contrasts the profits of the billion-dollar poultry industry with the health and safety hazards, poverty-level wages, and fear that many of the poultry processing workers face in North Carolina.   

 “… a closer look inside this profitable industry reveals hazardous work conditions and low wages for its workers, with few workplace protections and a climate of discrimination.” 

Read and/or download the full factsheet and recommendations here

Sign up to receive email updates on how to get involved in the movement to support North Carolina poultry workers. 


Wednesday
Dec022015

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS EDUCATE AND ASSIST YOUTH ELIGIBLE FOR DEFERRED ACTION

CONTACT: Lucia Constantine, Intern
(p) 919.660.3672 (e) lucia.constan@gmail.com
Durham, NC – Student Action with Farmworkers, in collaboration with NC
Farmworkers’ Project and Hatch Rockers Immigration, is coordinating a series of
legal assistance workshops around Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA
is an immigration policy set forth by President Obama that provides temporary
relief from deportation for eligible undocumented youth. The first workshop took
place this past Saturday at Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Dunn, NC. Over
thirty people attended, driving from as far as Burlington and Snow Hill.
Subsequent workshops will take place in December in Benson and Clayton.
Earlier this year, SAF was awarded a grant by Hispanics in Philanthropy to build
its capacity to provide services to Latino farmworker families. Through this grant,
SAF and its partners will provide education and legal assistance to Latino
farmworker families who might qualify for DACA. Jack Rockers, an attorney with
Hatch Rockers Immigration, will work with up to 30 eligible individuals in
navigating the DACA process at no additional cost. Youth who meet the
requirements and are granted DACA status can then apply for work permits.

The next workshop is on Saturday December 5 at Benson Area Medical Center
from 9:30 – 11:30am. The last workshop will occur on December 19
that NC Works in Clayton, NC from 9:30 – 11:30am.

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) brings students and farmworkers
together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve
conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social
change.
The NC Farmworkers’ Project empowers farmworkers to find solutions to their
problems collectively, promotes the political participation of workers and strives to
improve their living conditions

 

Saturday
Nov212015

A New Meaning of El Día de Los Muertos

Photo courtesy of SAF intern, Lucia ConstantineI approached the stairs where the beautifully decorated altar stood, my heart started beating louder than normal and it was time to confront the uneasy feeling I was experiencing all morning. “Hello and Bienvenidos to FAN’s annual Día de Los Muertos,” were the first words I said as I attempted to overcome my fear of public speaking. I got a grip of the podium, located my focus point, and glanced at my notes as I led the symbolic event where all 70 of us gathered to celebrate the lives of farm and poultry workers who were injured or died on the job in North Carolina. The undesirable feelings eventually faded away as I reminded myself the purpose of our gathering on that rainy Sunday afternoon.   

A few months prior to the event, I was assigned to a team to help plan and carry out the event. Along with a few other tasks, I was responsible for researching the death of farm and poultry workers as well as writing short obituaries that would be read to the audience during the event -  easy enough, right? Surprisingly enough, the task to locate the number of farm and poultry worker deaths was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Unaware of the Department of Labor’s unwillingness to report workers death, I was disappointed to find out that many workers’ deaths go uncounted or acknowledged in a state that prides itself in being the largest user of H-2A workers in the nation. The only information I had was a list of 40 agricultural worker fatalities or injuries that listed a name, age, county and in one word, a description of their unfortunate incident. Out of the long list, all I was able to locate was a small twenty-second report on Alejandro Cortes, a 36-year- old who suffocated to death after falling into a grain bin in Monroe, North Carolina.

Photo courtsy of SAF intern, Lucia Constantine

 Upset by the little recognition of his death, I called the news station that released the story and the sheriff that was present at the scene of Alejandro’s death to only be told that his death continues to be under investigation by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Alejandro’s untimely death has given me a new meaning of el Día de Los Muertos/ Day of the Dead, a tradition held by many Latino families in celebration of honoring and remembering the life of deceased loved ones. His death has lead me to acknowledge a population that receives very little recognition, but does so much to provide goods to consumers like myself. This rich tradition has contributed to my personal and professional values as a social worker. It is my responsibility to continue challenging the social injustice that agricultural workers encounter every day in our North Carolina fields. It is my duty to prevent oppression, eliminate worker exploitation, and advocate for better enforced laws. As the Advocacy and Organizing intern with Student Action with Farmworkers, I am gaining the skills required to uphold the organization’s vision where students and community members actively work together with farmworkers for justice in the agricultural system. Our agricultural workers deserve more recognition than to solely be listed on a piece of paper with a name, age, and county.

 The Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN), a coalition of North Carolina organizations working for better working and living conditions for farm and poultry workers, convenes a Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos community altar and press conference annually. It is one of FAN’s many activities to engage the community and to advocate with and for farmworkers for worker dignity and justice.