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The Ag-Mart case is closed, but farm workers are still at risk.

From FAN member Toxic Free NC:

The NC Pesticide Board recently settled its five-year case against Ag-Mart, the tomato grower accused of exposing pregnant workers to hazardous pesticides on its NC farms. Farm worker advocates are greatly troubled by the settlement, which many believe sends the wrong message that companies who put farm workers at extraordinary risk will not be held accountable. Take action below: Call on the NC Pesticide Board to make sure such a tragic case never happens again in our state.

Francisca Herrera holds her son Carlitos Candelario at a news conference in Florida in March, 2006. Herrera worked in Ag-Mart's fields in NC and FL during her pregnancy with Carlitos, and claims pesticides were sprayed many times while she was working in the fields. AP Photo.The settlement ends Ag-Mart's appeal of the Pesticide Board's 2009 ruling against them, and includes a $25,000 payment, a two-year pesticide safety education program for a limited number of farm workers, and a public statement from the NC Pesticide Board that Ag-Mart is free from any negligence or liability in the case. Read more about the settlement on Toxic Free NC's blog.

We are concerned that many of the root causes of the Ag-Mart tragedy which put farm workers and their families at risk of serious harm have not yet been resolved. Throughout five years of hearings on the Ag-Mart case, the NC Pesticide Board has only touched on the underlying problems with worker protections in NC once, when it was ordered to do so by the state legislature. Even then, the Pesticide Board made only minor changes to pesticide record-keeping rules.

We are calling on the NC Pesticide Board to make sure that this never happens again.  Farm workers in North Carolina should never again be subjected to the hazards that AgMart workers described in this case.  Join us in urging the NC Pesticide Board to take up this issue at their next meeting on July 13.

Background information on the Ag-Mart case.

Take Action - We don't want another case like Ag-Mart ever again in North Carolina.

Please join Toxic Free NC and farm worker advocates around the state in calling on the NC Pesticide Board to ensure that we don't have another tragedy like the Ag-Mart case in our state ever again. Here is the open letter to the NC Pesticide Board sent by the Farmworker Advocacy Network on 6/17/10.  Please feel free to use the text from that letter, or use the talking points, below, to compose your own.

Send your letter to:
NC Pesticide Board
c/o James Burnette, Administrator
email: james.burnette@ncagr.gov
post mail: 1090 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1090

Thank you for taking action! Please contact Toxic Free NC at info@toxicfreenc.org or (919) 833-1123 to let us know you're taking action, or if you have any questions.

Talking Points for your letter or email to the NC Pesticide Board:

  • Farmworkers and their families still face unacceptable risks of serious harm on farms in North Carolina.
  • The NC Pesticide Board has the authority and the power to make significant changes in the working conditions faced by farmworkers.  Examples include requiring growers to record the time workers return to sprayed fields, and allowing workers to make confidential complaints of violations.
  • We urge the Pesticide Board to ensure that its members never have to hear another case like the Ag-Mart case again. Now that this case has been closed, we urge you to take up this critical question at the next meeting of the Pesticide Board.

U.S. Cracks Down on Farmers Who Hire Children

Here's a recent story from the NY Times on child labor - with a focus on North Carolina.  Click here to learn more about children in the fields.

WHITE LAKE, N.C. — The Obama administration has opened a broad campaign of enforcement against farmers who employ children and underpay workers, hiring hundreds of investigators and raising fines for labor and wage violators.

A flurry of fines and mounting public pressure on blueberry farmers is only the opening salvo, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in an interview. Ms. Solis, the daughter of an immigrant farm worker, said she was making enforcement of farm-labor rules a priority. At the same time, Congress is considering whether to rewrite the law that still allows 12-year-olds to work on farms during the summer with almost no limits.

The blueberry crop has been drawing workers to eastern North Carolina for decades, but as the harvest got under way in late May, growers stung by bad publicity and federal fines were scrambling to clean up their act, even going beyond the current law to keep all children off the fields. The growers were also ensuring that the workers, mainly Hispanic immigrants, would make at least the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“I picked blueberries last year, and my 4-year-old brother tried to, but he got stuck in the mud,” said Miguel, a 12-year-old child of migrants. “The inspectors fined the farmers, and this year no kids are allowed.”

Child and rights advocates said they were encouraged by these signs of federal resolve, but they were also waiting to see how wide and lasting the changes would be. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of children under 18 toil each year, harvesting crops from apples to onions, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch detailing hazards to their health and schooling and criticizing the Labor Department for past inaction.

Click here to read more.


Weeding Out Abuses in the System

Farmworker Justice and Oxfam America have just released a new report, Weeding out abuses: Recommendations for a law-abiding farm labor system. 


Download the report (PDF, 1 Mb) 
This report describes the employment laws that apply to farmworkers and the widespread violations of those laws by agricultural employers.  Because the human faces of those who suffer these abuses are often lost in the statistics, this report tells  the personal stories of several men and women who pick our fruits and vegetables; these accounts are not merely anecdotes but are representative of the reality.


The report makes specific recommendations for improving the U.S. Department of Labor’s enforcement of the limited employment protections guaranteed to farmworkers.  If DOL takes these steps, tens of thousands of farmworkers will experience better wages and safer working conditions and law-abiding agricultural businesses will not be undermined in the marketplace by unscrupulous employers that seek greater profit by violating the law. 



Ag-Mart gets slapped on wrist; ready to tie up "loose ends"

One of the most notorious agribusinesses in the United States is getting ready to tie up the "loose ends" from 369 recent pesticide violations in North Carolina.

Here's some background on Ag-Mart:

In North Carolina and Florida, tomato grower Ag-Mart is facing hundreds of charges for pesticide violations, mostly for failing to comply with the federal Worker Protection Standards that are designed to minimize pesticide hazards to farmworkers. At least one family contends that these unlawful exposures during a worker’s pregnancy resulted in the severe birth defects of her son. The case has drawn outrage, as well as renewed attention to the plight of farmworkers, from around the nation. Here in North Carolina, it has also exposed many of the flaws in our system of pesticide regulation and enforcement.

Click here to read more.

Here are some key dates in the Ag-Mart case.

We need to ensure safety in the fields so that no more lives are destroyed at the toxic intersection of corporate profits, pesticides and the abuse of vulnerable workers.


President Obama honors César Chávez

President Obama signs a proclamation honoring César ChávezEarlier this spring, President Obama hosted members of the United Farm Workers and César Chávez's family at the White House.  Obama issued a statement highlighting the power of worker organizing and fighting for changes in the fields.  Here's part of the statement:

The rights and benefits working Americans enjoy today were not easily gained; they had to be won. It took generations of courageous men and women, fighting to secure decent working conditions, organizing to demand fair pay, and sometimes risking their lives. Some, like Cesar Estrada Chavez, made it the cause of their lives. Today, on what would have been his 83rd birthday, we celebrate Cesar's legacy and the progress achieved by all who stood alongside him.

Here in North Carolina, I know that securing changes in the fields won't be easy.  But I'm deeply encourged by Chávez's legacy of speaking the truth to power and rallying supporters to the cause of a better life for farmworkers. 

Click the video to see more below:

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