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Tuesday
Apr012014

Media Release: EPA pesticide safety changes welcome, farmworker coalition says, but fall short 

MARCH 31, 2014 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: John Zambenini (937)554-4583 

EPA pesticide safety changes welcome, farmworker coalition says, but fall short 

Ag Worker Protection Standard update overdue, working children still not protected 

"The new proposal falls short in key ways, such as allowing teenagers to work as pesticide applicators." --Fawn Pattison, Toxic Free NC. Photo by Peter Eversoll. 

RALEIGH — A group of North Carolina farmworker advocates praised proposed EPA changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, but said the measures represent only a partial improvement for workers’ health and safety. The North Carolina Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN) announced Monday its support of upcoming changes designed to reduce workers’ risk of pesticide exposure. But the measures, now open for public comment, still fall short, advocates say. 

Coalition leaders say changes to the 22-year-old standard address inhumane working conditions where pesticide exposure is a significant risk, but stop short of protecting children or monitoring the long-term harm of exposure.

“For too long, the people who pick our food have been forced to put their own health and their children’s at risk, just by going to work,” Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate at FAN member organization Toxic Free North Carolina said. “We’re pleased the EPA proposed strengthening this outdated safety standard. But the  It is not immediately clear whether the changes will sufficiently address documentation loopholes that stymied the high-profile Ag-Mart case concerning three children born in 2005 with severe birth defects. Their mothers worked in tomato fields for Ag-Mart when they were pregnant, and the birth defects were believed to be linked to pesticide exposure. The proposed new regulations do call for growers to keep records of pesticide applications, as well as more frequent training for applicators, though no record of when workers return to treated fields.

The EPA’s proposal has renewed community efforts to address unsafe working conditions. “We’re pleased that the EPA is proposing strengthening protections for youth who work in the fields,” Carol Brooke of the NC Justice Center said, “but believe that children under 18 should not be exposed to the hazards of handling pesticides.”

Nadeen Bir, Advocacy and Organizing Director, of Student Action with Farmworkers said the long overdue update must be part of a broader conversation about farmworker issues. “Enforcement of the standard is always a challenge,” Bir said. “It’s made worse by workers’ fear of retaliation if they come forward about violations.”

The estimated 1-2.4 million farmworkers in the United States often live in fear of wages being withheld or documentation being confiscated if they report violations or abuse.

“The proposed rule is positive, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle,” Bir said. The comment period ends June 17th. FAN is calling on the public to voice support for the proposal, and for stronger protections for children and youth in particular. A full copy of the proposed rule, and instructions for commenting can be found on the EPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/safety/workers/proposed/index.html.

The coalition is calling for continued scrutiny of policies that affect the lives of farmworkers. Part of the challenge the WPS changes present is sifting through the details of the lengthy new policy and anticipating the needs of workers. Its ramifications are not yet completely known, advocates said. Farmworker Advocacy Network is an award-winning coalition committed to recognizing the humanity and leadership of farmworkers, upon whom our agricultural system is dependent, and bringing their concerns to the public. www.ncfan.org

 

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Wednesday
Mar262014

Welcome to National Farmworker Awareness Week! March 24-31, 2014: Reflect, Share, Act! 

 

WHY is there a National Farmworker Awareness Week? FAN joins organizations and individuals across the country this week to honor farmworkers and their families, raise awareness about issues affecting them, demand safe and just working and living conditions, and call for an end to unfair treatment under the law.

HOW can you participate? We invite you to take a brief moment each day to think about the lives of farmworkers and their families who harvest our food. Every day has a different theme connected to farmworker justice, with multimedia information to learn more, and steps to take action for the related issue. Visit and ‘Like’ the National Facebook page for this special week and spread the word.

TODAY’s theme is worker unity. “In 1966, Cesar Chavez and a group of strikers set out on a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to draw attention to the plight of farm workers, and during this strike the union won its first contract.” We honor the long legacy of workers organizing in the U.S. and call attention to the importance of unions in advancing worker rights—see images of these struggles in action, and learn more, in this short video

The power of farmworker organizing comes to the big screen across the country this Friday! Don’t miss the premier of the major motion picture Cesar Chavez on March 28th – organize a movie meet-up like this one in Durham, NC!

 

Friday
Mar072014

“Harvest of Dignity” won a Regional Emmy!

It has been about a month since the Harvest of Dignity won “Best Documentary/Topical” in the Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards, but we’re still celebrating. This is a huge step forward in the farmworker justice movement, one that will help bring more awareness and involvement in improving the living and working conditions of North Carolina field and poultry workers.

Harvest of Dignity was produced in 2010 with Donna Campbell of Minnow Media, Student Action with Farmworkers and the Farmworker Advocacy Network, to commemorate the 50th anniversary broadcast of Edward R. Murrow’s groundbreaking 1960 documentary, Harvest of Shame.  Murrow’s documentary revealed conditions of housing, education and pay for workers and raised awareness of farmworker injustices, and prompted the passage of new legislation to protect farmworkers. The Harvest of Dignity, through interviews with farmworkers, religious leaders, and advocates examines if and how the lives of farmworkers have changed in North Carolina in the last 50 years. The documentary uncovers housing conditions in migrant labor camps in Snow Hill and Benson, NC and details issues of pay, education, pesticide exposure and injuries. Fifty years ago most farmworkers were African American; today they are more likely to be Latino/Hispanic. Most have come to North Carolina looking for opportunity for a better life.

The Harvest of Dignity is also the same name of FAN’s advocacy and awareness raising campaign that calls for positive education, legislation, and organizing initiatives to improve living and working conditions of North Carolina field and poultry workers.  This documentary has been used as a teaching tool to involve community members in the farmworker justice movement. Harvest of Dignity is available in English and dubbed in Spanish. You can purchase a DVD here or stream the documentary online from here.

FAN is thankful for the funders, partners and individuals who made this documentary possible: The North Carolina Arts Council, The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, OXFAM America, Donna Campbell and Minnow Media, Student Action with Farmworkers, Toxic Free NC, NC Justice Center, and Legal Aid of North Carolina.

While we are grateful for this award, we truly feel the recognition should go to the thousands of farmworkers who harvest our food each and every day.

 

Regional EMMY Award for Harvest of Dignity from Minnow Media on Vimeo.

 

 

Friday
Feb282014

No Access to Justice When Employers Use Police Force to Control Farmworkers

Written by Lori Johnson, an attorney with the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina

Reposted from Law at the Margins

 

Can there be justice for farmworkers when employers use police force to prevent employees from meeting with counsel?

 

As a farmworker attorney in North Carolina, simply meeting with my clients poses an ongoing challenge. This reality became clear to me several years ago while meeting with a client outside his home. A squad car pulled into the yard, and fear washed over my client’s face. My client’s employer sought trespass charges against me, even though my client, the actual resident, had invited me. My client had no telephone or means of transportation, so meeting him after work hours where he lived was necessary.

The deputies let me argue my case to a magistrate over the squad car telephone, and she deferred my arrest pending an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General on whether trespass charges would stand against an attorney present at a labor camp at the invitation of the occupant farmworker. While the resulting opinion was favorable, threatened and actual police force continue to be used against migrant service providers in North Carolina and throughout the nation.

Private property with dog[1]

 

Can there be justice for farmworkers when employers use police force to prevent employees from meeting with counsel? What happens to client confidentiality when the adverse party threatens criminal sanctions against counsel unless given prior notice of attorney-client meetings?

Spearheaded by Maryland Legal Aid and the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a nationwide coalition of farmworker advocates now seek a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to address these concerns of access to counsel and other rights. The IACHR promotes and defends human rights for member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The request asks the IACHR to hold a hearing on whether the United States has violated the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and other human rights instruments by failing to ensure that human rights defenders have access to migrant farmworker labor camps. The coalition’s request for a hearing follows prior actions, including a 2012 human rights complaint filed before the United Nations.

Farmworkers typically reside in employer-owned labor camps in remote locations. Since farmworkers, with no personal means of transport, are unable to travel to the non-profit legal service providers, these service providers must instead go to the labor camps during the workers’ free time. Growers, seeking to control their workers, routinely assert that they, and not the actual residents, determine who may enter worker housing. Criminal trespass charges and occasional physical force are used against service providers as a means to isolate farmworkers.

The lack of an effective legal framework securing service provider access to labor camps violates freedom of assembly and association, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and the right to personal security. For farmworkers, being unable to effectively meet with counsel renders due process meaningless. Yet even where state attorney general opinions or case law support a farmworker’s right to have visitors –  generally based on tenancy rights or freedom of association-  law enforcement officials are often unaware of such protections or refuse to acknowledge said rights.

Barnes no trespasscropped

In Fall of 2013, my co-workers made a two hour drive to visit an injured farmworker. The meeting was disrupted when his employers burst into the client’s home and threatened my co-workers with arrest for criminal trespass. The deputy who arrived later declined to make arrests, but the situation made it impossible to continue our client’s interview. In his 911 call, the employer claimed that the injured worker should not have called Legal Aid because, in the employer’s opinion, the worker was already receiving his workers’ compensation benefits.

Employers have used criminal sanctions in attempts to coerce confidential information. A New Jersey legal aid lawyer was recently charged with criminal trespass despite favorable state case law. The municipal prosecutor offered to drop the charges if the attorney agreed to give the employer prior notice before meeting with workers, which the attorney, given confidentiality duties, rightfully refused.  Charges were only dismissed when the employer did not show at trial.  Employers have also demanded disclosure of the worker’s identity in order “to verify” the invitation with the worker. One can imagine how that conversation would play out.

Access to counsel is especially important because farmworkers face greater rates of unlawful and dangerous working conditions. A 2011 North Carolina study found that farmworkers commonly suffer wage theft and pesticide safety violations.  Agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations, with some of the highest rates of fatal and non-fatal injuries.  Farmworkers are also subject to “agricultural exceptionalism”, i.e., the exempting of farmworkers from rights enjoyed by others, such as basic workplace safety requirements, collective bargaining protections or workers’ compensation.

Employers with the most to hide use force to isolate and control workers. The farm that sought to have me arrested, for example, had a deeply disturbing history. A worker’s brutal death had led to involuntary servitude convictions against its crew managers. Human traffickers tightly control who may enter labor camps as a means to further their trafficking scheme by preventing escape.

While law enforcement should be seen as an ally of farmworkers against human traffickers, the sight of police preventing workers from meeting with counsel sends instead the chilling message that there is no justice in our courts. The coalition demands that the United States be held accountable in ensuring justice for all. The United States has yet to respond to the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s request for a response on this issue. The coalition now moves for a hearing before the IACHR.


Wednesday
Feb262014

Farmworker Advocacy Network Honored with Citizen Award

"What drives people to public service is a sense of possibility."—Henry Hampton, an African-American filmmaker whose productions, including Eyes on the Prize, focused on social justice

(excerpt from IndyWeek coverage 1/29/14)

 

On Saturday, February 22nd, several members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network joined activists, artists and other members of the North Carolina Triangle region in downtown Durham who were honored with a luncheon and awards ceremony by the Indy, the area’s premier media publication for progressive news, culture and commentary, for making the Triangle a “more just and compassionate place.” The prestigious Citizen Awards are given each year to a handful of people who are recognized for being champions of change in their communities and who often carry out this work with little or no fanfare. FAN is pleased with the opportunity to highlight its issues among the Indy’s readership and also to be counted in the company of inspiring individuals and groups fighting to make our state a better place to work and live.

 

Clermont Ripley, a member of FAN and attorney with the NC Justice Center, accepted the award on behalf of the coalition. She spoke about FAN’s 10-year tenure of advocacy, research, organizing and public awareness-raising efforts to improve conditions for farm and poultry workers and their families and to strengthen existing laws.

Read the write-up about FAN in the Indy’s special Citizen Awards edition!

 

Other 2014 award recipients are Monika Johnson-Hostler of the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Thava Mahadevan of Penny Lane Farm, and three area advocates for the homeless: the Rev. Carolyn Schuldt of Open Table Ministry, the Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries, and Durham lawyer Scott Holmes.  A special mention was given to the Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and Moral Monday protestors. Find out more about these and past honorees here.

FAN thanks the Indy for this esteemed recognition, its coalition members and allies working tirelessly against the tide of an unjust agricultural system, and most of all, the thousands of field and poultry workers and their families in North Carolina for the filling our tables with abundance.

Monday
Feb172014

Tough Road Ahead for NC Poultry Workers

Photo by Flickr member: USDAgov

Photo by Flickr member: USDAgov

Guest post by John Zambenini, Duke Divinity School Intern

The Raleigh News & Observer reported recently that work may be getting harder for North Carolina’s poultry workers. If the Obama administration gives the go-ahead, new policies already backed by North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan will allow the difficult speeds at which workers must process chickens to increase. Under the new regulations, the total output of inspected birds would increase from 140 birds per minute to 175.

Facing a dizzying onslaught of chickens and turkeys on fast-moving mechanical equipment, workers risk injuring hands, wrists, and shoulders from the quick, repetitive motions needed to process the birds. A mistake with a knife at such a rate can be costly, and the work often comes with low pay and little protection. Many injuries go unreported, according to the News & Observer story, because workers are afraid of being fired and have few other options for work in the United States.

At a recent Day of the Dead memorial service hosted by the Farmworker Advocacy Network – a statewide coalition which includes the NC Council of Churches – workers told reporters that as they gain experience, the number of birds they must process increases. Pay raises, however, were so meager that with the increased number of birds to process, their wages were effectively cut. With the anticipated changes, the output of poultry processing facilities is expected to increase even more, with little promise of benefit.

On the same day, officials released stats on annual workplace deaths in the state. Despite a decrease from last year, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry conceded the state must do better, the News & Observer reported. Preventing a death here, or protecting a worker against pesticide exposure or injury there, is a worthwhile endeavor. While increased workplace safety is commendable, incremental reductions of injuries and deaths represents a misguided view of what it means to live and work in North Carolina.

This kind of effort alone creates a culture of acceptable margins of error for injury and death when year-end statistics are released, rather than endeavoring to create a humane, safe and just climate for labor in North Carolina in the first place. It has nothing to say of creating a clean, hospitable environment when migrant workers, upon which the industry is dependent, are employed. This kind of labor culture also has nothing to say for the powerless when increased production is demanded with no promise of the support needed to sustain them.

Meanwhile, industry trade journal Ag Professional is reporting that 2013 meant huge growth in North Carolina’s $70 billion agriculture industry, with continued expansion expected in 2014. The policy changes backed by Sen. Hagan and the poultry industry no doubt promise growth for North Carolina’s $13 billion poultry industry, as well. Progress is evidently being made, growth is happening. But what are we becoming if we grow with little concern for those upon whom we are dependent?

The post Tough Road Ahead for NC Poultry Workers appeared first on NC Council of Churches.

Thursday
Dec192013

The Journey of Your Christmas Tree

Wednesday
Nov272013

Stand up for poultry workers as America sits down to eat turkey

photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, via Flickr

Dear friends of farm and poultry workers, 

Did you know that North Carolina ranks 4th in the nation in the poultry industry and generates close to $3 billion in cash receipts? Line speeds at poultry processing plants are dangerously fast--resulting in frequent injuries and even death-- and inspections are few...Yet the US Department of Agriculture is proposing to allow faster line speeds and looser industry rules which will put poultry workers at even greater risk.

Join us and our allies across the nation this Thanksgiving as we take a minute to tweet at the USDA and the US Department of Labor to demand dignity and safety for the workers who helped bring turkey to our tables. Use the hashtag #pardonme and send a message to: @USDAFoodSafety and @LaborSec or click on the "tweet" link in the sentence above. 

Read an action alert from our friends at National Council of La Raza and the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center here.

Find more facts on the NC poultry industry here

After you tweet, tell you friends and family to do the same! Let's stand up for the workers who put food on our table this Thanksgiving.