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FAN Stands in Solidarity Against the Agricultural Guestworker Act

The Farmworker Advocacy Network is one of over 200 coalitions, groups, and organizations that have recently signed a letter* opposing Representative Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Act, H.R. 1773, or the “Ag Act”. We believe this legislation could devastate our nation’s agricultural system and undermine core American values.

 As written in a recent FAN blog post, the Ag Act seeks to lower protections for farmworkers by stripping away decades of worker protections to leave guestworkers virtually no protection from abusive conditions. Employers will not need to verify adequate working conditions, wages or insurance coverage for injuries, thus eliminating oversight of worker’s rights. Additionally, guestworkers are offered no pathway to becoming permanent legal U.S. citizens. Instead they will be required to self-deport with the only the possibility of returning as a temporary guestworker. This would leave temporary workers in a highly vulnerable position to be exploited solely for their labor.

 As a coalition, we strongly oppose the Ag Act and believe it is an unworkable, anti-immigrant and anti- worker approach to our nation’s immigration problems. Hard-working farmworkers do not deserve to be relegated to a permanent 2nd class status apart from their families. As such, the Ag Act stands contrary to our nation’s core values of freedom, equality and family unity. Farmworkers have made invaluable contributions to our country, and they deserve protections that not only keep them safe but uphold their dignity as individuals and workers.

  View the letter opposing the Agricultural Guestworker Act

*This letter has already been sent to members of the House of Representatives, however individuals can still join FAN in saying "NO" to unfair and un-workable farmworker legislation by weighing-in with their members of Congress or by accessing the United Farm Workers action alert calling for immigration reform


Harvest of Dignity Dinner, Screening and CIW Truth Tour

By Margaret Wurth at Human Rights Watch
By Margaret Wurth at Human Rights Watc

By Nadeen Bir at Student Action with Farmworkers

Two weeks ago, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers kicked off their Publix Truth tour in NC to share with their allies how Publix has refused to participate in the Fair Food Program. On Monday, September 23rd, the Farmworker Advocacy Network, Student Action with Farmworkers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Minnow Media, the NC Council of Churches, Witness for Peace, and the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together to welcome our friends from Immokalee to share their fight for a fair food system. 

From L to R: Oscar Otzoy, Elena Stein, and Emilio Faustino Galindo, Coalition of Immokalee Workers; Emily Zucchino, Witness for Peace; Chris Liu-Beers, NC Council of Churches; Dave Austin, Farm Labor Organizing Committee; Donna Campbell, Minnow Media Eno River UU Fellowship. Photo by Michael Durbin.We started the night with a presentation from the CIW's Don Emilio and Oscar sharing the amazing work that they are doing teaching other farmworkers about their rights on the job.  When companies join the Fair Food campaign, workers get paid a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they pick, they get to report labor abuses without fear of losing their job, and women have more protections against sexual harassment in the workplace, among other benefits. There are still companies who have not come to the negotiations table and right now the CIW is targeting Wendy’s and Publix, who have plans to expand in North Carolina. 

After the talk and dinner, we screened Harvest of Dignity, a film documenting the need in NC for safe places to live, safe places to work, and stronger enforcement of the law for farmworkers. The audience got a peek into the lives of North Carolina men, women, and children who work in the fields and also heard from advocates about how conditions haven’t really changed in the last 60 years. The film was followed with a panel discussion that highlighted the work of several event sponsors and the audience was encouraged to sign up on listserves, sign petitions, and to support our various campaigns. 

Find out more about how to get involved with the 
Harvest of Dignity campaign and the CIW Publix Truth Tour.


North Carolina: Choosing Not to Protect Child Farmworkers

By Margaret Wurth at Human Rights Watch l Originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

When I met “Miguel” on a farm in Eastern North Carolina in July, he was working in the fields in his stocking feet, his torso draped with a black plastic garbage bag. He didn’t have work boots that could withstand the thick mud from the summer’s heavy rains or a raincoat to keep his clothes dry. He described the headaches he gets while working 10-hour days in intense heat. “It was horrible,” he said. “It felt like there was something in my head, trying to eat it.”

Unlike most other middle-schoolers, 12-year-old Miguel was spending his summer vacation planting sweet potatoes, pulling the tops off tobacco plants and harvesting watermelons. When I asked whether he had ever missed a day of school to work in the fields, he misunderstood and quickly answered, “Yeah, I miss school. I miss my friends, and my teacher, and homework, and recess, and lunch. I miss all of that.”

Gov. Pat McCrory has proclaimed this week “Farm Health and Safety Week” in North Carolina, acknowledging that youth are among the agricultural workers “at higher risk than others.” I doubt Miguel will be celebrating.

Across North Carolina, thousands of children like Miguel work long hours on commercial farms that make agriculture the state’s top industry. Many use sharp tools, operate dangerous machinery and lift heavy loads.

With little access to protective equipment, they are exposed to pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

“Laura,” now 17, told me she saw a tractor spraying the field where she worked when she was 15. “They were spraying on the other side of the field, but you could still smell it. I got a lot of splotches on my legs. And the man we worked for, he didn’t want to take us out of the field at first.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticide exposure as their bodies are still developing, and they consume more water and food and breathe more air, pound for pound, than adults. Long-term effects of pesticide exposure include cancer, neurological problems and reproductive health issues.

Most children working on farms in North Carolina are poor and Latino. While their parents are frequently undocumented migrants, most of the children are U.S. citizens. Farmworker parents rely on their children’s minimum wage earnings to help supplement meager family incomes, averaging less than $20,000 annually nationwide.

Under a double standard in federal labor law, children can work in agriculture at far younger ages, for far longer hours and in far more hazardous conditions than other working children. Federal law has no minimum age for children to work on small farms with their parents’ permission. At age 12, children can work for hire on a farm of any size.

In all other industries, children must be at least 14 to work, and the jobs they are allowed to do are carefully restricted. Farm work is one of the most hazardous occupations open to children. Moreover, child farmworkers can do jobs at age 16 that are considered “particularly hazardous” by the U.S. Department of Labor, jobs that are restricted for children under 18 working anywhere else.

Efforts to amend federal laws and policies to protect children or establish a higher minimum age to work in agriculture have fallen short. Congress has failed to close the loophole that would provide child farmworkers with the same minimum age protections as all other working children.

Even an attempt to update the decade-old list of hazardous tasks that are off-limits to children under 16 collapsed last year when the Obama administration caved in to opposition from the agricultural lobby and others.

North Carolina was poised to take an important step to protect children during the last legislative session. Senate Bill 707 would have prohibited children under 14 from working for hire in agriculture. Despite an explicit exception for children working on family farms, the bill was left to die in committee.

In light of the General Assembly’s failure to address hazardous child labor, McCrory’s “Farm Health and Safety Week” seems like an empty proclamation. If North Carolina’s policymakers are serious about protecting children, they should amend state law to apply the same minimum age requirements and hazardous work restrictions to farmworker children that already protect all other working children. The lives of children who work on North Carolina’s farms depend on it.

Margaret Wurth, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, is a senior research assistant with the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.


The Ag Act: Congress Considers Turning Back the Clock to the Bracero Program

A bracero worker in the 1950's. Photo by APT.Somewhat lost this summer amidst all the conversation about comprehensive immigration reform is a little-known bill called the "Agricultural Guestworker Act" (or "Ag Act," HB 1773) that has already passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. This harmful bill is a thinly veiled attempt to strip farmworkers of the few rights they have on the job while propping up agribusinesses' bottom line.  

A farmworker in Eastern NC (2009). Photo by Peter Eversoll.

Here's how it works: the Ag Act would establish a new agricultural guestworker program allowing US companies to hire foreign-born workers for temporary employment in that industry. Under the current system employer certification is required, which builds in some worker protections. However, under the Ag Act, employers would only need to attest—on their on behalf, with no outside verification—that they have adequate workplace conditions, recruitment practices, wages, and insurance coverage for worker injuries. Workers would be allowed to move between employers without losing their visa. Also, 10% of a worker’s earnings would be withheld from their paycheck. The worker could only get this money from a U.S. embassy/consulate within 30 days of returning to their home country, and the worker must show they’ve followed program requirements. Furthermore, guestworkers under this bill would not be allowed to bring spouses or minor children under their visa. Finally, federal public benefits would not be available to guestworkers under the Ag Act.

We wanted workers but we got people. ~Max Frisch
Some of the Ag Act provisions are very similar to those in the infamous Bracero Program which exploited and abused 3 million temporary agricultural workers from the 1940s to the 1960s. If passed, the Ag Act would harm all workers by driving down wages, creating a second class of workers vulnerable to employer abuse, and providing reduced oversight of workers’ rights. Eligible workers would be denied access to cost-saving benefits under the Affordable Care Act as well as social welfare programs designed for those most in need. Most troubling is that guestworkers would not be allowed to become permanent legal U.S. residents, creating a class of workers exploited solely for their labor, held forever apart from being included as an equal in the country their labors serve.



Instead of adopting the more reasonable Senate bill framework that includes the "Ag-Jobs" compromise (an agreement between agribusiness and farmworkers that would allow farmworkers to get on an accelerated path to citizenship), the Ag Act will harm one of the most vulnerable working populations in the U.S. Apparently, we want the cheap labor that farmworkers provide without acknowledging the whole person - family unity, protections on the job, a safety net for hard times. Farmworkers do backbreaking work, often in deplorable conditions, and they deserve to be treated with dignity. Congress shouldn't turn the clock back on them now.

Reflections of a farmer's daughter

by Caitlin Bearden
They say growing up on a farm is one of the best ways to spend your childhood. My summer days were spent running through corn fields, riding tractors, and setting up a lemonade stand in the middle of nowhere. (Consequently my dad was my number one customer.)
My life was a journey through muddy creeks with ripped jeans and my little brother as co-pilot. I loved every minute. When I was that age I never really understood just how much hard work went into farming. I saw our land as my playground. Not until later in life did I realize that for my dad, it’s been a lifetime of hard work, with sweat-filled soil and very little pay.  No matter how hard it has been or how hard it will be, he still plows those fields I grew up running through.
I’ve learned a lot as a farmer’s daughter, such as a deeply-rooted respect for people who work with their hands and provide for others. But until recently, I knew very little about the thousands of migrant farmworkers who travel far, often leaving their families behind. Or, about farmworkers who suffer from respiratory problems due to pesticide exposure, or the ten-year-olds who work 15 hours a day picking blueberries.  
Even growing up with a farming background, I found myself simplifying just how much work goes into agriculture, as I think many of us do. We visit our local grocery store, place food in our basket, pay the cashier, and that is the extent of our relationship with farmworkers. We never think twice about the hands that placed our strawberries in their nicely packaged containers or the person who fed the cows that produced our milk by the gallons. It seems so easy to forget about the work it took to get it all there. 
Organizations like the Farmworker Advocacy Network work hard to bring attention to the real living and working conditions of farmworkers and how we can make a difference. There is pride, beauty and fun in farming, but more often than not, there are harsh realities. Not all farms are like my dad’s. For a lot of kids, the farm is not their playground. 

Farmworkers Come to Capitol Hill Seeking Safeguards

by Anna Jensen

“The laws of our country afford far less workplace protection to farmworkers than most workers receive in other industrial sectors.  Despite the clear hazards of their work, farmworkers are not even guaranteed basic on-the-job protections to reduce exposure to the highly toxic pesticides that threaten their well-being and that of their families and children. The threat facing millions of farmworkers that work in our nation’s fields, farms and nurseries is not only toxic but fundamentally unjust and the EPA has a legal duty to correct this.” –Tripp Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice

Washington, D.C. – On July 15 and July 16 on Capitol Hill, a dozen farmworkers from across the nation met with their members of Congress to call for the implementation of stronger protections for farmworkers from hazardous pesticides. An estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States, and farmworkers face the greatest threat from these chemicals of any sector of society, with thousands of farmworkers each year experiencing pesticide poisoning.

“How can people eat knowing that so much pain and suffering went into this fruit or this bottle of wine?” asked Alina Diaz, vice president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. “That is not fair. Lawmakers need to really make a strong effort to make better legislation so these workers are protected.”

The farmworkers and allies visiting D.C. this week are calling on Congress to protect the health of farmworkers and their families by strengthening the Worker Protection Standard regulations. These rules were established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set agricultural worker safety standards for pesticide use, but have not been updated or revised for more than 20 years, despite overwhelming evidence of their inadequacy.

The nation’s 1-2 million farmworkers form the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy and many are regularly exposed to pesticides.  The federal government estimates that there are 10-20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually, a figure that likely understates the actual number of acute poisonings since many affected farmworkers may not seek care from a physician.

Farmworker families are also exposed to pesticides in the form of residues on workers’ tools, clothes, shoes, and skin. The close proximity of agricultural fields to residential areas also results in aerial drift of pesticides into farmworkers’ homes, schools, and playgrounds. Research shows that children are especially vulnerable to harms from these exposures, even at very low levels.

Short-term effects of pesticide exposures can include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems and even death. Cumulative long-term exposures can increase the risk for farmworkers and their children of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease.

Most workers in the U.S. look to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for standards to protect them from exposure to hazardous chemicals. Protection for farmworkers from pesticides is left to the EPA’s authority under the Worker Protection Standard of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”), a standard that is far more lenient than OSHA rules and is fundamentally inadequate.

The farmworkers and advocates are calling for these changes to the Worker Protection Standard:

•           Provide more frequent and more comprehensible pesticide safety training for farmworkers

•           Include information about farmworker families’ exposures to pesticides in the required training materials

•           Ensure that workers receive information about specific pesticides used in their work

•           Require safety precautions and protective equipment limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides

•           Require medical monitoring of workers who handle neurotoxic pesticides

Want to help put pressure on the EPA to update the rules? Sign a petition urging the EPA to better protect workers. 


SAF interns and fellows are blogging as they go

By Michael Durbin

This year, interns on assignment with Student Action with Farmworkers have a new documentary tool at their disposal: the blog.

Hosted on Tumblr and named for SAF’s flagship summer intern program, Into the Fields allows the 25 students to capture their experiences providing health, legal, education, and organizing outreach with farmworkers in the southeast over the course of the 10-week program. Posts are also provided by the 5 students participating in the Sowing Seeds for Change fellowship program, which runs for six months.

Here are a few samples:

…his wife brought the little girl in from the bus. Jolly immediately lit up at the sight of her father sitting there in the kitchen, stretched out her arms and yelled “Papi!" Having a close relationship with my own father, this especially touched me. Some day Jolly will recognize all the sacrifices Juan made to give her a wonderful life in the United States and I can only imagine how grateful she will be.

- Jasmine Romero and Jocelyn Moratzka, 2013 SAF Interns

Certainly one of the most fun parts of the summer thus far has been participating in the SAF theater group. I was nervous when I first found out I’d be acting… The play, written by SAF’s very own Raúl Gámez, is called “Una chela al año no hace daño.” … I play an outreach worker from a health clinic who visits a camp to talk about alcoholism and alternative lifestyle practices that are better for one’s well-being, like yoga, dancing, drawing, writing, playing music, playing soccer, etc.

- Christine Burke, 2013 SAF Intern

Outreach consists of health evaluations, which includes taking height, weight, blood pressure, and asking to see if the individual has any unmet health needs. When we go out, though, we spend a lot of time at the camp talking and getting to know the workers… Last night, after we finished the health evaluations, I played on a swing set with some children and told ghost stories: it was great. 

- Mimi Reiser, 2013 SAF Intern

Throughout the summer, students will share stories of outreach, of their new communities, and of their hopes for change. They may choose to post in either English or Spanish.

The Into the Fields blog is located at Durham-based Student Action with Farmworkers is a member of the Farmworker Advocacy Network.



One Heat-Related Death Is Too Many

By Michael Durbin

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report confirming that heat-related deaths are on the rise. Now that summer has begun it’s a good time to recognize the workers most affected by this lethal trend: farmworkers. According to the CDC, agricultural workers die from heat stroke at a rate not double or triple or even quadruple the rate of other workers, but 20 times greater than the general US workforce.

The reasons go beyond the obvious fact that farmworkers are in an open field, under the sun, most of the day. In addition to environmental heat, the human body also generates heat internally with every exercise of a muscle. And when farmworkers are paid by how much they harvest, rather than by the hour, they are financially pressured to maximize physical exertion in order to fill more buckets of sweet potatoes or blueberries or whatever. The harder they work the more they earn. Limited access to shade, or the need to walk long distances to get to it, only heightens this effect.

The human body has mechanisms for shedding excessive heat. But even these can give out under the extreme conditions of farmworking. We produce sweat in order for it to evaporate, thus transferring heat from skin to air. But the sweat can’t evaporate when the farmworker is clad head-to-toe in the heavy, long-sleeved clothing needed to keep toxic pesticides from entering that same skin. Even when we can sweat freely, that sweat takes precious salt from our bodies, causing water to rush into muscles, leading to painful cramps or spasms. Worse, redirection of blood to the skin reduces blood flow—and hence oxygen—to the brain. This leads to symptoms such lightheadedness, dizziness, irritability and impaired judgment.

Once our body temperature exceeds 104 degrees, our heat regulators all but give up. The sweating stops. And this is like a nuclear reactor losing its coolant. The core can no longer function properly and organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys can start to fail. So too the brain and the central nervous system. Left in this state, it’s only a matter of time before the convulsions and seizures set in, then coma and brain damage, and ultimately death.

Nobody knows how many farmworkers have suffered this fate. The CDC reports that more than 7,200 people died from excess heat from 1999 to 2009, but those numbers didn’t account for migrant workers. They, along with other non-residents, were only included in these tallies starting only last year. And the ill effects of heat don’t end with the work day. A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that farmworkers continue to experience excessive heat even after leaving the fields.

Even one heat-related death is too many because we know how to prevent them. The CDC, in collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, last month published an employers guide for preventing heat-related illness or death. The measures are sensible and simple and include these:


  • Establishing work/rest schedules appropriate for current conditions.
  • Ensuring access to shade or cool areas.
  • Monitoring workers during hot conditions.
  • Providing prompt medical attention when workers show signs of heat-related illness.
  • Drinking water or other liquids frequently enough to never become thirsty, about 1 cup every 15– 20 minutes.
  • Eating during lunch and other rest breaks to replace lost electrolytes.
  • Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton, and a wide-brimmed hat when possible.
  • Recognizing that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress


The extraordinary risk of heat-related death is but one of many reasons agricultural work is among the most deadly occupations in America. And with extreme heat events on the rise, the need to address this risk is more urgent than ever.


Get used to killer heat waves, CDC warns

CDC urges everyone: Get ready to stay cool before temperatures soar

Preventing Heat-related Illness or Death of Outdoor Workers

Heat-Related Deaths Among Crop Workers --- United States, 1992--2006

Farmworkers continue to experience excessive heat even after leaving the fields, shows research

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