If Passed, Bill Will Ensure Equal Labor Rights for Farmworkers
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When you buy food at the grocery store, you may not be aware of the injustice that the farmworkers undergo every day
Only a few days are left before the Farm Workers’ Fair Labor Practices Act could reach the Senate floor. According to a press release by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, 80,000 to 100,000 New York farmworkers work every day without equal labor rights like equal pay, disability insurance, a day of rest, collective bargaining, child worker protection, safe and humane work environment, overtime pay — the list goes on. This bill will ensure that every farmworker receives all of the workers’ rights they have been deprived of for decades — the rights that every other worker in New York holds.
Farming is the only industry in which children as young as 14, 15, and 16 years old do not have the protection that child workers normally get. These children are paid $3.80 an hour — the same wage that child farmworkers have been paid since 1991.
“One worker I spoke to said he hadn’t had a day off in 10 years,” says Kerry Kennedy, RFK Center president.
In the final days before the bill is heard, the RFK Young Leaders, a youth coalition action that is dedicated to continuing the efforts of Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez in ensuring farmworkers’ rights, are promoting the issue through a campaign in support of the bill called *Except Farmworkers.
New Yorkers like The New York Times bestselling author and nutrition expert Michael Pollan, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine and former chief restaurant critic of The New York Times Ruth Reichl, and former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine and author of Tomatoland Barry Estabrook have all joined the RFK Young Leaders in promoting the issue. And restaurants like Dan Barber's Blue Hill and Haven's Kitchen are also doing all that they can to help the cause.
“The people who are most aware of the injustice are the farmers themselves,” says Kennedy.
The legislatiion for the bill will end June 20.
How you can help the cause:
-Contact your New York State Senator
-Sign a petition
-Spread the word
If Passed, Bill Will Ensure Equal Labor Rights for Farmworkers - Recipes
KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly on Thursday passed the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill, 2019, providing rights to women who carry out agriculture and livestock activities. The law concerns their pay and minimum wages, gives them recognition and ensures measures for promotion and protection of their rights.
The bill was presented by the chairman of the standing committee on labour and human resources, Shahid Thaheem, after detailed scrutiny of the original draft that had earlier been presented by the government in the house.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Chawla presented the bill clause by clause in the house with Deputy Speaker Rehana Leghari in the chair and got it passed unanimously.
The bill offers a law to provide for the recognition of women’s work in agriculture sector, including farming, livestock and fisheries and related sectors and promotes and protects their rights to ensure their participation in decision-making and foster empowerment.
Law says women farm workers cannot be paid less than minimum wage
It ensures various long-denied rights to the women agriculture workers.
“A woman agriculture worker shall receive pay in cash or in kind, for any agriculture work undertaken individually, or as part of a family unit, on land and livestock belonging to her or her own family, or to someone else which shall be an equal to pay received by male workers for same work,” said the bill.
The pay of a woman agriculture worker shall not be less than the minimum wages fixed by the government, it said.
“The working day of a woman agriculture worker shall not exceed eight working hours, and shall not commence until one hour after daybreak, or continue beyond one hour prior to sunset.”
It said these workers shall take time off work due to sickness or for antenatal and postnatal care and routine check-ups.
A woman agriculture worker is entitled to 120 days of maternity leave.
Every woman agriculture worker is entitled to iddat leave.
The law says female agriculture workers having children of up to two years of age may breastfeed their children in safe and hygienic conditions and in the first six months of a child’s life a worker should receive the necessary support to exclusively breastfeed her child.
They should have the right “to access government agricultural, livestock, fisheries and other services, credit, social security, subsidies and asset transfers in their own individual rights, or in association with other women agriculture workers”.
Each of these workers should perform work free from all forms of harassment or abuse.
A woman agriculture worker shall receive a written contract of employment if she so demands.
The law sanctions these workers the right to form unions or associations or to associate themselves with an association.
The new law makes it clear that these workers should not be discriminated against with respect to employment opportunities, wages and working conditions on grounds of sex, land ownership, caste, religion, ethnicity and residential status.
These rights are applicable to all women agriculture workers.
The new law makes the provincial labour and human resources department bound to maintain a register of women agriculture workers at every union council.
Every woman agriculture worker could apply for registration to a union council she resides in.
The registered woman agriculture worker would be issued a Benazir Woman Agriculture Worker Card.
A union of women agriculture workers should consist of at least five Benazir card holders for registration.
The ministries of health, population welfare, local government, women development and labour have been asked to prepare and implement a two-year plan to ensure that their outreach and services are appropriate and accessible to the needs and rights of women agriculture workers.
The house also unanimously passed The Sindh Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Bill, 2019 to establish the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation keeping in view the increasing number of congenital and acquired disabilities and limited services available in society.
The Sir Cowasjee Jahangir Institute of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Hyderabad Bill, 2019 was introduced in the house and the draft was referred to the relevant standing committee for consideration.
Earlier, several members, mostly belonging to the ruling PPP, made congratulatory speeches after Faryal Talpur, who has recently been released on bail, entered the house.
During his speech, MQM-P’s Mohammad Hussain said the government should make arrangements to ensure that no undertrial woman prisoner should be jailed and instead be held under house arrest.
Minister Chawla requested Speaker Siraj Durrani to form a committee to consider the suggestion about female prisoners.
Health Minister Azra Pechuho told Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shahnawaz Jadoon that her ministry was already taking measures against quacks and unlicensed medical stores.
Faryal Talpur thanked the court that granted her bail “on merit”.
She narrated her ordeal in Adiala jail, where, she said, she endured worst days of her life.
She said she was charged for misappropriating Rs30 million, while the amount she paid in tax was more than this sum.
Biden’s platform for workers: Labor law-breakers to jail
WASHINGTON —A $15 federal minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, no trade pacts like the job-losing old NAFTA, support for public schools and teachers, repeal of so-called “Right To Work” laws.
And enacting the Protect the Right to Organize Act with a twist: Real tough penalties for labor law-breakers, including “criminal penalties” for repeat corporate honcho offenders.
Sounds like a workers’ wish list, right? Well, yes, but it’s also what Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has promised to push if he wins the White House this fall.
Biden, Democratic President Barack Obama’s vice president, included all these promises and more in a combination of answers to questionnaires from several unions, plus the joint platform Biden’s team worked out with backers of his last remaining primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the Senate’s most consistent backer of workers’ causes.
About the only promise Biden has uttered on the campaign trail that isn’t in the documents is his vow to make consistent labor law-breakers among the nation’s bosses take “perp walks” to jail.
But he promised the Steelworkers, in written responses, that his version of a rewritten pro-worker labor law “would hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.”
How successful Biden will be in enacting his pro-worker platform, if he beats GOP incumbent Donald Trump, is the $64 question. As Obama’s VP, Biden was in charge of trying to get the last big labor law rewrite, the Employee Free Choice Act, through a balky Senate.
Three factors doomed EFCA. The moral and political leader and the strongest pro-worker lawmaker on the key Senate Labor Committee, Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.—who knew how to shepherd such controversial legislation through–died. His successor, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, lacked Kennedy’s clout. And a Republican took Teddy’s seat.
The second was that the nation’s plutocrats and corporate poohbahs, marshaled by the Chamber of Commerce, staged a multimillion dollar ad blitz of big lies against EFCA.
And the third and most important factor was that Obama made enacting the Affordable Care Act his top priority, and pulled Biden off EFCA and into that fight. Obama used Biden’s credibility from his long Senate career to jam the ACA through—and Biden later caught hell from union leaders for the abandonment.
Beyond the PRO Act
In the joint platform and his answers to the questionnaires, though, Biden’s gone even farther than the EFCA and the PRO Act .
Biden was particularly emphatic on strengthening collective bargaining and the right to organize. He not only strongly backed PRO Act , but also advocated repeal of the section of the 1947 GOP-enacted Taft-Hartley Act that allows so-called state “right to work” laws.
Those laws, originally dreamed up by racist bosses and magnates in the segregated South to pit white against Black workers, have spread to more states ever since the 2010 GOP sweep of governorships and state legislatures. But voters turn negative on right-to-work at the ballot box: Two-to-one against in Missouri and 61% against 39% for in Ohio since 2010.
“Trump and the Republican leadership think this country was built by CEOs and hedge fund managers,” Biden told the Steelworkers. “But they’re wrong. Our country was built, quite literally, by hard-working Americans” and especially union members.
“Today, however, there’s a war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions, and workers,” he continued. “It’s been raging for decades, and it’s getting worse with Donald Trump in the White House.
“Employers repeatedly interfere with workers’ efforts to organize and collectively bargain while raking in billions of dollars in profits and paying CEOs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. That will change under a Biden administration…The federal government should not only defend workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, but also encourage it.”
That means not just writing so-called “card check recognition” of unions into law, when the union collects an independently verified majority of election authorization cards at a workplace. It also means banning bosses’ “captive audience” meetings, which workers must attend or be disciplined.
“And I’ll ensure workers can exercise their right to strike without fear of reprisal and institute financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers,” Biden pledged.
Current penalties against labor law-breakers are so low—back pay for an illegally fired worker, minus that worker’s earnings in the interim—that employers find labor law-breaking is profitable. It costs them little and gains them much, in chilling organizing drives.
Extending labor law coverage
Biden would broaden labor law to cover historically unprotected groups of workers, notably “independent contractors,” farmworkers, and home health care workers, as well as giving federal workers more rights and enacting a law ordering all states to recognize and bargain with unions representing first responders.
That’s a big cause of Biden’s first union backer, the Fire Fighters, with whom Biden has had a long personal relationship. When he came to IAFF’s legislative conference early this year, he was greeted by a crowd waving yellow-and-black signs and yelling, “Run, Joe, Run!”
As for the other “out” groups, race excluded the farmworkers and home health care workers. People of color are the overwhelming majority in both groups and both are rock bottom on the U.S. pay scale because they lack worker rights. But if FDR hadn’t excluded them when Congress considered the original Wagner Act in 1935 and especially the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, racist Southerners would have talked both laws to death via filibuster.
And Biden would also go after a particular worker bugaboo: Union-busters. He promises his version of labor law reform would legally force them to publicly disclose how much they earn and from whom. Unions must publicly disclose every penny of their spending, from paychecks to paper clips, under the GOP-passed 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act. Trump wants to extend that disclosure to union-related groups, too. But he won’t touch the union-busters.
Biden also promised to put enforcement “teeth” behind federal labor law, by making labor law-breaking a virtual litmus test about whether a firm could bid for and get federal contracts or not. That’s important: Federal pacts were worth $562 billion in fiscal 2018 alone, the last year of available data. And that was long before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Midway through his second term, Obama ordered federal contracting officers to consider denying dollars to firms that weren’t neutral in organizing campaigns, that didn’t pay their workers at least $10.10—the figure he sought for the minimum wage — and that didn’t pay their taxes, obey civil rights laws, labor laws or environmental laws. Trump dumped that order within days of entering the Oval Office.
Biden would restore that Fair Play and Safe Workplaces executive order, and that’s only a start, he told USW.
“I will aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws, participate in wage theft, or cheat on their taxes by intentionally misclassifying employees as ‘independent contractors,’” who aren’t covered by labor laws, including the right to organize, he promised.
“I will ensure federal dollars do not flow to employers who engage in union-busting activities, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law. I will institute a multi-year federal debarment for all employers who illegally oppose unions, building on debarment efforts pursued in the Obama-Biden administration.” Debarring means banning firms from bidding.
Biden’s balancing act
While all of this satisfies workers’ demands, Biden also had to reach out to the Sanders supporters, and that involved a delicate balancing act. The stumbling block was the Green New Deal. Key sections of the Sanders coalition threatened to sit out the election unless Biden backed the GND.
The threat is credible, as exit polls show approximately 12% of Sanders’s supporters in his 2016 primary race against Hillary Clinton were so disgusted by her centrism and establishment backing that they did not vote for her in November.
But if Biden openly backed the GND, the building trades unions, threatened to sit out in turn. They’re still leery. When the AFL-CIO endorsed Biden on May 26, North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey said they’d make a decision later.
The construction workers’ fear: The GND’s emphasis on total independence from fossil fuels would cost Laborers, Utility Workers, Iron Workers and similar trades hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Sanders’s supporters on the joint committee helped pull Biden in a progressive direction. They didn’t get adoption of the GND or their other favorite cause, Medicare For All. National Nurses United and many other unions backed both.
But Biden approved the GND’s principles of carbon neutrality with a deadline of 2050—and a promise that under a Biden administration, “green” jobs would be union jobs, by law. Right now, 5% are. The latest figures, for 2019, show 12.6% union density in construction.
Biden also didn’t go for Medicare For All, which Obama quickly dumped in the battle a decade ago over the Affordable Care Act. But Biden backs the “public option,” a weaker version, to bring more competition to the nation’s rapacious insurers. Obama dumped it, too, to get the insurers to back the ACA. Breaking with the rest of the corporate class, they did.
Biden also said he would not try to bring back a big ACA stumbling block for workers, the so-called and now-dead “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health care plans.
All this, plus Biden’s opposition to the Trump regime push for vouchers for parents of private school kids—a bugaboo for teachers’ unions—and his vow not to negotiate any future trade pacts without strong and enforceable worker rights, left unions mostly satisfied.
“Joe Biden is a lifelong supporter of workers and has fought his entire career for living wages, health care, retirement security and civil rights,” said Federation President Richard Trumka in announcing the decision on May 26.
“Our members know Joe has done everything he could to create a fairer process for forming and joining a union, and he is ready to fight with us to restore faith in America and improve the lives of all working people.” The Fed then blasted Trump’s record.
“Trump’s record of slashing rules designed to protect us on the job, cutting workplace health and safety inspectors to their lowest level in history, and taking away overtime pay from millions of workers are just a few ways working people have been hurt by the current administration,” Trumka said before a short discussion of workers, Biden, and the coronavirus.
Labor unions get stronger under Biden with House passage of PRO Act
The new president has garnered the support of teachers unions, retail unions, construction unions and more with the promise of better wages, benefits and overall treatment from employers.
Unions have been especially vocal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making the case for vaccines for frontline workers and teachers hazard pay personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers on-site COVID-19 testing better child care better health care and so on.
"Over the next six to nine months, I think you can expect the pace of activity to increase rather substantially," David Burton, senior fellow in economic policy at the Heritage Foundation, told FOX Business of efforts to strengthen unions under Biden.
He continued: "Implementing a new regulation takes time because it has to comply with the administrative procedure act, jump through various bureaucratic hoops, but there&aposs no doubt in my mind that as the Department of Labor, National Labor Relations Board and the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] are busily at work revising various rules."
The House of Representatives on Tuesday evening voted to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., reintroduced in February after it initially passed in the House in 2019.
Democrats take part in a rally outside a union hall in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan, File)
The bill would allow the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers who violate workers&apos rights, ease restrictions against worker strikes, follow California&aposs new independent contractor lawਊnd erode right-to-work laws in 27 states that have been in place since the 1950s.
"Over the past 70 years, union membership has dropped to the lowest level since just after the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was first enacted," Scott said in a statement. "This decline is not a result of workers’ choices. It is plainly obvious that the NLRA is too weak to defend workers’ rights against intensifying anti-union attacks from wealthy special interests."
Burton explained that the bill has about a dozen "important provisions," many of which "are codifying in law Obama-era regulations, but some of them go further than that."
"I think the PRO Act . constitutes the labor union agenda and has for a long time," he said. "And there&aposs no doubt that the DOL, NLRB and EEOC will be pursuing an agenda that is substantially similar to what occurred . under Obama, but maybe a little more progressive since the Democratic Party has drifted left since then."
Supporters of the legislation, including President Biden, argue that the PRO Act will help workers fight for and earn fairer wages, benefits and overall better treatment from employeesਊmid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I urge Congress to send the PRO Act to my desk so we can seize the opportunity to build a future that reflects working people’s courage and ambition, and offers not only good jobs with a real choice to join a union — but the dignity, equity, shared prosperity and common purpose the hardworking people who built this country and make it run deserve," Biden said in a Tuesday statement.
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Unions including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Service Employees International Union, North America Building Trades Unions,ommunication Workers of Americaਊnd a number of other organizations are championing the PRO Act and urging the Senate to pass the bill.
Supporters also argue that those who oppose the PRO Act are wealthy corporations and big businesses, but opponents say that&aposs not the case.
Freelance media strategist and award-winning outdoor writer Gabriella Hoffman told FOX Business that she and other freelance workers "will become powerless and unable" to negotiate pay if they "are reclassified as employees and coerced into joining unions."
"Big Labor wants the American public to believe corporations are fueling opposition to the PRO Act. That couldn&apost be more false," she said. "Sure, there are organizations with big capital and lobbying power out there that do oppose the bill but opposition to this anti-worker bill is largely grassroots-driven."
Those with concerns about the PRO Act say the bill is anti-worker and would threaten U.S. right-to-work laws, which ensure Americans can work specific jobs without having to join unions or pay union dues.
Liya Palagashvili, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examining political economy and applied public policy, told FOX Business that she has three main concerns regarding the PRO Act.
Contractor electrician fixing a lightbulb (Credit: iStock)
First, the PRO Act opens the potential for increased job losses and terminations across the board second, the legislation would harm specific working groups like women, who depend on independent work for flexibility third, the bill poses a threat to independent workers who sought temporary jobs while facing unemployment or a loss of income.
"What the legislation does is make it more restrictive to hire independent workers or independent contractors," Palagashvili explained, naming independent contractors, electricians, nannies, graphic designers, video producers and writers as examples.
Palagashvili compared the PRO Act to California&aposs Assembly Bill 5, or AB5, which passed in Januaryਊnd aimed to make all gig workers in California employees. Economists found that the law would kill thousands of jobs, and the state passed a ballot initiative in November called Proposition 22 that scaled back which workers would be recognized as employees under AB5.
"Most of these independent contractors don&apost want to become employees, but what they do want is access to some sort of portable benefits, like a shared system in which the benefits are not tied to one particular job but can move around with them wherever they go," she said. "Maybe we should be looking more toward those types of solutions."
A Democratic aide from the House Education and Labor Committee previously told Fox News in an email that the PRO Act was "not California AB5" and "does not alter or amend federal or state laws governing wages and hours, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and overtime."
"Rather, the PROꂬtodifies the &aposABC Test&apos in order to determine whether workers are employeesਏor the purpose of union organizing and collective bargaining," the aide wrote, pointing at "over 20 states" have implemented the "ABC Test for some purpose."
Carla Shrive, right, who drives for various gig into companies, joined other drivers to support a proposed ballot initiative challenging a recently signed law that makes it harder for companies to label workers as independent contractors, in Sacramen
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which represents more than 600 major industry organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Congress on March 4 saying the PRO Act "would drastically restructure America’s labor laws resulting in economic upheaval that would cost millions of American jobs, threaten vital supply chains, and greatly diminish opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses."
The Coalition argues that the bill would threaten workers’ "right to choose whether or not to be represented by a union through secret ballot elections workers’ right to remove a union that has failed to adequately represent them . workers’ right to choose not to contribute to a union they do not support . and the government’s ability to prevent unions from expanding a labor dispute with one employer to other businesses and consumers."
Biden, who often refers to himself as "blue-collar Joe," has a long-standing relationship with union leaders, cultivated over his more than 40 years in politics. He has previously pledged to be the "strongest labor president you have ever had."
The president also represents a beacon of hope for teachers unions, which want more school funding, higher salaries and better benefits for school staff.
The president&aposs campaign raked in just over $232,000 from teachers unions during the 2020 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics&apos "Open Secrets" website. The site says the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "account for practically all" political spending from teachers unions.
Biden initially planned to reopen schools across the country within his first 100 days as president, but that goal evolved into a plan to only partially reopen U.S. schools within his first 100 days. Demands from some teachers unions to keep schools closed until all staff members are vaccinated have slowed the reopening of schools in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
A teacher holds up a sign while driving by the Orange County Public Schools headquarters as educators protest in a car parade around the administration center in downtown Orlando, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
The Biden administration&aposs COVID-19 relief package would put $128 billion toward helping K-12 public schoolsl with the coronavirus pandemic, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in February that just $6 billion wouldਏlow to schools in 2021.
The CBO estimated that the number would increase to $32 billion in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The rest of the money would be paid out through 2028, according to aost estimate, which prompted speculationਏrom some politiciansਊnd pundits on social media as to why the money was being spread over seven years after the peak of the pandemic.
The comparatively small outlay for fiscal year 2021, which runs through Sept. 30, 2021, is expected because previously allocated money has not yet been spent.ਊ White House official previously clarified to Fox News that the Biden administration will not allocate fundingꂺsed on CBO projections and that itꂾlieves that the funds would be used much faster than CBO assumes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that schools can safely reopen without all teachers being vaccinated, so as long as schools follow other safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
"Biden has been close to union leadership for a very, very long time. I don&apost think this comes as any huge surprise," Burton said.
Biden has said as much himself in November.
"I made it clear to the corporate leaders," the president said during remarks about the U.S. economy in Wilmington, Del., at the time. "I said &aposI want you to know I’m a union guy. Unions are going to have increased power.&apos They just nodded. They understand. It’s not anti-business. It’s about economic growth."
Fox News&apos Brooke Singman and Tyler Olson contributed to this report.
Farmworker Justice Statement on the Introduction of the “Fairness for Farm Workers Act” to Grant Agricultural Workers Equal Access to Overtime Pay
Farmworker Justice strongly supports the Fairness for Farm Workers Act introduced today in the Senate and the House by Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona with numerous cosponsors. Farmworker Justice and our partners have been working with members of Congress on this important step toward treating agricultural workers with the respect they deserve.
The Fairness for Farm Workers Act would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to remove the discriminatory denial of overtime pay to agricultural workers as well as end most exclusions from the minimum wage still applicable to some farmworkers. Today, June 25, marks the date 80 years ago when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the FLSA. Not until 1966 were some workers on farms and ranches added to coverage under the minimum wage. The exclusion of farmworkers was rooted in racism at the time of the New Deal, when most agricultural production was in the South and many of the workers were African-Americans.
It is long past the time to grant farmworkers the same rights to overtime pay and the minimum wage that other workers have long possessed. The bill is not just about fairness in wages. It is also about job safety. Some employers, lacking any extra cost for overtime, force 60- or 70-hour work weeks, which can result in fatigue-related injuries and fatalities.
The state of California, which leads the nation in the value of agricultural production and employs more farmworkers than any other state, has passed legislation that over several years&rsquo time will grant agricultural workers time-and-one-half pay after 40 hours of work in a week. California previously ended discriminatory exclusions of agricultural workers from the minimum wage. Employers in other states should be expected to treat agricultural workers equally. We ask Congress today to pass the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, which would gradually extend overtime pay to farmworkers.
Farmworker Justice President Bruce Goldstein said, &ldquoFarmworkers engage in difficult and dangerous work, for long hours, day in and day out, to ensure that America has an abundance of food. Yet farmworkers are excluded from many basic labor protections that other workers enjoy. It is long past time to end our nation&rsquos discrimination against farmworkers and to extend to farmworkers coverage under such basic rights as overtime pay. We are very pleased to support Sen. Harris&rsquos and Rep. Grijalva&rsquos Fairness for Farm Workers Act which will end farmworkers&rsquo exclusion from overtime pay and remove remaining exclusions of farmworkers from the minimum wage.&rdquo
Protecting Farmworkers From Coronavirus and Securing the Food Supply
With millions of workers staying at home to aid public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, the security of America’s food supply and its supply chains has rarely been more important. At this moment, to the extent that there is a challenge in ensuring America’s grocery stores have enough healthy food on the shelves, it comes not from insufficient natural bounty but instead from the extraordinary burdens that COVID-19 has placed on the many low-wage workers who play such central roles in the functioning of food supply chains.
Indeed, during these trying times, farmworkers’ contributions in particular are more critical than ever. They cannot shelter at home to remain safe from COVID-19 instead, they must go to work—along with meatpacker employees, truckers, and grocery store workers—to ensure that the nation’s food supply is maintained. Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to illness because of high rates of respiratory disease being an occupational hazard, low rates of health insurance coverage, and often substandard living and working conditions. 1 Despite these risk factors, agricultural workers—the majority of whom are immigrants and about half of whom are undocumented—lack many of the legal protections enjoyed by most workers, which endangers their own and their families’ health and well-being. 2
The pandemic’s disruption of normal economic activity is clearly illustrating how crucial farmworkers are to national security and food access around the world. The European Union is already feeling the effect of tightened borders on the supply of farm labor. Farmers in the United Kingdom and Germany are reporting labor shortages, and the agricultural minister of France recently urged professionals in the industries that have been locked down to seek out work on farms. 3 Yet farmers worry that the new workers they do recruit domestically will lack the skills necessary to efficiently harvest crops without damaging them.
Travel and immigration bans enacted in the United States and around the world have put stress on a preexisting shortage of farm labor. 4 To supplement the domestic labor supply, many farms in the United States often rely upon the H-2A program to hire seasonal agricultural workers from other countries. 5 In 2019, the United States issued more than 200,000 H-2A visas—accounting for about 10 percent of the agricultural workforce. 6 Overall, including the significant share of undocumented immigrants who have for decades been the backbone of this nation’s agricultural labor force, 53 percent of farmworkers were born outside the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 7
Last month, the U.S. Department of State announced that it would stop processing visas in Mexico, much to the alarm of growers who rely heavily on immigrant labor to meet seasonal needs. 8 Subsequently, the State Department announced that H-2A visa processing will resume, while in-person visa interviews will be waived for anyone who interviewed the previous year. In the end, as the fear of labor and food shortages grew, the State Department decided to waive the in-person visa interview requirement for all H-2A applicants, both new and returning workers, as well as seasonal nonagricultural workers seeking entry through the H-2B program. 9
Furthermore, President Trump recently announced plans to sign an executive order temporarily banning people from immigrating permanently into the United States, but the anticipated announcement reportedly will not affect the entry of seasonal agricultural workers into the United States or provide any additional safeguards for the health and safety of those workers or people with whom they may come into contact. 10
The administration’s efforts to facilitate the entry of farmworkers into the United States even as it bans countless other immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers speaks, in part, to the important role that such farmworkers play in supporting the American economy and the country’s food security. It is reasonable for the State Department to make it easier for more farmworkers to come in order to prevent an impending food shortage. But bringing in still more workers without taking extra precautions to protect their health and safety—as well as the health and safety of all farmworkers and people with whom they interact—would be shortsighted. If nothing is done to ensure that proper protections are put in place for these farmworkers and other vulnerable food chain workers, these workers are not the only ones jeopardized the workers that they will be living and working alongside are also at risk. Not only that, but broader efforts in the community to tamp down the disease through social distancing and sanitation efforts will also be undermined. Moreover, if farmworkers begin to contract the coronavirus, farm labor supply will decrease—with a potentially devastating effect on food production. More must be done to safeguard these important workers as they perform essential tasks.
Protecting farmworkers is essential to the nation’s food supply chain. An outbreak among farmworkers can potentially shutter entire farm operations at a time when the supply chain is already experiencing unprecedented disruption. Earlier this month, after three farmworkers tested positive for COVID-19 in Cayuga County, New York, and one of them died, farm owners became even more aware of the spread of the disease. 11 Swift action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus must be taken. This is even more urgent in light of the shuttering of several meatpacking plants due to widespread infection among workers. 12 Essential workers are not disposable.
Farmworkers are essential to the food supply
Many growers have long been pushing to ease requirements and expand the scope of H-2A workers in the United States to meet farm labor needs. But particularly during the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is essential that employers and the federal government also ensure the safety and security of participants—as well as that of current farmworkers and other food system workers such as meatpackers—to strengthen the security of the U.S. food supply.
The experiences of guest farmworkers pose several risks of infection. For example, migrant farmworkers journeying long distances to the United States travel on crowded buses chartered by their employers. Once in the country, they reside in employer-provided housing, which is often crowded and inadequate. 13 These facts of daily life make it difficult, even impossible, for farmworkers to maintain social distancing and proper sanitation. 14 If measures are not taken to ensure the health and safety of farmworkers, COVID-19 may spread rapidly among the agricultural workforce—with possibly dramatic negative implications for the national food supply.
Measures must be taken to safely meet the demand for agricultural workers. However, workers must be adequately screened before being permitted entry and must be guaranteed safe transportation, housing, and working conditions to ensure their safety and the safety of people around them. This is necessary not only to protect workers but also the supply chain itself. If one worker is forced to work while ill or is unable to access testing or care, employers risk infecting their entire workforce, which could completely shut down their operations.
Farmworkers’ basic needs must be met
Because farmworkers are essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, lawmakers must address these workers’ safety. Unfortunately, employers do not always prioritize the safety of farmworkers, and federal law exempts farmworkers from some of the rights most other workers enjoy.
As a result of their occupation, farmworkers face increased risk of exposure and serious illness due to the coronavirus. Farmworkers commonly suffer from respiratory illnesses due to occupational hazards such as the application of pesticides—conditions that may make people more vulnerable to dangerous complications from the virus. 15 Farmworkers who require masks and respiratory protection to safely apply pesticides or perform other tasks may soon find it difficult to procure the equipment they need due to the stress the pandemic has put on the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply chain. 16 Moreover, farmworkers often work in fields with limited access to bathrooms or basic sanitation, making it difficult to implement many of the preventive measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If farmworkers do get sick, they likely do not have access to paid leave to take time away from work to access medical care, and they face enormous barriers to receiving the testing and care that they need to recover and keep their communities safe. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, less than half of all farmworkers, and only 24 percent of undocumented farmworkers, have health insurance. 17 Though Congress made free COVID-19 testing available to uninsured people through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, this measure excluded many categories of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, H-2A workers, and Temporary Protected Status holders. Moreover, rural health systems, which hospital closures have put under strain, may not be able to provide the needed care. 18
Despite the hazards that farmworkers face, they receive far fewer legal protections than most other workers. 19 For example, farmworkers are not entitled to overtime pay, and farms with fewer than seven workers in a given quarter may not have to pay even the federal minimum wage. Moreover, federal law does not protect farmworkers’ right to organize unions, making it difficult for them to band together to bargain for better pay and working conditions. Some states have expanded labor rights to farmworkers. A recent New York law extends to agricultural workers overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 60 hours per week and the right to unionize. 20 However, the state-by-state patchwork still leaves many of these essential workers unprotected.
The lack of federal legal protections for farmworkers is particularly dangerous for undocumented workers and workers with H-2A visas, whose status is dependent on petitions filed by their employer. The monopsony power gives employers leverage over workers, making it difficult for farmworkers to bargain with employers for better wages or working conditions because they cannot leave for another job without jeopardizing their immigration status. 21
In addition to gaps in coverage under federal labor laws, undocumented workers, who make up about half of the entire crop farmworker labor force, are reluctant to report labor law violations because of their immigration status. 22 The fear of deportation looms large, and undocumented workers do not qualify for unemployment insurance and other social safety nets that they may need if they become sick. Though the House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in fall 2019 with a strong, bipartisan vote, the Senate has yet to take up the bill. 23 This legislation would provide a pathway for eligible undocumented farmworkers to gain permanent residence. Yet even in the absence of legislative reform, much more can and should be done to protect workers who are currently undocumented.
Lawmakers must take immediate action to safeguard the farmworkers on the front lines of the pandemic. The United States cannot afford to leave farmworkers vulnerable, nor should farms be permitted to recruit migrant workers without proper safety measures in place. Farmworker employers must be required to adopt necessary measures, and operations that acquire labor through contracting companies must be held accountable as joint employers. Congress must take action to expand farmworker protections at the federal level.
For the safety of rural communities and the security of the food supply, all farmworkers need access to free testing and treatment for COVID-19, regardless of immigration status. Rural health care access must be expanded, with particular attention to farm communities. This includes significantly increasing funding to community health centers that serve immigrant and farmworker populations in rural areas and expanding broadband access. With government support, recently closed rural hospitals could temporarily be reopened, field hospitals could be set up in areas that anticipate care shortages, and multilingual telehealth options could be made available to all—insured or not.
In addition to ensuring access to health care, lawmakers must ensure that workers’ health is protected on the job. First, farms must be required to provide their employees with timely and accurate information about COVID-19 transmission and prevention. Awareness is key to preventing the spread of the virus among farmworkers, who may live and work in close quarters. However, awareness is not enough if workers are not provided with the ability to follow the guidelines. Future legislative responses to the pandemic must enact stricter workplace safety standards, much like the stricter standards imposed in hospitals to protect health care workers. For instance, employers should make sure that their workers have sufficient handwashing stations and restrooms in workplaces and in employer-provided housing. Employers must also be required to implement modified working arrangements that allow for social distancing, such as putting fewer workers at conveyor belts at the same time.
Through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees are entitled to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave and 12 weeks of emergency child care leave—with 10 of the 12 weeks paid. This includes farmworkers who are employees, or H-2A visa holders, for employers with between 50 and 500 employees. However, improvements to the federal emergency paid leave protections must cover employees of all farming operations, regardless of size. 24
Beyond requiring farm employers to take commonsense health measures, Congress and the Trump administration should deploy resources to provide much-needed aid to workers. The Trump administration should use the Defense Production Act to procure PPE during the pandemic, and once a sufficient supply is established, some of the equipment procured should be set aside to ensure that farmworkers and other essential workers can perform their jobs safely. The USDA’s Rural Housing Service must receive emergency funding to erect temporary housing for farmworkers who are ill or in a high-risk category and to build supplemental housing where accommodations exceed capacity and do not allow for social distancing. Finally, Congress must appropriate additional funds to migrant and seasonal Head Start programs to supply critical child care. These measures will equip these essential workers with the resources they need to stay healthy.
Hazard pay and economic security
Farmworkers are essential workers on the front lines of this pandemic, risking their health to feed the country. Federal law must require all farms to pay the minimum wage—regardless of the size of the operation—and guarantee the right of farmworkers to organize a union and bargain collectively. Currently, less than 1 percent of farmworkers are unionized, which severely hampers workers’ abilities to bargain for fair wages and better working conditions, not to mention enforce labor law. 25 Unfortunately, rather than raising wages for these essential workers, the White House is exploring ways to lower wage standards for H-2A workers, according to NPR reporting. 26
Moreover, unemployment insurance must be expanded to cover all farmworkers. While farmworkers are recognized under federal law as eligible for unemployment insurance, smaller farms are not covered unless specified in state statutes. 27
Many farms are expecting emergency payments as a result of the third COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress, which raised the borrowing limit of the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, making an additional $14 billion available for emergency payments. 28 Congress must require that farms that receive this assistance pay their workers hazard pay equal to twice their usual wage, as well as overtime on top of that. To ensure enforcement of all worker protections, Congress should embed in every USDA office a Department of Labor detailee to serve as a farmworker advocate responsible for directing outreach to farmworkers to inform them of their rights and provide legal aid. To provide additional support, future coronavirus relief packages should also provide increased funding for community organizations that serve farmworkers, particularly those that help enforce labor rights.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently issued guidance identifying farmworkers and people involved in food processing and packaging as essential critical infrastructure workers. 29 For this reason and others, just as DHS should issue a clear formal statement prohibiting immigration enforcement actions at or near health care facilities, it should refrain from routine immigration enforcement activities on farms and in processing plants. 30 In general, civil immigration enforcement actions should be curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, unless there is a significant public safety concern that outweighs the dangers of crowded detention facilities. 31 The Congressional Hispanic Caucus made a similar ask of the Trump administration recently, noting that preserving the nation’s food supply by protecting farmworkers is a national security imperative. 32 Undocumented farmworkers should not live in fear of deportation, nor should they be forced to refrain from accessing vital medical care if they need it. Moreover, these critical workers should not fear retaliation from employers if they miss work due to feeling unwell. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially announced plans to modify its enforcement practices during the pandemic, tweets from the account of Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, suggest that policy was quickly reversed by higher-ups within DHS and even President Trump himself. 33
In addition to modifying immigration enforcement practices, the government needs to do more to protect current and new immigrant farmworkers. For workers who are already here on H-2A visas, the State Department should allow for automatic extensions and make it easier for visas to be transferred to a new employer.
Going forward, the federal government should require H-2A employers to take specific measures to protect their workers from the coronavirus. H-2A employers must demonstrate that they have taken the steps outlined in this brief to maintain a clean and safe workplace. Additionally, since many migrant workers live in employer-provided group housing, employers must guarantee that housing is properly ventilated, compliant with capacity limits, and thoroughly disinfected in compliance with CDC guidance. Employers must also guarantee transportation that is regularly sanitized and allows workers to comply with social distancing guidelines. Congress should ensure that farming operations are reimbursed for any extra costs that they incur as a result of taking preventive measures to protect their workers during the pandemic. These conditions must be certified and enforced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency under DHS tasked with approving all visa applications the Department of Labor and the USDA. To ensure that permanent reforms are implemented to protect one of the most essential segments of the U.S. workforce, Congress should work toward a successful passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, farmworkers were the backbone of the nation’s food security, providing sustenance for hundreds of millions of Americans every day. But during the current public health crisis, their work is more important than ever, as farmworkers continue to go to work—at great personal risk to themselves—to keep food in stores and on plates. Failing to protect these essential workers risks the security of the nation’s food supply. Therefore, the United States must ensure that these workers are provided with ample means to protect themselves from the virus and that they have safe and clean workplaces, economic security, and an ability to take paid leave if needed. These measures need to be in place for all farmworkers, regardless of immigration status, to make sure that they are given the opportunity to work safely to put food on American tables.
Zoe Willingham is a research associate for the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Silva Mathema is an associate director of policy on the Immigration Policy team at the Center.
To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.
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What does New York's Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act mean for agriculture in the state?
1 of 9 Buy Photo Jeff King of Kings Brothers Dairy unloads hay for his dairy cows in the dairy barn at the Saratoga County Fair on July 25, 2019, in Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Catherine Rafferty/Times Union) Catherine Rafferty/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
2 of 9 Buy Photo Soybean plants grow in a field on Hewitt Farms on Rt. 278 on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Brunswick, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren/Times Union) Lori Van Buren/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
4 of 9 Buy Photo Soybean plants grow in a field on Hewitt Farms on Rt. 278 on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Brunswick, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren/Times Union) Lori Van Buren/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
5 of 9 Buy Photo Soybean plants grow in a field on Hewitt Farms on Rt. 278 on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Brunswick, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren/Times Union) Lori Van Buren/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
7 of 9 Buy Photo Jeff King of Kings Brothers Dairy poses for a portrait with his dairy cows, Climax, left, and Lyric, right, in the dairy barn at the Saratoga County Fair on July 25, 2019, in Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Catherine Rafferty/Times Union) Catherine Rafferty/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
8 of 9 Buy Photo Jeff King of Kings Brothers Dairy unloads hay for his dairy cows outside the dairy barn at the Saratoga County Fair on July 25, 2019, in Ballston Spa, N.Y. (Catherine Rafferty/Times Union) Catherine Rafferty/Albany Times Union Show More Show Less
Two decades after New York farmworkers began fighting for the right to overtime pay, a day of rest, and the right to strike, the Democrat-dominated state Legislature passed the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act in a flurry of progressive activity at the end of the session.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week, will go into effect in 2020. So what will it look like as farmers and their workers see change in what's been the industry's status quo for decades?
New York's law grants farmworkers the right to collectively bargain &mdash but not strike or stop work completely. It also covers a day of rest a week and overtime pay of one and a half times regular wages after 60 hours of work a week. The only other states with mandatory overtime pay are California, Hawaii, Maryland and Minnesota.
But the legislation ignited debate between farmers, backed by the New York Farm Bureau, and farmworkers, mobilized by worker rights' groups. Some farmers said the bill would ruin them financially, while advocates said farm businesses could shoulder minimal additional costs and workers deserve equal labor rights.
"We finally made this law and we want the great life for the workers. We want that respect and dignity and better life and better pay," said Librada Paz, who immigrated from Mexico as a migrant worker on farms across the country. She now lives in New York, where she's on the board of nonprofit organization Rural & Migrant Ministry and has advocated for the new law for 15 years.
"It's a better life because they have a lot more protections. If they have issues, they can speak up about it. There should be no fear at all if they feel it's not safe and not right. We didn't have that before, and now they can speak up about it," she said.
Three farmworkers contacted to be interviewed for this article were not comfortable speaking because of job security, immigration status, or lack of confidence talking about the legislation. Outreach and education is just starting, one advocate said.
Aside from the economic aspects, the legislation has far-reaching legal impacts as well.
For one, the law creates improved housing protections for farmworkers, many of whom live on the farms where they work. Enforcement of state housing codes has been light on farms, and led to substandard housing conditions on some farms around the state, said Beth Lyon, a Cornell law professor and director of the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic.
The new law should improve the enforcement of codes, and housing conditions, Lyon said.
Other legal outcomes from the bill include enhanced worker's compensation protection. Lyon said that in the past, workers may have gotten injured and would request a worker's compensation claim form, only to have their employer, concerned over potentially rising insurance rates, retaliate against the worker by firing them.
The law should improve worker safety in what can be an exceptionally hazardous occupation. Lyon pointed out government regulators are often on farms inspecting for food and hygiene safety, but there is "virtually no presence on farms on the fed or state level looking at the safety and health of farmworkers," she said.
After the bill's passage, the Farm Bureau said four "fixable flaws" in the final legislation will "likely drive more family-owned farms out of the state or out of business." The Farm Bureau has also suggested workers will be harmed as their hours are restricted and their income reduced.
The flaws, according to the Farm Bureau, include a provision that requires workers be paid overtime if they choose to work on their weekly day of rest. But, the bureau contends, if weather or other factors keep someone from working their full 60-hour workweek, they shouldn't be paid overtime without hitting the threshold.
The Farm Bureau also called for preserving a secret ballot if farmworkers choose to unionize.
Another concern from the bureau related to the wage board, established by the legislation to study the overtime pay issue and recommend whether to reduce the overtime threshold. The law says the overtime threshold can't exceed 60 hours.
But a report by the wage board that will examine farmworker overtime pay is due a year after the law goes into effect &mdash too short of a time for the law's impact to be fully studied and understood, according to the Farm Bureau.
"In the end, our reasonable requests were cast aside, even though there was support for a moderated bill from legislators on both sides of the aisle," Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a statement.
What's the cost?
Numbers differ on how much overtime pay will cost farmers &mdash and if it will cripple the industry.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court already ruled in May that workers can organize under the New York Constitution, and many farmworkers currently get a day of rest. That means the biggest financial hit to farmers will be overtime pay, coming just as New York raises the minimum wage, which most farmworkers receive &mdash further increasing costs for farmers.
Two competing reports &mdash one published in February by Farm Credit East, a nationwide network providing credit services to agricultural businesses, and another by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, in May &mdash were based on the initial overtime threshold of 40 hours per week.
But the final legislation raised the threshold to 60 hours per week before overtime pay kicks in.
Farm Credit East's report said that overtime pay for the state's estimated 56,000 farmworkers could add up to $118 million, raising the increase in wage expense by 44 percent and reducing net farm income by 23 percent. But that number should be less with a higher overtime threshold in the final legislation.
A Farm Credit East spokesperson said the organization did not perform additional analyses to find what the cost will be under the 60-hour workweek provision, but added "we plan to analyze the impact on farms once the law takes effect."
Fiscal Policy Institute's report showed that paying farmworkers overtime was manageable at 40 hours &mdash and would be even more so at 60 hours, said David Dyssegaard Kallick, the organization's deputy director. He added that not every farm has employees who routinely work more than 60 hours a week.
FPI estimates that for workers earning $14.79 an hour on the job for 67 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, the increases in labor costs would be 5%.
"The law is the first step in the right direction, and we expect the wage board to monitor the impact carefully and make the necessary recommendations to ensure a fair deal for farm owners and farm laborers," said Kallick. "It shouldn't be impossible to pay farmworkers fairly for their labor."
But farmers disagree with the FPI's analysis, and said the law will surely raise on-farm expenses significantly, and could also have a detrimental impact on workers.
"Agriculture is very much a commodity business. So, when you're producing commodities, we don't control price. The market controls price. The only thing that we have control over is our cost of production," said Jeff King, co-owner of King Brothers Dairy, one of the region's largest agricultural operations.
"If there's someone in another state that can produce milk at a lower price than we can, it puts us at an economic disadvantage. So when we get mandated things like this, our cost of production is going to go up &mdash there's no two ways about it," he said. "And it's a real challenge to consider how am I going to make milk cheaper than people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, wherever it may be, if they have lower labor rates, lower minimum wages, and now overtime."
Paz understands opposition to the bill that farmers said would "ruin them" but said labor rights matter. Advocates often point to the fact that farmworkers are virtually the only segment of workers who weren't already afforded rights to overtime pay and to collectively bargain.
"Of course it's going to ruin them in a certain way because they're going to have to pay more, they're used to paying that way, they don't want to change the mindset. As business people, they just want to keep working with the workers in the worst conditions, and that has to be changed," she said. "If you're a businessperson, you should at least respect the dignity of the workers."
Paz said from her experience visiting farms across the state, the bigger the farm, the more hours workers put in to keep up production - meaning large farms will take a larger hit by paying for overtime than small-scale businesses.
"For smaller farmers, it will be a lot of better, it will give them an opportunity to grow," Paz said.
But King points out that he has the same workers each year, and in a tight labor market, those workers could find jobs on another New York farm or elsewhere in the country if they were displeased with their wages or working conditions on King's farm.
"We have a lot of longtime employees, and I believe that we've done a good job of providing them a good career, a place that they like to work. For a lot of reasons, they still work for me," King said.
But Paz said that, as the legislation has been debated, farmers planted the fear in workers, especially those on seasonal visas who migrated to support families back home, that they couldn't work as many hours and would earn less.
"Of course they want to work, but how much are they benefiting?" Paz said. "Just because they say they want to work, (farmers are) taking advantage of them because they want to work."
Farmers said they would lose money because even though their costs will increase, what consumers &mdash and therefore vendors &mdash are willing to pay for their products won't go up.
King said he'll consider investing into robotics and automating work on the farm so he can save costs on labor.
"We have workers that work over 60 hours now. As soon as this is enacted, were going to try to reduce them to below 60 hours. They're not going to like that," King said. "We're going to look at other technologies, robotics. And that flies in the face of the workers if we have to purchase robotics and cut employees. So, I really think it's a shortsighted move."
But advocates say the changes in farm expense would be incremental. The Fiscal Policy Institute report estimates increased costs for consumers would be 2 percent.
"It's not a huge amount of what it's going to change," said Paz. "Aren't you willing to pay 10, 15 cents? I don't think it's tremendously huge to change someone's life."
The overtime pay kicks in at a time when New York state's minimum wage is also on the rise, and poor weather conditions and global trade disputes have coalesced to make doing business as a farmer in New York exceedingly difficult.
"Our plan is to continue to operate in New York. We are a fifth-generation business, we're not leaving anytime soon," King said. "We will try to figure out the best way we can to compete. We hope that over time, our political leaders would consider the situation that they've put us in, and realize that they've done nothing to help the competitiveness of the New York dairy industry."
The Biden Plan for Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions
Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family – the 40 hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace – is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections. Because of organizing and collective bargaining, there used to be a basic bargain between workers and their employers in this country that when you work hard, you share in the prosperity your work created.
Today, however, there’s a war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions, and workers. It’s been raging for decades, and it’s getting worse with Donald Trump in the White House. Republican governors and state legislatures across the country have advanced anti-worker legislation to undercut the labor movement and collective bargaining. States have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain. In the private sector, corporations are using profits to buy back their own shares and increase CEOs’ compensation instead of investing in their workers and creating more good-quality jobs. The results have been predictable: rising income inequality, stagnant real wages, the loss of pensions, exploitation of workers, and a weakening of workers’ voices in our society.
Biden is proposing a plan to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class – the backbone of the American economy – by strengthening public and private sector unions and helping all workers bargain successfully for what they deserve.
- Check the abuse of corporate power over labor and hold corporate executives personally accountable for violations of labor laws
- Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining and
- Ensure that workers are treated with dignity and receive the pay, benefits, and workplace protections they deserve.
This plan is a critical addition to Biden’s proposals to ensure all workers have access to quality, affordable health care to guarantee all workers are able to send their children to quality public schools and have access to universal pre-kindergarten to provide education and training beyond high school , including federally Registered Apprenticeships to support a clean energy revolution that creates millions of unionized middle-class jobs and to meet our commitment to invest first in American workers and ensure that labor is at the table to negotiate every trade deal.
CHECK THE ABUSE OF CORPORATE POWER OVER LABOR
President Trump and Republican leadership think this country was built by CEOs and hedge fund managers, but they’re wrong. Joe Biden knows that our country was built by hard-working Americans. While we could survive without Wall Street and investment banks, our entire economy would collapse without electricians to keep our lights on, auto workers on the line building our cars, drivers who deliver all things we need for our daily lives to our markets, firefighters, ambulance drivers, service workers, educators, and millions more.
Yet e mployers steal about $15 billion a year from working people just by paying workers less than the minimum wage. On top of that, workers experience huge losses in salary caused by other forms of wage theft, like employers not paying overtime, forcing off-the-clock work, and misclassifying workers. At the same time, these companies are raking in billions of dollars in profits and paying CEOs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.
In addition, employers repeatedly interfere with workers’ efforts to organize and collectively bargain. In nearly all union campaigns , corporations run a campaign against the union. Three in four employers hire anti-union consultants, spending approximately $1 billion each year on these efforts. Corporations fire pro-union workers in one of every three union campaigns and about half of corporations threaten to retaliate against workers during union campaigns. Even workers who successfully are able to form a union are later impeded by corporations who bargain in bad faith. About half of newly organized groups of workers do not have a contract a year later and one in three remain without a contract two years after a successful union election.
Biden will ensure employers respect workers’ rights. Specifically, he will:
- Hold corporations and executives personally accountable for interfering with organizing efforts and violating other labor laws. Biden strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act’s (PRO Act) provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers. Biden will go beyond the PRO Act by enacting legislation to impose even stiffer penalties on corporations and to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.
- Aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws, participate in wage theft, or cheat on their taxes by intentionally misclassifying employees as independent contractors. As president, Biden will put a stop to employers intentionally misclassifying their employees as independent contractors. He will enact legislation that makes worker misclassification a substantive violation of law under all federal labor, employment, and tax laws with additional penalties beyond those imposed for other violations. And, he will build on efforts by the Obama-Biden Administration to drive an aggressive, all-hands-on-deck enforcement effort that will dramatically reduce worker misclassification. He will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to engage in meaningful, collaborative enforcement partnerships, including with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and state tax, unemployment insurance, and labor agencies. And, while Trump has weakened enforcement by sabotaging the enforcement agencies and slashing their investigator corps, Biden will fund a dramatic increase in the number of investigators in labor and employment enforcement agencies to facilitate a large anti-misclassification effort.
- Ensure federal dollars do not flow to employers who engage in union-busting activities, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law. Biden will institute a multi-year federal debarment for all employers who illegally oppose unions, building on debarment efforts pursued in the Obama-Biden Administration. Biden will also restore and build on the Obama-Biden Administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which Trump revoked , requiring employers’ compliance with labor and employment laws be taken into account in determining whether they are sufficiently responsible to be entrusted with federal contracts. He will ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns. He also will only award contracts to employers who support their workers, including those who pay a $15 per hour minimum wage and family sustaining benefits. The tax dollars of hard-working families should not be used to damage the standard of living of those same families.
- Penalize companies that bargain in bad faith. Too many employers pretend to bargain with unions (“surface bargaining”) with no intent of reaching an agreement. Biden will give the NLRB the necessary power to force any employer found to be bargaining in bad faith back to the negotiating table, as called for in the PRO Ac t . And, he will require those companies to pay a penalty, in addition to making workers whole for the time the company stalled negotiations.
ENCOURAGE AND INCENTIVIZE UNION ORGANIZING AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
Unions and collective bargaining are essential tools for growing and sustaining a stronger, more inclusive middle class. 16 million workers in the United States are union members or are in a job that provides them union representation. More than six in ten of those individuals are women and/or people of color. Union workers earn roughly 13% more than non-union workers on a similar job site. They also experience drastically lower rates of labor standards violations, like employers engaging in wage theft or failing to meet safety and health requirements.
But today, union members make up just 10.5% of the American workforce. That’s down from 35% in the 1950s. It is no coincidence that this decline has occurred at the same time as rising income inequality. When workers are blocked from organizing and engaging in collective bargaining, stagnant wages and a declining middle class are the predictable results.
Joe Biden believes the federal government should not only defend workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, but also encourage collective bargaining. That’s the mission put forward by the National Labor Relations Act , signed into law in 1935, which states that “encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining” is part of the “policy of the United States.”
Toward that end, President Biden will:
- Make it easier for workers who choose to unionize to do so. Today, workers face an uphill battle of anti-union intimidation and intense employer opposition when trying to organize a union. And, too many employers are able to “run out the clock” on negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement. Biden strongly supports the provisions of the PRO Act that address union organizing, as well as additional aggressive remedies that will:
- ban employers’ mandatory meetings with their employees, including captive audience meetings in which employees are forced to listen to anti-union rhetoric
- reinstate and codify into law the Obama-Biden Administration’s “persuader rule ” requiring employers to report not only information communicated to employees, but also the activities of third-party consultants who work behind the scenes to manage employers’ anti-union campaigns
- codify into law the Obama-Biden era’s NLRB rules allowing for shortened timelines of union election campaigns and
- stop employers from stalling initial negotiations with newly formed unions.
A co-sponsor of the original Employee Free Choice Act , Biden supports workers choosing to form a union if a majority signs authorization cards empowering a union to represent them. He will go beyond the PRO Act by allowing workers to use this process, called “card check,” as an initial option for forming a union, not merely an option granted when the employer has illegally interfered in the election process.
- Provide a federal guarantee for public sector employees to bargain for better pay and benefits and the working conditions they deserve. Public sector unions provide the voice that workers – including educators, social workers, firefighters, and police officers – need to ensure they can serve their communities. And, public sector unions have been and continue to be an essential pathway to the middle class for workers of color and women, who disproportionately work in the public sector. Yet, in many states across the country, public sector workers do not have the right to bargain collectively. In states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, and Indiana, these rights are increasingly under attack. As president, Biden will establish a federal right to union organizing and collective bargaining for all public sector employees, and make it easier for those employees who serve our communities to both join a union and bargain. He will do so by fighting for and signing into law the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act . He will work to ensure public sector workers, including public school educators, have a greater voice in the decisions that impact their students and their working conditions. He will also strongly encourage states to pursue expanded bargaining rights for state licensed and contracted workers, including child care workers and home health care workers . And, he will look for federal solutions that will protect these workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Finally, he will reinstate the Obama-Biden rule , which the Trump Administration has since reversed , making it easier for independent-provider home care workers to join a union.
- Ban state laws prohibiting unions from collecting dues or comparable payments from all workers who benefit from union representation that unions are legally obligated to provide. Currently more than half of all states have in place these so-called “right to work” laws, which in fact deprive workers of their rights. These laws exist only to deprive unions of the financial support they need to fight for higher wages and better benefits. As president, Biden will repeal the Taft-Hartley provisions that allow states to impose “right to work” laws.
- Create a cabinet-level working group that will solely focus on promoting union organizing and collective bargaining in the public and private sectors. As president, Biden will create a cabinet-level working group that includes representatives from labor. In the first 100 days of the Administration, the working group will deliver a plan to dramatically increase union density and address economic inequality. The group will consider whether there are very specific areas where the federal government could waive preemption of the National Labor Relations Act to allow cities and states to pursue innovative ways to increase union organizing and collective bargaining without undermining current workers’ protections, like allowing for neutrality agreements and card check. The group will also be tasked with working with unions and trade associations to further explore the expansion of sectoral bargaining, where all competitors in an industry are engaged in collective bargaining with a single or multiple unions.
- Ensure workers can bargain with the employer that actually holds the power, including franchisors, and ensure those employers are accountable for guaranteeing workplace protections. During the Obama-Biden Administration, the NLRB issued the landmark Browning-Ferris Industries decision . If allowed to stand, this decision would allow unions to collectively bargain with the employer that actually controls their wages, benefits and working conditions — which is often not the staffing agency or the franchisee, but a large corporation or franchisor like McDonald’s. The Trump Administration and Trump’s handpicked NLRB majority proposed reversing this decision. As president, Biden will enact legislation codifying the Browning-Ferris Industries joint employer definition into law, as called for in the PRO Act, and restoring the broad definition of joint employment to wage and hour law.
- Ensure that workers can exercise their right to strike without fear of reprisal. The right of workers to withhold their labor, or to strike, is fundamental to balancing power in the workplace. But too many workers risk reprisal, punishment, or termination when they seek to bring pressure on employers by participating in strikes, picket lines, and boycotts. Low wage workers face especially high barriers to exercising their right to strike. They often have too few resources to sustain long strikes, and instead require short, periodic strikes, or “intermittent strikes,” to be able to bring pressure to their employer. Under current law, these types of strikes are not sufficiently protected. And, because low-wage workers often do not have specialized skills, they are more often “permanently replaced” – or functionally fired – while striking. Workers are also often limited in the pressure they can exert on employers because of restrictions on boycotting “secondary” businesses that have influence over their employer. These secondary boycotts are essential for promoting workers’ voices. For example, after tomato growers unsuccessfully led strikes of their employer at the turn of the century, they successfully boycotted Taco Bell and other fast-food giants who bought the tomatoes to gain better wages and working conditions. Biden has supported secondary boycotts since he entered public service, and has long supported banning “permanent replacement” of workers. As president, Biden will fight for passage of the PRO Act to protect intermittent strikes, ban permanent strike replacements, and remove the ill-conceived ban on secondary boycotts once and for all.
- Empower the National Labor Relations Board to fulfill its intended purpose of protecting workers. Congress created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to encourage union organizing, support collective bargaining, and protect workers’ rights. The Obama-Biden Administration appointed officials to the NLRB who supported workers’ right to organize and collective bargain, and made critically important decisions such as ensuring that workers could organize in micro-units . Trump has undermined this progress and the intent of the NLRB by appointing board members with long histories of anti-union activities. As president, Biden will appoint members to the NLRB who will protect, rather than sabotage, worker organizing, collective bargaining, and workers’ rights to engage in concerted activity whether or not they belong to a union.
- Reinstate and expand protections for federal employees. The federal government should serve as a role model for employers to treat their workers fairly. Yet, Trump has gutted the ability of federal employees to collectively bargain, stripped them of their union representation, and made it easier to fire federal employees without “just cause.” On Biden’s first day in office, he will restore federal employees’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, and will direct his agencies to bargain with federal employee unions over non-mandatory subjects of bargaining.
- Expand long overdue rights to farmworkers and domestic workers . When Congress extended labor rights and protections to workers, farmworkers and domestic workers – who are disproportionately immigrants and people of color – were left out. Still today, millions of these workers are not fully protected under federal labor law. As president, Biden will support legislation, including the Fairness for Farmworkers Act and Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights , that expands federal protections to agricultural and domestic workers, ensuring that they too have the right to basic workplace protections and to organize and collectively bargain. And, through the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, Biden will ensure domestic workers have a voice in the workplace through a wage and standards board.
- Extend the right to organize and bargain collectively to independent contractors. Some workers are correctly classified as independent contractors, but are not very different from employees. They bring only their labor, and perhaps a small amount of capital investment, to the organization with which they do business. These workers lack individual bargaining power and, as a result, are at grave risk of exploitation by big business. Biden supports modifying antitrust law and guaranteeing that these independent contractors can organize and bargain collectively for their mutual protection and benefit.
ENSURE THAT ALL WORKERS ARE TREATED WITH DIGNITY AND RECEIVE THE PAY, BENEFITS, AND WORKPLACE PROTECTIONS THEY DESERVE
During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ushered in labor protections and established the safety net for a reason. The excesses of business threatened the very fabric of our community in the Roaring Twenties, as children slaved away in factories and workers labored for poverty wages. Basic protections like the minimum wage and overtime pay allowed workers to earn their fair share.
But it has been far too long since we have increased those standards. Today’s corporate culture treats workers as a means to an end and institutes policies to suppress wages.
As president, Biden will ensure that workers receive the pay and dignity they deserve. He will:
- Increase the federal minimum wage to $15. As Vice President, Biden helped get state and local laws increasing the minimum wage across the finish line – including in New York State – and has supported eliminating the tipped minimum wage. He firmly believes all Americans are owed a raise, and it’s well past time we increase the federal minimum wage to $15 across the country. This increase would include workers who aren’t currently earning the minimum wage, like the farmworkers who grow our food and domestic workers who care for our aging and sick and for those with disabilities. As president, Biden will also support indexing the minimum wage to the median hourly wage so that low-wage workers’ wages keep up with those of middle income workers.
- Invest in communities by widely applying and strictly enforcing prevailing wages. The prevailing wage, or the wage earned by the median worker in the same occupation in the same region, is an essential mechanism for securing middle class jobs. Taxpayer dollars should always be used to build the middle class, not to foster wage-cutting competition among employers in the construction or service industries. When President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Biden made sure that Davis-Bacon Act and Service Contract Act standards were strictly enforced, requiring that the prevailing wage be paid to construction workers and service workers on all projects funded by ARRA. As president, Biden will build on this success by ensuring that every federal investment in infrastructure and transportation projects or service jobs is covered by prevailing wage protections.
- Stop employers from denying workers overtime pay they’ve earned. The Obama-Biden Administration fought to extend overtime pay to over 4 million workers and protect nearly 9 million from losing it. The Trump Administration reversed this progress, implementing a new rule that leaves millions of workers behind. Since Trump walked away from protecting these middle-class workers, they have lost over $2.2 billion in foregone overtime wages. As president, Biden will ensure workers are paid fairly for the long hours they work and get the overtime they have earned.
- Ensure workers in the “gig economy” and beyond receive the legal benefits and protections they deserve.Employer misclassification of “gig economy” workers as independent contractors deprives these workers of legally mandated benefits and protections. Employers in construction, service industries, and other industries also misclassify millions of their employees as independent contractors to reduce their labor costs at the expense of these workers. This epidemic of misclassification is made possible by ambiguous legal tests that give too much discretion to employers, too little protection to workers, and too little direction to government agencies and courts. States like California have already paved the way by adopting a clearer, simpler, and stronger three-prong “ABC test” to distinguish employees from independent contractors. The ABC test will mean many more workers will get the legal protections and benefits they rightfully should receive. As president, Biden will work with Congress to establish a federal standard modeled on the ABC test for all labor, employment, and tax laws.
- Eliminate non-compete clauses and no-poaching agreements that hinder the ability of employees to seek higher wages, better benefits, and working conditions by changing employers. In the American economy, companies compete. Workers should be able to compete, too. But at some point in their careers, 40% of American workers have been subject to non-compete clauses. If workers had the freedom to move to another job, they could expect to earn 5% to 10% more – that’s an additional $2,000 to $4,000 for a worker earning $40,000 each year. These employer-driven barriers to competition are even imposed within the same company’s franchisee networks. For example, large franchisors like Jiffy Lube have no-poaching policies preventing any of their franchisees from hiring workers from another franchisee. As president, Biden will work with Congress to eliminate all non-compete agreements, except the very few that are absolutely necessary to protect a narrowly defined category of trade secrets, and outright ban all no-poaching agreements.
- Put an end to unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. While licensing is important in some occupations to protect consumers, in many occupations licensing does nothing but thwart economic opportunity . If licensed workers choose to move to new states for higher-paying jobs, they often have to get certified all over again. As president, Biden will build on the Obama-Biden Administration’s efforts to incentivize states to reduce unnecessary licensing requirements and to ensure licenses are transferable from one state to the next.
- Increase workplace safety and health. No one should get sick, injured, or die simply because they went to work. Every worker has the right to return home from work safely. But Trump has attempted to weaken several occupational and safety regulations established during the Obama-Biden Administration. For example, he rolled back regulations requiring companies to report their workplace injuries so they are disclosed to the public. He removed the restrictions on line speeds in pork plants, making meatpacking jobs even more dangerous. He reduced the number of Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) investigators and safety enforcement efforts, despite the fact that OSHA inspections reduce injuries. As president, Biden will reinstate these critical safety protections and ensure all appointments to committees and advisory boards under OSHA intimately understand the consequences of not having functional safety standards in place. He will direct OSHA to substantially expand its enforcement efforts. He will increase the number of investigators in OSHA and the Mine Safety Health and Administration (MSHA). He will also direct OSHA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, MSHA, and other relevant agencies to develop comprehensive strategies for addressing the most dangerous hazards workers encounter in the modern workplace.
- Ensure workers can have their day in court by ending mandatory arbitration clauses imposed by employers on workers.Sixty million workers have been forced to sign contracts waiving their rights to sue their employer and nearly 25 million have been forced to waive their right to bring class action lawsuits or joint arbitration. These contracts require employees to use individual, private arbitrations when their employer violates federal and state laws. Biden will enact legislation to ban employers from requiring their employees to agree to mandatory individual arbitration and forcing employees to relinquish their right to class action lawsuits or collective litigation, as called for in the PRO Act.
- Expand protections for undocumented immigrants who report labor violations. When undocumented immigrants are victims of serious crimes and help in the investigation of those crimes, they become eligible for U Visas . The Obama-Biden Administration expanded the U Visa program to certain workplace crimes. As president, Biden will further extend these protections to victims of any workplace violations of federal, state, or local labor law by securing passage of the POWER Act . And, a Biden Administration will ensure that workers on temporary visas, including guest teachers, are protected so that they are able to exercise the labor rights to which they are entitled.
Vice President Biden has stood with and fought for workers again and again. He helped get state and local laws increasing the minimum wage across the finish line – including in New York State. As Vice President, Biden was the loudest elected voice calling out “the most direct assault [on unions] in generations” when governors in states like Wisconsin and Ohio eviscerated the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees. When President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he ensured construction workers were paid prevailing wages, essential for maintaining middle class jobs. The Recovery Act also played a vital role in saving public sector jobs, including tens of thousands of education jobs . And, Biden secured an expansion of the SAFER Act to keep more firefighters on the job during the Great Recession.
The Obama-Biden Administration also took action to make it easier for workers to organize. The Administration increased transparency of employers’ anti-union campaigns and ensured that employers who wanted federal contracts had to comply with labor laws. They supported public sector workers’ ability to organize, including by clarifying that states can deduct union dues from home care workers. And, the Administration appointed a pro-union National Labor Relations Board.
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Cesar Chavez: The Life Behind A Legacy Of Farm Labor Rights
Cesar Chavez, the head of the United Farm Workers Union, calls for the resignation of Walter Kintz, the first legal counsel for the state Agriculture Labor Relations Board, in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 16, 1975. Chavez's efforts in California culminated in landmark legislation that protected the rights of the state's farmworkers and created the ALRB. AP hide caption
Cesar Chavez, the head of the United Farm Workers Union, calls for the resignation of Walter Kintz, the first legal counsel for the state Agriculture Labor Relations Board, in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 16, 1975. Chavez's efforts in California culminated in landmark legislation that protected the rights of the state's farmworkers and created the ALRB.
Half a century ago this summer, labor activist Cesar Chavez joined thousands of striking farmworkers in Texas as they converged on Austin, the state capital, to demand fair wages and humane working conditions.
Their march, which started from the punishing melon fields of South Texas, was his march, too. It was a deep and abiding understanding of the challenges of the farmworker's life that drove his commitment to labor rights. The life of Cesar Chavez mirrored that of the people he was trying to help. Their cause — La Causa — was his.
Born into a Mexican-American family of migrant farm laborers and a life of grinding poverty, Chavez dedicated his life's work to improving conditions for the legions of farmworkers who kept fresh food on the tables across America — while they often went hungry, living and laboring in abysmal conditions and being paid unlivable wages.
"Without a union, the people are always cheated, and they are so innocent," Chavez told The New Yorker's Peter Mathiessen in 1968.
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In South Texas, Fair Wages Elude Farmworkers, 50 Years After Historic Strike
Chavez modeled his methods on the nonviolent civil disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. — employing strikes, boycotts, marches and fasts — to draw attention to La Causa. And he drew inspiration from the social teachings of the Catholic Church and from the life of St. Francis. An Italian nobleman who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries, Francis of Assisi renounced his wealth after a period of captivity during war and illness. He became a champion of the poor, living his life in solidarity with them.
Even in the face of threats and actual violence — be it from police or other unions, such as the Teamsters — Chavez never wavered from his commitment to passive resistance.
At the end of his first fast — which ended in 1968 after 25 days — Chavez was too weak to speak, but a speech was read on his behalf:
"When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belongs to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men."
Chavez's work and that of the United Farm Workers — the union he helped found — succeeded where countless efforts in the previous century had failed: improving pay and working conditions for farm laborers in the 1960s and 1970s, and paving the way for landmark legislation in 1975 that codified and guaranteed agricultural workers' right to unionize, bargain collectively with their employers and vote in secret-ballot elections in California.
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Memories Of A Former Migrant Worker
But after these momentous, hard-won victories, the UFW matured as a union, and its influence gradually declined, while the political climate in California turned against labor. Chavez took up a new cause, sounding the alarm over the dangers of pesticides — but never gained the kind of traction of earlier campaigns.
He died in 1993 in Arizona, not too far from where he was born. He was still doing union business, at 66. More than 40,000 people attended his funeral.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Chavez a posthumous Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.
"He was for his own people a Moses figure," Clinton said. "The farmworkers who labored in the fields and yearned for respect and self-sufficiency pinned their hopes on this remarkable man, who, with faith and discipline, with soft-spoken humility and amazing inner strength, led a very courageous life. And in so doing, brought dignity to the lives of so many others, and provided for us inspiration for the rest of our nation's history."
Some key moments in his life:
1927: Chavez is born on March 31 in Yuma, Ariz., one of five children. When bank foreclosure forces the family to leave its small farm, the Chavez family joins the some 300,000 men, women and children streaming into California, following the harvest, during the Great Depression.
The work is back-breaking, hard-to-come-by and pays pitifully. For example, two hours of picking peas — in the hot sun, stooped over — yields the entire family 20 cents. They live in overcrowded, primitive housing with no electricity or running water. Sometimes they cram into a tent, or sleep in the rough. Chavez experiences profound discrimination at school — from teachers as well as other students — and drops out after 8th grade to join his family full time in the fields.
In 'Cesar Chavez,' A Reluctant Hero Fights For 'La Causa'
1939: Chavez is first exposed to unions in San Jose, Calif., where his family is working at the time.
1946: Joins the U.S. Navy and serves for two years at the end of World War II in a segregated unit. Chavez returns to agricultural work when his service ends.
1948: Meets and marries Helen Fabela in Delano, Calif. They have eight children. He begins learning about Gandhi — who used nonviolent civil disobedience in the fight for India's independence from British rule — and the teachings of St. Francis, who championed the poor.
1952: Starts working for the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group that organized communities around issues such as voter registration, immigration and police abuse. He rises to become the group's national director.
1962: Chavez resigns from the CSO because it won't endorse his proposal to form a farmworkers union. He uses his life savings of $1,200 to form the National Farm Workers Association in Delano.
1965: Chavez criss-crosses California's Imperial and San Joaquin valleys to recruit members. At the time, he is so poor that he sometimes asks for food from the workers he is trying to help.
In September, the NWFA, under the leadership of Chavez and Dolores Huerta, calls for a strike against grape growers, joining the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a Filipino American labor group. At the time, field workers earned as little as 40 cents per hour.
Chavez, leader of the Delano grape pickers' strike, waves to the crowd from the steps of the California Capitol in Sacramento, on April 11, 1966. Chavez led his strikers and followers on a more than 300-mile, 25-day pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in an attempt to meet with Gov. Pat Brown on Easter Sunday. AP hide caption
Chavez, leader of the Delano grape pickers' strike, waves to the crowd from the steps of the California Capitol in Sacramento, on April 11, 1966. Chavez led his strikers and followers on a more than 300-mile, 25-day pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in an attempt to meet with Gov. Pat Brown on Easter Sunday.
1966: Chavez leads strikers on a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to bring awareness to La Causa of farmworkers. The NWFA also merges with the AWOC to form the United Farm Workers.
Chavez also helps lead a strike and march by farmworkers in Starr County in South Texas. Ultimately, the strike fails, as Texas Rangers bring in replacement workers from Mexico.
1967: In addition to the strike, Chavez calls for a nationwide boycott of non-union California table grapes. He sends UFW workers to cities across the country to raise awareness. Their efforts dovetail with the civil rights movement and a greater consciousness of racism and economic inequity. Millions of Americans supported the boycott, which eventually became international in scope and lasted until 1970.
Sen. Robert F. Kennedy shares bread with Chavez on March 10, 1968, as the union leader ends a 25-day fast in support of nonviolence in the strike against grape growers. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images hide caption
Sen. Robert F. Kennedy shares bread with Chavez on March 10, 1968, as the union leader ends a 25-day fast in support of nonviolence in the strike against grape growers.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
1968: In February and March, Chavez fasts for 25 days to rededicate and recommit himself to the struggle for justice through nonviolence. He loses 25 pounds. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy joins him at the Mass where Chavez breaks his fast, and calls the labor leader "one of the heroic figures of our time."
A judge jails Chavez and says he will stay behind bars until he calls off a nationwide lettuce boycott, Dec. 5, 1970. AP hide caption
A judge jails Chavez and says he will stay behind bars until he calls off a nationwide lettuce boycott, Dec. 5, 1970.
1970: After five years, the strike and boycott against the grape growers ends in victory for the UFW. In the past, big agribusiness had been able to end strikes through violence or negotiating small, one-off pay increases. This time, the union is able to secure broader rights: to organize and bargain collectively, in addition to better wages.
He calls for a nationwide boycott of lettuce.
1972: Chavez fasts for a second time, for 24 days, to protest an Arizona law that bans farmworkers from organizing, boycotting or striking.
1973: After a second strike against grape growers turns violent, Chavez calls off the strike and begins a second boycott of grapes and lettuce.
1975: California passes the state's landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which establishes and protects the rights of all farmworkers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions.
Chavez speaks to striking telephone workers outside the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company headquarters in Boston on Oct. 13, 1989. Scott Maguire/AP hide caption
Chavez speaks to striking telephone workers outside the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company headquarters in Boston on Oct. 13, 1989.
1982: With the strong support of agribusiness in the state, Republican George Deukmejian is elected governor of California. He proceeds to defang enforcement of the farm labor laws.
1986: Chavez kicks off his "Grapes of Wrath" campaign to draw attention to the pesticide poisoning of farmworkers and their children.
1988: Chavez goes on his third and final fast, which lasts 36 days.
More than 40,000 people attended Chavez's funeral on April 29, 1993. The casket was carried through Arizona farmland. Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
More than 40,000 people attended Chavez's funeral on April 29, 1993. The casket was carried through Arizona farmland.
Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images
1993: Chavez died in his sleep on April 23 while he was in San Luis, Ariz., on UFW business. He was 66 years old. More than 40,000 people attend his funeral.
1994: Chavez posthumously receives the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian award.
Overtime pay for farmworkers still in dispute
Last year, New York state passed a law guaranteeing workers at more than 35,000 farms rights that most other workers already had, including access to overtime pay, guaranteed time off and the ability to engage in collective bargaining.
Now, a state wage board has until the end of the year to decide on potential changes to overtime rules under the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. The new law requires farms to pay overtime at one-and-a-half times the normal rate when farm workers work more than 60 hours in a week or on their guaranteed day of rest as of this year. The board could lower that threshold to 40 hours per week to match overtime rates in other industries. Farm owners are calling to keep the 60-hour threshold, which they say has already proven onerous and led them to cut workers’ hours, while advocates for farm workers are pushing for overtime pay past 40 hours a week of work to provide equitable treatment for workers.
The law created a farm laborers wage board to hold hearings and consider whether the overtime threshold should be reduced. It’s a particularly important issue for agricultural workers, about 42% of whom work more than 41 hours a week compared with just 26% of the average private-sector employee. The three members of the wage board – which includes one member each from labor and the agricultural industry – have until the end of December to deliver a report on recommendations for the state Legislature and governor.
Farm owners have been cutting hours for workers since the law’s implementation to bypass the overtime rules, arguing it creates too great an expense. The nature of farming’s dependence on weather conditions make them different from many other industries, farmers argued, during the wage board’s recent hearings, saying they may need to work longer hours when the weather is better.
Will-O-Crest Farm, a dairy farm in the Ontario County town of Clifton Springs, has paid out 3,000 hours of overtime, costing an additional $20,000, for example. “These numbers do not include our corn harvest, which is starting soon and is our biggest labor demand,” Hannah Wordon from the farm said during the Aug. 26 hearing. A threshold lowered to 40 hours a week would create a 7% increase in the farm’s labor costs, which is already its second highest cost, she said.
But organizers and advocates for workers have argued that agriculture isn’t unique in being weather dependent – as the construction industry faces similar challenges – and shouldn’t be exempt from guaranteeing similar worker rights. “The financial burden shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of the worker,” said Angel Reyes, Long Island coordinator at the Rural and Migrant Ministry, which advocates for farmworkers. “It perhaps should be something the state should negotiate through state credits. … Maybe they could find some creative ways to not make the worker pay the price for it.”
Several farm owners have argued that their workers are complaining about cuts to their hours made to avoid paying overtime. Brian Reeves, president of the NYS Vegetable Growers Association and owner of Reeves Farm, said his 63 employees are working under H-2A visas for seasonal work and would prefer to work longer hours – which could mean as much as 75-hour work weeks – to make more money. “Most of my guys, as of Aug. 28 in 2020, they will have less money in their pocket than they had on Aug. 28 in 2019, because they worked more hours (last year),” he said.
But advocates have said that the whole point of the law is to ensure workers don’t have to work relentless hours to earn enough money. “If people could work 40 to 50 hours or 60 hours and earn overtime, they wouldn’t have to work 70, 80, 90 hours a week to earn the same amount,” said Emma Kreyche, advocacy director at the Worker Justice Center of New York.
Crispin Hernandez, a former dairy worker and organizer with the Worker's Center of CNY, also said the recent hearings which have largely featured the perspective of farm owners are often inaccessible to farmworkers who may be interested in offering input. “They’re using COVID to advance their own agenda and there isn’t even equal accessibility to participation because they do these hearings in the middle of the day while people are working,” he said through a translator, noting that many people also lack internet access to attend the virtual meetings.
Several farmworkers continue to remain unaware of the rights guaranteed to them under the law, organizers told City & State, and cases have popped up in which employers aren’t following several of the provisions, such as requiring a day of rest each week for workers. Outreach, education and organizing around the law – especially early on in the coronavirus pandemic – often took lower priority as organizations scrambled to find financial support and health resources for farmworkers. “A lot of workers do not get that notification from their employers,” said Fabiola Ortiz Valdez, who coordinates with the New York Immigration Coalition’s member organizations involved in workers rights in Central New York. The Rural and Migrant Ministry’s mask distributions at farms, however, created an opportunity to also give out information on worker rights. “That was one of our biggest outreach efforts ever,” Reyes said.
The next step to supporting farmworkers comes down to additional legislation, advocates said, after outbreaks swept through many farms upstate. Workers reported that they lacked sufficient personal protective equipment, and access to health care was often hampered by limited transportation, language barriers and fears of deportation. Several have come out in support of state Sen. Michael Gianaris’s proposed legislation to require the state Department of Labor to come up with enforceable health and safety measures essential businesses must follow to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Others have also called for the state to step in to offer relief for undocumented immigrants, who have been cut out of unemployment benefits and federal stimulus checks.
“We’ve always been essential, not just during this pandemic,” Hernandez said. “Every day of the year, there are farm workers working.”
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