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Daily News Blog

04
Dec

Protection of Pregnant Farmworkers Under Civil Rights Protection; Will There Be Enforcement.

pregnant farmworker under a hat

(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2023) With a history of neglect of farmworker protection in the workplace, advocates are pointing to the need for ensuring stringent enforcement of regulations that are expected to take effect under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) this month. In addition to weak laws and protections that typically exempt farmworkers, enforcement for farmworker protections that do exist has been lacking. A report on enforcement of wage and hour law under Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has documented diminished capacity to detect and enforce against violations. A report by the Economic Policy Institute (2020) shows the dramatic failures of DOL, which is underfunded and understaffed to enforce the law. As the agency charged with operationalizing the new law to protect farmworkers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will be up against a federal pesticide law enforcement system that is dependent by agreements with state agencies, mostly departments of agriculture, that have a history of failing to enforce the limited protections provided for farmworkers. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and operates 53 field offices in every part of the country.

Farmworkers have endured a long history of discrimination in the United States. The enforcement of pesticide law and protection of farmworkers has been criticized for decades. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed in 1970, it was given the responsibility for farmworker protection, instead of DOL. Enforcement authority was then delegated to the states under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to Exposed and At Risk, the current, “complex system of enforcement . . . lacks the capacity to effectively protect farmworkers. . . . [and] the cooperative agreement[s] between federal and state agencies makes it nearly impossible to ensure implementation of the federal Worker Protection Standard.”

With the passage of PWFA, new standards will need to be enforced to ensure that pregnant farmworkers are protected. The law applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees, extends protection for pregnant workers for disability (including temporary or short-term disability) associated with childbirth, miscarriages, or related conditions. The legislation was passed as part of the 2023 Omnibus Spending Bill and signed into law by President Biden in December 2022.

This law should be used to improve protections for farmworkers and other high-risk employees from the elevated adverse impacts on reproductive health associated with pesticides. One of the law’s key provisions is an anti-retaliation clause, that protects workers asking for “reasonable accommodation.” In addition, accommodations for pregnant workers cannot be imposed by the employer but must be agreeable to the worker as well.

Barriers for pregnant farmworkers have been demonstrated in California, where farmworkers—regardless of citizenship status—who are exposed to pesticides can take time off during the pregnancy as a preventive measure if other accommodations are not available, receiving 70 percent of their wages to make up for lost income—to be increased to 90 percent for low-wage workers in 2025. Farmworkers in California who are exposed to pesticides can access this program practically from the time they find out they are pregnant because of the risk pesticide exposure poses. However, farmworkers have historically been shut out of these programs due to language and access barriers, lack of information for workers and their medical care providers, and racism. 

The nation depends on farmworkers, yet, the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by EPA, while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers. Many farmworkers are migrant workers, and are subject to conditions that would not be permitted for U.S. citizens. The U.S. is not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which would set a moral standard to treat migrant workers like workers who are citizens. To learn more about farmworker protection, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Agricultural Justice page.

Take Action: (1) Tell EEOC to require an enforcement plan that ensures pregnant farmworkers will not work in or be exposed to drift from pesticide-treated fields; (2) Tell EPA to update its Worker Protection Standard to ensure that pregnant farmworkers are not exposed to pesticides; and (3) Tell President Biden (through Secretary of State Blinken) to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

EPA must update its Worker Protection Standards, and more fundamentally, must base its pesticide risk assessments on the dangers to the most vulnerable people—pregnant farmworkers and their families. EPA must reverse its policy and require that risk assessments adopt a standard that protects farmworkers. Food production is not sustainable unless the workers who plant and harvest our food are safe in their place of employment.

Pregnant farmworkers and their families are better protected when we support organic agriculture and purchase organic food. Organic practices eliminate industrial agriculture’s reliance on petrochemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, protecting health and the environment .

Letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

Final regulations implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) are expected to be issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in December, 2023. The legislation, which went into effect June 23, 2023 and applies to all workplaces with 15 or more employees, extends protection for pregnant workers for disability (including temporary or short-term disability) associated with childbirth, miscarriages, or related conditions. The legislation was passed as part of the 2023 Omnibus Spending Bill and signed into law by President Biden in December 2022.

This law should be used to improve protections for farmworkers and other high-risk employees from the elevated adverse impacts on reproductive health associated with pesticides. EPA’s Worker Protection Standards (WPS) are rules that govern labor safety standards within federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA). Farmworkers are not covered for toxic chemical exposure by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and WPS have long been criticized by farmworker, labor, and health advocates for providing insufficient protections for farmworker communities.

Farmworkers need enforceable protections. Currently, the average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. A recent report, Exposed and At Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, again highlights the systemic racism of our country’s pesticide policies. Our nation depends on farmworkers, declared “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure sustenance for the nation and world. Yet the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers.

Many farmworkers are migrant workers and are subject to conditions that would not be permitted for U.S. citizens. The U.S. is not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which would set a moral standard to treat migrant workers like workers who are citizens.

In alignment with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), please update the agency’s worker protection standard to not permit pregnant farmworkers to work in fields that have been treated with pesticides or work in fields that are subject to pesticide drift. Additionally, please tell President Biden to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Thank you.

 Letter to Equal Opportunity Committee (EEOC):

Final regulations implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) are expected to be issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in December 2023. The legislation, which went into effect June 23, 2023 and applies to all workplaces with 15 or more employees, extends protection for pregnant workers for disability (including temporary or short-term disability) associated with childbirth, miscarriages, or related conditions. The legislation was passed as part of the 2023 Omnibus Spending Bill and signed into law by President Biden in December 2022.

This law should be used to improve protections for farmworkers and other high-risk employees from the elevated adverse impacts on reproductive health associated with pesticides. EPA’s Worker Protection Standards (WPS) are rules that govern labor safety standards within federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA). Farmworkers are not covered for toxic chemical exposure by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and WPS have long been criticized by farmworker, labor, and health advocates for providing insufficient protections for farmworker communities.

Farmworkers need enforceable protections. Currently, the average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. A recent report, Exposed and At Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, again highlights the systemic racism of our country’s pesticide policies. Our nation depends on farmworkers, declared “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure sustenance for the nation and world. Yet the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers.

As a means of enforcing the EEOC regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), please insist that EPA and state agencies responsible for enforcing federal law, under agreements with the federal government, protect pregnant farmworkers by not permitting pregnant farmworkers to work in fields that have been treated with pesticides or work in fields that are subject to pesticide drift. Additionally, please advise President Biden to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Thank you.

Letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken:

I am writing to ask your assistance in protecting migrant farmworkers.

Final regulations implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) are expected to be issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in December 2023. The legislation, which went into effect June 23, 2023 and applies to all workplaces with 15 or more employees, extends protection for pregnant workers for disability (including temporary or short-term disability) associated with childbirth, miscarriages, or related conditions. The legislation was passed as part of the 2023 Omnibus Spending Bill and signed into law by President Biden in December 2022.

This law should be used to improve protections for farmworkers and other high-risk employees from the elevated adverse impacts on reproductive health associated with pesticides. EPA’s Worker Protection Standards (WPS) are rules that govern labor safety standards within federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA). Farmworkers are not covered for toxic chemical exposure by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and WPS have long been criticized by farmworker, labor, and health advocates for providing insufficient protections for farmworker communities.

Farmworkers need more protection. Currently, the average life expectancy for a farmworker is 49 years, compared to 78 for the general population. A recent report, Exposed and At Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, again highlights the systemic racism of our country’s pesticide policies. Our nation depends on farmworkers, declared “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure sustenance for the nation and world. Yet the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers.

Many farmworkers are migrant workers and are subject to conditions that would not be permitted for U.S. citizens. The U.S. is not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which would set a moral standard to treat migrant workers like workers who are citizens.

Please tell President Biden to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Thank you.

 

Share

2 Responses to “Protection of Pregnant Farmworkers Under Civil Rights Protection; Will There Be Enforcement.”

  1. 1
    Paula Morgan Says:

    Protection is only a word without meaning and no power. However, Protection with enforcement is meaningful. Yet Protection with enforcement of laws created for specific
    Protection is quite meaningful.
    Pesticides are made by corporations. Many such businesses greenwash their products and their words. With laws which are enforced to hurt corporations when they deceive the public or harm and kill all living beings can finally be charged with the crimes they’ve committed. That’s fair!Very fair indeed.

  2. 2
    Kristo Klove Says:

    Protect pregnant mothers, now fair wages, equal pay!!

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