(Updated late Friday evening – see below). Lawyer Kate Woomer-Deters  of the Justice Center’s Eastern Carolina Immigrants’ Rights Project passes along some more lousy news about North Carolina’s junior senator and her latest contribution to the health care reform debate.
Senator Kay Hagan has just introduced Amendment 200 to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s health care proposal. Its purpose: To exclude temporary and seasonal farmworkers from participation in the Affordable Health Choices Act.
There can be no good explanation for why Senator Hagan thinks it would be a good idea to exclude seasonal farmworkers from access to affordable health care coverage, other than that she is pandering to agricultural employers and upholding the long tradition of excluding some of America’s lowest paid and hardest working employees from the benefits that other workers receive.
Farmworkers in this country earn an average of $12,500 to $15,000 per year. They work in some of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs, and suffer injuries and illnesses at high rates. They suffer from exposure to pesticides, nicotine poisoning during the tobacco harvest, extreme temperatures, and are constantly stooping, bending, and lifting. If members of any profession are in need of access to affordable health care, it is these folks.
Farmworkers have been excluded for decades from protections in the workplace, and those exclusions were pushed largely by southern legislators who would not grant protections to farm laborers who were largely African-American. Farmworkers are excluded from overtime coverage. Farmworkers on small farms are excluded from the protections of minimum wage. Let’s not continue this shameful tradition by excluding them from access to affordable health care.”
In short, another major disappointment from Hagan.
UPDATE: A Hagan staffer called Kate this evening to complain that her amendment did not completely exclude agricultural workers from all parts of the bill. Kate is digging a little deeper and will have more details in the near future. For now, however, it still seems clear that the effect of the amendment is to assure that many agricultural employers whose size would have brought them under the bill if they were engaged in any other business will NOT be covered by the employer mandate. This website states that “Her amendment would exclude from the definition of “employees” any “temporary or seasonal agricultural workers . . . for the purposes of determining the size of an employer.” Whichever you way you slice it, it still looks as if farmworkers get shut out from something they’d otherwise get. Stay tuned. — Rob Schofield