Commentary

Farmworker Justice released a report last week analyzing 8 years of USDOL’s enforcement data of laws protecting farmworkers.  It should come as no surprise that the report, “U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement in Agriculture: More Must be Done to Protect Farmworkers,” found high rates of violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage requirement and basic protections afforded farmworkers under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. However, the report also found that USDOL has improved its enforcement efforts in recent years.

The report caught the attention of David Weill, Administrator of USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division.  In response, Weill writes:

Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable, at-risk populations that the U.S. Department of Labor protects. They are typically unaware of their rights, or afraid to speak up. They often fall victim to wage, health and safety violations as they toil for long hours, often in harsh conditions, to put food on tables across the nation. . .

We have made progress in protecting workers, yet, challenges remain and we must face them in the most effective, efficient ways possible. Since we will never be able to investigate or to provide training to every grower directly, we will continue to deploy our resources strategically to improve compliance as broadly as possible.  We are committed to strengthen the results of every investigation. We will not play a game of whack-a-mole correcting violations on a case-by-case basis. We find the causes of the violations and address them.

You can read his full blog post here.  Farmworker Justice and Weill both agree that USDOL must continue with the trend of more enforcement in order to deter agricultural employers from violating the basic rights of their employees and to protect hard-working farmworkers from abuse.

 

Commentary

The H-2B visa program – a program which allows employers to hire foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, to fill seasonal and temporary unskilled jobs in the U.S. — has been in the news lately because a recent federal court decision resulted in a temporary shut-down of the program by the federal Department of Labor (USDOL). Both the migrant workers who fill these jobs and the businesses who regularly use the H-2B program have, understandably, been concerned about the shut-down.

Last year, North Carolina was one of the top 10 states to use H-2B labor with 2,834 positions certified by USDOL. Landscaping is by far the top industry to rely on H-2B labor, but H-2B workers are also very common in North Carolina’s hospitality (as housekeepers) and seafood industries.

As of Wednesday of this week, however, USDOL has been allowed to resume processing H-2B labor certification applications until April 15th. After that, the program will again be at a standstill until USDOL and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issue new joint regulations for the program, which they have promised to do by April 30th.

Let’s hope the Obama administration makes use of this new rule-making as an opportunity to address the myriad problems identified in a new Government Accounting Office report  entitled “Increased Protections Needed for Foreign Workers.”  The GAO report found that H-2B workers are regularly subjected to abuses during recruitment, such as being charged exorbitant fees and not being provided accurate information about the job to which they are being recruited.

Sadly, mistreatment of H-2B workers frequently continues once they arrive in the U.S. to start work, as is described in “Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry.” According to that report, women migrants are regularly subjected to deplorable working and living conditions, discrimination and harassment and often live in fear of their employers.

USDOL published new rules for the H-2B program in 2012 with strong worker protections which would have addressed many of these problems, but unfortunately, those rules never took effect. USDOL and DHS should now use the 2012 rule as a model to quickly issue new rules which keep the program running and improve the program by including important and needed worker protections. Stay tuned.

Uncategorized

Yesterday the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board said that McDonald’s Corporation could be held liable as a joint employer for labor violations at its franchise operations.  The Labor Board is considering complaints brought by McDonald’s employees who claim they were retaliated against by their employers after participating in protests back in November 2012, but the significance of this ruling goes far beyond the complaints pending before the Labor Board.

This decision is a huge victory for the fast food workers organizing to demand $15 and a union.  Corporations like McDonald’s have refused to negotiate with fast food workers, such as the members of NC Raise Up who have been organizing in North Carolina for the past year, claiming that they don’t set wages and don’t have power over how much the franchisees pay.  But yesterday’s ruling is based on the General Counsel’s conclusion that McDonald’s does, in fact, have substantial control over what happens in the individual stores.  McDonald’s won’t be able to hide behind that argument anymore.

This ruling may also signal how judges will rule in several wage theft lawsuits filed in March of this year which allege that McDonald’s is a joint employer and jointly liable with the local franchisees for violations of wage and hour laws.   Those lawsuits allege that through the  franchise agreements and monitoring of the local stores, McDonald’s has enough control over day to day operations to be considered an employer.

 

Uncategorized

There is something inspiring happening in North Carolina right now.

It started back in August when fast food workers across North Carolina participated in a national strike by walking off their jobs to demand a living wage.   Since then, hundreds of North Carolinian workers have spoken up about the need for living wages and the right to organize.  These workers are speaking out and sharing their stories about the daily struggles of surviving on low pay that make it hard to pay rent or buy clothing for their children. 

This week, there is an opportunity to learn more about the campaign and hear from some of the workers who are demanding better treatment. 

Come to a Nov. 6 public forum with the Carolina Organizing Committee at the North Carolina Justice Center. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.  

You can also learn more about the campaign, and the lives of fast food workers, by watching this video:

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Wednesday’s forum will delve into two reports released in October by the National Employment Law Project and University of California Berkeley Read More

Uncategorized

How old were you when you got your first paying job? For most of you the answer will be 16 or later. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to establish for the first time a minimum age for lawful employment in the United States.  That age was- and still is- 16. In those industries identified as particularly hazardous, such as mining, the minimum age is 18. But in agriculture, which ranks among the most hazardous industries, kids as young as 10 can be lawfully employed.  As an article in this week’s Independent Weekly explains, children working on North Carolina farms face all kinds of risks, including heat stress and pesticide exposure.

Last fall the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) proposed new rules  to protect children from dangerous work in agriculture.  This is the first update to the rules in 40 years. The proposed changes were based largely on recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Those rules would create 15 new Agricultural Hazardous Occupation Orders, or “Ag. H.O.s.”  Children under age 16 would not be allowed to work in the occupations designated as an “Ag. H.O.” unless it is on a farm owned and operated by their parents.  If adopted, the rules would, among other things: Read More