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On September 28, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the revised Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Since then, CATA has taken the time to closely read and examine the new revisions in order to provide a clear analysis and position.
During the comment period on the proposed revision that took place last year, CATA provided thoughtful analyses and recommendations to lawmakers, individual experts, and other organizations to submit comments urging the EPA for better farmworker protections. As a result, nearly 200 CATA farmworker members and supporters submitted their own public comment on the WPS.
We recognize that some of the changes are an improvement to the previous standard. Employers are now required to give a pesticide safety training every year instead of every 5 years, as was the case in the old WPS. Also, the EPA has established 18 years of age as the minimum age for applying pesticides. The previous rule did not stipulate a minimum age. The new rule maintains the requirement of a central posting area for information about the pesticides being used, even though it was proposed to be eliminated. These changes do allow for more protections for farmworkers but will only be beneficial if they are enforced properly.
In order for the changes to be effective, responsible government agencies must have the capacity to enforce meaningful regulations and employers must also be held accountable for their actions. We advocate for more funds to be channeled to the enforcement agencies so that a sufficient number of inspectors can be hired. Inspectors must be bilingual and be able to speak Spanish and Creole in order to communicate directly with workers. We feel there should also be an increase in the number of surprise and random inspections at the farms and fines should be raised in order to discourage noncompliance. Also, enforcement agencies should work closely with community-based farmworker organizations in ensuring farmworker safety.
Exposure to pesticides causes farmworkers to suffer more chemical related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce nationwide, yet protections to workers afforded by the WPS are fundamentally inadequate. It is important to note that root-cause problems of farmworker’s occupational exposure to pesticides will not be remedied, even with the revisions.
While it was important for CATA and its members to demand a stronger WPS, we do not believe that the WPS is an acceptable standard for protecting workers from pesticide exposure. We believe that the best method of risk reduction is to mitigate and eventually eliminate pesticide usage in agriculture. More support should be given to organic farming, Integrated Pest Management programs and other practices to facilitate the transition to toxic-free agriculture. Phasing out the use of pesticides is the only way to guarantee that farmworkers will not face the harmful risks that come from exposure. And this will not only benefit farmworkers, but will improve the health of farmers, consumers, and the natural environment as well.
Download the full statement here.
CATA has launched a new radio station for its members and the migrant community. The Spanish language station is broadcast live from Bridgeton, NJ on 102.5 FM and streamed on the Internet. The station will now play an integral role in spreading CATA’s message so that our members and the wider community can organize and fight for their rights.
On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his executive order on immigration. The President’s executive order will allow undocumented immigrants, who have lived in the United States for at least five years and have children who are US citizens or Legal Permanent Residents, to temporarily work and live in the United States without fear of deportation as long as they pass a criminal background check, pay all of their taxes, and pay a fee. The executive order also expands the pool of people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to include those who arrived before Jan. 1, 2010 without any age limitation.
We support the fact that this order will allow a portion of the undocumented population a period of relief from the fear of deportation that they live with every day. However, we are disappointed with the limits to this action. Most of our members will not qualify for this relief even though they have been working and paying taxes in the United States for many years. For those that will qualify, the order is still discriminatory. Undocumented immigrants who qualify for the temporary deportation relief will be given a social security number to pay their taxes with but will continue to be excluded from claiming retirement benefits and from the Affordable Care Act.
The claim is that this order will temporarily protect around 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, including the expanded eligible population for the DACA program. However, that does not mean that all 5+ million will apply due to the fact that this order has a very unclear future. Justifiably, many undocumented immigrants fear that putting their name on a list for temporary relief will lead to negative consequences when the President leaves office and should his order be overturned by the next President.
We at CATA understand that the presence of undocumented workers in the U.S. not only contributes to the betterment of civil society but is a crucial element for the viability of our broken food system. For example, New Jersey would lose $24.2 billion in economic activity and about 103,898 jobs if all unauthorized immigrants were removed. Our society and, in particular, the corporate agricultural and food industries, takes advantage of the vulnerability of the undocumented population in order to maintain low salaries and increase profits. Although undocumented immigrants contribute financially through purchasing and living costs, they are systemically kept in poverty. This order does very little to address any of those issues.
While this executive order is a step in the right direction, it is far from addressing the real problems; it is merely a small band-aid on the gaping wound that is our broken immigration system. The President is right to address this issue, but much more needs to be done. Congress needs to stop focusing on petty politics and come up with a genuine, comprehensive solution. We will continue to push for a path to citizenship as a solution to the presence of more than 11 million undocumented people. The principle which immigration policy should be based on is the fulfillment of the human rights and dignity of every person. We affirm that the struggle goes beyond the recognition of the basic human rights of migrants and workers. The struggle is to challenge society to not be guided by fear and intolerance, but by the recognition of the value and inherent dignity of human life.
We want to thank everyone who stood in solidarity with the Kaolin Workers Union. Unfortunately, the Union lost the election and consequently their contract. While we are deeply disappointed by these events, we understand that this loss takes place within a context of declining union membership, growing pushes for anti-worker legislation and the elimination of the middle class.
We believe that the best protection for worker’s rights is a union contract. Unfortunately, more and more is being done to undermine unions and workers’ rights. So called “Right to Work” laws are becoming increasingly prevalent as companies look for ways to control their workforce as much as possible. This is not the direction that we want to go in. All workers should have to right to form a Union and negotiate for better working conditions.
There remains a core group of union leadership committed to the mission of organizing the workers at Kaolin for fair labor rights in their workplace, and CATA remains committed to supporting them in this new challenging environment. We will continue to keep you updated as the Kaolin Workers Union continues their struggle. ¡La Lucha Sigue!