Washington, DC – Agreeing with the call for government action to address the needs of US farm workers, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this week issued a statement in response to Oxfam America’s latest report, Weeding out abuses: Recommendations for a law-abiding farm labor system.
“This report makes clear that farmworkers face a number of challenges and that for too long the federal government has not taken the steps necessary to empower and protect these workers,” Solis said. “When I came into office, I immediately began to change the way the Department of Labor (DOL) approached farmworker issues.”
Long a champion of farmworker rights as a congresswoman representing the 31st and 32nd congressional districts in California and as the first Latino woman to serve in the California State Senate, Secretary Solis has continued her efforts in her current role at the Department of Labor. The Secretary has made it a priority to ensure that farm workers are paid a fair wage, provided safe and healthy working conditions and given the opportunity to update their job skills.
The new report, produced by Oxfam and its partner, Farmworker Justice, profiles several workers whose stories provide examples of some of the serious problems that currently exist in the US agriculture industry. In addition, the report makes specific recommendations for improving DOL’s enforcement of the limited employment protections guaranteed to farmworkers. If followed, the recommendations would improve the lives of tens of thousands of US farmworkers.
Recommendations to DOL in the report include:
- Ensure that DOL’s investigators and attorneys offer farmworkers the opportunity to come forward confidentially and anonymously to file complaints and reduce farmworker’s risk of discipline and/or discharge for challenging illegal employer conduct.
- Focus special attention on the many agricultural employers who violate the employment laws with respect to undocumented workers.
- Exercise its jurisdiction over the recruitment process in Mexico and other countries under the H-2A and H-2B guestworker programs.
- Attack abuses associated with growers’ use of farm labor contractors.
- Work with farmworkers and their representatives to use the “hot-goods” injunction to bring a prompt and effective remedy for wage violations.
- Improve compliance with labor laws by increased communication and cooperation with farmworkers and organizations in farmworker communities
United Farm Workers co-founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Dolores Huerta, called the stories in the report unbelievable and called on the federal government to follow the recommendations in the report to improve conditions faced by farmworkers in a meeting with officials from the Department, Oxfam and Farmworker Justice.
“I’ve been involved with farmworker justice for the last 50 years and when we hear the stories of what is happening to farmworkers today we think ’we can’t believe this,’” said Huerta. We know there have been laws on the books for many years but they have not been enforced. These farmworkers are victims of our government’s negligence.”
“The abuses felt by farmworkers are well documented – and serious,” said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam’s US regional office. “Weeding out Abuses is a roadmap to remedies of persistent problems that can be fixed if given the attention they deserve.”