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Report highlights issues facing farm labor, and the need for more DOL enforcement measures

A recent report by Farmworker Justice and Oxfam America, “Weeding out abuses: Recommendations for a law-abiding farm labor system,” highlights the unsafe and unsanitary working conditions and wage issues facing today’s farm labor workers. The report found that “farmworkers receive low wages, rarely receive benefits, in many states are denied workers’ compensation when injured on the job, and…are all too often taken advantage of by employers.”

A central theme of the report was that these workers, many of whom put in long hours and may be undocumented, are not afforded the same protections as others, because “federally funded legal aid programs are not permitted to represent undocumented workers.” In addition, lawyers that could represent these individuals are often scarce, and employers that do not feel threatened by labor law enforcement often pay below minimum wage to save money. The report could be seen as a “call for help” to the Department of Labor, as Congress tasked it with the responsibility to “prevent precisely the abusive system of exploitation that exists in America’s farm fields today.”

The report caught the attention of the DOL Secretary Hilda Solis, who stated, “[t]his 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…As secretary of labor, I have made a priority of ensuring farmworkers are paid a fair wage, provided safe and healthy working conditions and given the opportunity to update their job skills. We’ve changed regulations, put more investigators in the field, made clear we won’t stand for the exploitation of children in the fields and refocused our efforts on behalf of this important community.”