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U.S. farm labor laws and regulations

Some fact-checking and editing were needed for the article that reported on farm labor issues (Labor a contentious issue for agriculture,

We'll ignore the completely one-sided, unbalanced approach in the article to the issue of labor protections for farmworkers. The labor contractor you interviewed is entitled to his soap box. Let's talk reality and accuracy.

The article allows the labor contractor to contend that “All federal laws apply to the farm.” That's not true and never has been.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime pay requirements do not apply to farms.

The child labor provisions in that act allow agricultural employers to hire youngsters at younger ages than in other industries, and allow them to place 16 year olds in “hazardous” jobs when the law requires that kids be 18 for the same hazardous tasks if performed in another industry.

The OSHA hazard communication standard — which provides most workers with specific information about the dangerous chemicals they are exposed to and how to prevent and respond to poisonings — does not apply to agricultural workers exposed to carcinogenic pesticides, and the EPA's standards don't match the OSHA standards.

Farmworkers on smaller farms are not even entitled to a toilet or drinking water in the fields, which is not merely an inconvenience but a serious health risk.

The National Labor Relations Act, which allows most workers to join a union without being fired and creates a structure for collective bargaining between unions and companies, does not apply to agriculture.

Undocumented farmworkers — the unauthorized immigrants that now constitute a majority of the farm labor force — are not entitled to be represented by federally funded legal aid lawyers and few private lawyers will take their cases because the workers' wages are so low that the wage-loss cases are not lucrative. And the government's labor law enforcement has been on the decline for decades.

Yes, there is a law that applies to agricultural workers that regulates employers' use of farm labor contractors, requires employers to disclose job terms and comply with them; and, yes, it was partly a result of the groundbreaking documentary film “Harvest of Shame” by Edward R. Murrow. That 1960 investigation also led to farmworkers finally being included in the federal minimum wage in 1966. Sadly, many of the abuses found by Murrow persist.

The exemptions for agricultural employers from so many of our federal labor protections — and the failure of our government to enforce the protections that do exist — allow the exploitation of vulnerable farmworkers and continue agriculture's reputation for miserable treatment of workers.

The contentiousness in farm labor is brought on by the industry itself.
Bruce Goldstein
Executive Director
Farmworker Justice
1126 16th Street, N.W., Suite 270
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 293-5420

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