Worker Protection Standard

Harvest of Shame

By Ashley Nelsen

Have you seen Edward R. Murrow’s documentary Harvest of Shame? It’s a Peabody-award winning film about the agricultural conditions of migrants in the 1960s. The opening scene is in Florida. It shows African Americans in a parking lot where labor contractors are repeatedly shouting, “Over here! Seventy cents!” while urging migrant workers to get on a bus to go work in the fields harvesting produce for 70 cents a day, often working in fields while they are being sprayed with harmful pesticides.

The Harvest of Shame vividly showed the American public the deplorable cycle of human poverty and labor abuse used to ensure the variety of produce at affordable prices we’ve come to expect. Fast forward to 2014, the demographic of migrant farm workers has changed to predominately Latino, but the challenges remain the same: poor and unsafe labor conditions and low wages.

My office at EPA, the Certification and Worker Protection Branch, realized that to reach this environmental justice population and educate them about pesticide safety would require more than the typical “top-down” government approach. To find such an invisible population we decided on a “bottom-up” approach involving partnerships with stakeholders who interact with farm workers on a regular basis.

Graphic for Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings DocumentWe partnered with the Association of Farm Worker Opportunity Programs, a national network of trainers who deliver pesticide safety training. Their newest training module, co-developed with EPA, is Project LEAF, which educates farm workers and their families on the hazards of take-home pesticide exposure. Another wonderful partner we have is the Migrant Clinicians Network, an association of clinicians in rural areas that educates healthcare providers on how to recognize, treat, and report pesticide poisoning. We also recently collaborated with physicians and subject matter experts to update our “Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings.” This manual is used nationally and internationally by healthcare professionals in treating patients with pesticide-related illnesses. Pesticides are often colorless and odorless, and symptoms of exposure mimic the cold and flu, making this manual instrumental for those providing healthcare for farm workers.

REI 3 CroppedWe also recently proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS, originally enacted in 1992, was developed to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers. The proposed changes would require annual mandatory pesticide safety training, expanded posting of no-entry signs for some of the most hazardous pesticides, and, for the first-time ever, children under the age 16 would not be allowed to handle pesticides (unless on a family farm).

Language barriers, cultural differences, documentation status and physical migration continue to make the farm worker population virtually invisible in this country. However, by working with stakeholders who have the common interest of improving the well-being of the American farm worker, we at EPA are working to help end the harvest of shame.

NOTE: If you would like to support the proposed changes to the agricultural Worker Protection Standard by leaving a comment please visit: EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0184. Comments must be received on or before August 18, 2014. Additionally, you can click here for tips on how to effectively comment on EPA proposed rules and changes.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, September 2009. She became passionate about farm worker issues after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Kiva Fellow in Latin America.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Do You Know Who Grows Your Food?

 

Two million farmworkers help grow, tend and harvest the food that we put on our tables every day.  They are the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers whose hard work and long days enable us to have healthy, plentiful food.  They are often exposed to hazards from pesticide exposures and need the same workplace protection that other industry workers have had for decades.

It’s been 20 years since the rules providing protections to farmworkers were updated.  In February of this year, the agency proposed for public comment on a revised Worker Protection Standard.  The proposal is the result of numerous discussions across the country with farm workers, farm owners, states and others on what is working, what is not, and what needs to be improved when it comes to the current rule. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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My First “Introduction” to Cesar Chavez, Farmworker Advocate and Labor Leader

In March 1968, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy joined Cesar Chavez and 8,000 farmworkers in Delano, CA, to end Chavez’s 25-day fast. Although I was young, the image of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Chavez on T.V. was embedded in my mind. It was the first time I had heard about the hunger strikes and learned that some people in this country, particularly farmworkers, were not being treated fairly. It was my first introduction to the need for social justice.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez

Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State

Now, I am an Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and one of my responsibilities is to help ensure protections from pesticide exposure are in place for farmworkers. Two million farmworkers grow, tend and harvest our food. They deserve to be protected.

This week, the 15th annual Farmworker Awareness Week which concludes with a national day to commemorate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, we recognize the important contribution farmworkers make to our economy and our local communities. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Takes a Step Forward in Protecting our Nation’s Farm Workers

This blog was originally posted on the White House Blog.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard in order to protect the nation’s two million farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure.

I am proud that this administration has taken another step forward in protecting our nation’s farm workers, a cause that is at the very root of my passion for public service. My hero and grandfather, Cesar Chavez, fought tirelessly for the rights of farmworkers, from higher wages and worker compensation, to access to drinking water and safety from pesticides.

My grandfather’s work centered around justice and ensuring that hard working, decent people were treated with the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by other workers in other jobs. The rule, covering farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses, has not been updated for 20 years – and certainly for many it is long overdue. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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