WA Bill Would Update Protections for Farmworkers on Contract
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The landscape for farms and farmworkers has changed significantly in the past 70 years, so farm workers' advocates want the Evergreen State to update the Washington Farm Labor Contractor Act.
This week, legislators held a hearing on Senate Bill 6261, including testimony from farmworkers. Antonio Ginatta, policy director at Columbia Legal Services, said it's part of an effort to address reform to the H2A program, which allows guest farmworkers from other countries into the United States on temporary visas. He noted that about one-third of the agriculture workforce comes from outside the United States.
"There wasn't an H2A visa program back in the '50s [or] back in '85, the last time this Farm Labor Contractor Act was actually amended," he said. "So, what we're trying to do is modernize it, is make it relevant to agricultural industry in Washington today."
Ginatta said the bill would clarify liability for farm employers who use unlicensed contractors and address retaliation against workers who speak up about labor concerns. At Tuesday's hearing, ag industry representatives said the retaliation provision in this bill is too expansive and would be onerous to employers.
For workers in the state through the H2A program, retaliation for speaking up about labor conditions is a concern. Edgar Franks, political director of the northwest Washington farmworkers' union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, said H2A laborers have been denied the opportunity to work in the country again if they strike or seek help from organizations such as his.
"We've seen the issue of blacklisting now as a way that farm labor contractors and employers retaliate against workers that they think are 'unruly,'" he said.
Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of the farmworker advocacy group Community to Community Development, said the bill also would address a loophole that exempts nonprofits from the Washington Farm Labor Contractor Act. She said she doesn't believe farmworker recruiters should be able to hold nonprofit status.
"It's a profit-making operation, and we believe that farm labor contractors in the state of Washington should not be nonprofits," she said. "So, that's one of the biggest things this bill is addressing."
The text of SB 6261 is online at app.leg.wa.gov.
Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
get more stories like this via email
BOISE, Idaho -- Wildfires are affecting air quality across the West, bringing hidden dangers in smoke that can harm people's health. The Boise-based …
DENVER -- The days of exponentially high increases in health-insurance costs may finally be in the rearview mirror. The Colorado Division of …
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Cultural institutions in the U.S. are facing scrutiny to be more accessible and inclusive. The organization in charge of Iowa's …
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Last month's deadly heat wave in the Northwest underscored the need to reduce carbon emissions, but advocates want to ensure low-…
MINOT, N.D. -- Many arguments are being floated about legislation before Congress that would bring big changes to U.S. labor laws. The bill has its …
Health and Wellness
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Health-care advocates called on Missouri lawmakers to allocate funds for Medicaid expansion right away, after the state …
AUGUSTA, Maine -- School meals in Maine will be free for all students again this year and into the future, but parents are being urged to fill out …
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A report outlines how federal efforts to bring solar energy to one in four American households could bring clean energy to …