Coalition pens open letter to Secretary Vilsack on ag labor
A coalition of agricultural groups has written an opening letter to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture urging the USDA to take a different approach to farm labor.
The letter to Tom Vilsack was signed by members of the Agricultural Justice Project, Community to Community Development, HEAL Food Alliance, the Farm Worker Association of Florida, Community-Campus Partnership for Health, Family Farm Defenders, Farmworker Support Committee.
The coalition specifically criticizes the USDA’s Farm Labor Stabilization Pilot program, which had a cost of $65 million, saying that a similar investment for assisting farms in hiring, retaining and improving worker conditions is yet to be put on the table by authorities.
The pilot program currently offers subsidies to farm employers or guestworkers, for up to $2 million.
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The letter’s authors advise replacing the H-2A program, which the government has put significant efforts in promoting, with “a long-term commitment to building a domestic workforce for farms, elevating farmwork to the high level it deserves in status, rights, protections, and compensation”, as well as “an immediate path to permanent legal status for all undocumented farmworkers.”
This is especially problematic for undocumented workers, the letter says, as they make up for over half of the agricultural workforce.
Safer work conditions are also addressed in the letter, calling for farm workplaces that offer “a safe, healthy work environment for employees” with “access to medical treatment and protection from excessive heat, cold, and poor air quality.”
“The dangers and physical hardships inherent in agricultural employment, combined with the lack of protections for worker organizing and bargaining power, have together contributed to worsening working conditions in agricultural employment—a lowering baseline — leading to a decreasing number of domestic workers willing to accept such work,” it says.