Come On! Migrant Worker Justice in the 21st Century

Seventeen-year-old Ana Flores has worked in the tobacco fields in North Carolina with her single mother for the past five years. Loopholes in US child labor laws and regulations have allowed Ana and other juvenile workers to endure brutal working hours and conditions cutting and spearing tobacco under the charge of unsympathetic farm labor contractors. Having long experienced symptoms consistent with heat exhaustion, pesticide poisoning, or “green tobacco sickness”, Ana has vowed that her younger brother and sister would never suffer such protracted feelings of hunger, exhaustion and illness as she has in those “suffocating” fields.

Last week, AFOP Executive Director Daniel Sheehan had the pleasure of meeting Ana at the Human Rights Watch and Child Labor Coalition’s special briefing “Too Young and Too Dangerous: The Hazards of Harvesting Tobacco and Other Crops for Farmworker Children” in honor of International Human Rights Day. When questioned how she would address opposition to reforms of US labor laws, Ana exclaimed: “It’s the 21st century! Come on!! Why are these tobacco companies being allowed to exploit us? Wasn’t child labor in factories banned in the 19th century?”

CARE Act

US Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) speaks on her CARE Act as U.S. Representative David Cicilline (RI), Ana Flores, and Human Rights Watch’s Margaret Wurth look on.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), author of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act of 2015), Virginia State Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), lead sponsor of the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (H.R. 1848), echoed these sentiments during the briefing as each narrated their struggles to pass legislation that would lead to stronger labor protections and ban child work on tobacco farms.

Fortunately, after more than a decade of advocacy, proponents of legislation reform won a major victory this September with the passing of the EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which bans children under the age of 18 from handling pesticides and limits individuals from re-entering fields where pesticides have been recently sprayed.

As AFOP commemorates this 67th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we also seize this moment to reiterate the urgency to eliminate all unjust labor standards in the United States and around the world that deprive children of their dignity, their childhood, their potential, and their physical and mental health. Again, we say “Come On!” Children are not small adults. They have a right to a childhood. These changes are long overdue.

AFOP Weighs in as Congress Works on Omnibus Appropriations Package

Now that the budget deal dontpayfull.com finalized late last month has given them revised spending totals for fiscal year 2016, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are quietly working towards finalizing an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016. To facilitate its adoption, the Senate last week approved the House-passed Military Construction/VA appropriations bill (MilCon/VA)(H. R. 2029) to serve as the legislative vehicle for a House-Senate conference on all twelve of the yearly appropriations bills, to be reported in one omnibus package and signed into law by December 11.

MilCon/VA is the first fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill that the Senate has been able to take to the floor. Prior to its passage, Democrats had successfully filibustered several earlier attempts to bring up appropriations bills because they were backing the White House’s strategy to force Republicans to negotiate on the overall spending caps under which they originally wrote this year’s spending bills. This strategy was successful, and the budget deal recently signed into law adds a total of $50 billion to those discretionary spending caps for fiscal year 2016: $25 billion each in the defense and non-defense categories.

The Appropriations chairmen have tentatively decided on how to divide up that $50 billion among subcommittees and have told their subcommittee chairmen to work towards those targets, although the final numbers will not be nailed down until later and will not be made public until the last minute. Some bills, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill that funds the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), were originally given allocations so low that many seriously doubted the legislation could ever go to the floor at those amounts. Indeed, some experts are now saying that, because of those initial low spending levels, those bills are likely to get a greater share of the extra money.

To that end, the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW), a group of collegial workforce system and anti-poverty organizations to which AFOP belongs, has written in recent days to Appropriations leaders in Congress to press for adequate funding. The November 13 CIAW calls for the following:

As you work to finalize allocations to annual appropriations bills under the revised budget caps, we urge you to ensure that the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes sufficient funding to support key workforce and education programs at FY 2016 authorized levels. Severe cuts to vital education and workforce programs over the past few years have hurt our nation’s workers and businesses and restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in a skilled workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and slow our nation’s economic recovery.

Additionally, AFOP itself has directly contacted the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge continued federal support for the National Farmworker Jobs Program, specifically:

To sustain this wise and safe investment in the needs of our nation’s businesses and workforce, it is essential that Congress preserve NFJP funding at fiscal year 2015 levels, as provided in the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill. Doing so will allow agencies to continue using their special expertise to serve effectively and efficiently this exceptionally vulnerable farmworker population. Their success in this work is integral to the nation’s food chain, its industry, and, subsequently, its pursuit of job creation and economic stability.

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their versions of all twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills, but the House has only passed six: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy and Water Development, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation-HUD. As for the other six bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) recently announced that the subcommittee chairmen in charge of each of those six bills would be holding closed-door listening sessions with all House members who wish to attend so that the chairmen can learn of planned amendments and the sentiment of rank-and-file lawmakers. The idea is to let the subcommittee chairmen know which provisions are most important to insist on (and which Senate provisions should be fought the hardest) in the upcoming House-Senate talks on those bills.

Meanwhile, the current continuing resolution (CR) expires December 11, which is the current deadline for action. A short-term CR or two may be necessary to finish up fiscal year 2016 appropriations, so we may not see things finalized here in Washington, D.C. until just lawmakers leave town for the holiday recess.

Hispanic Labor Force Outpaces All Others in Growth

A recent Monthly Labor Review article reports that the Hispanic labor force in the United States more than doubled from 1990 to 2014, dwarfing the growth of the next fastest growing group, women. The 137 percent increase in Hispanic workers, from 10.7 million to 25.4 million workers between 1990 and 2014, surpasses the 29.0 percent growth of women and the 21.4 percent of men in the labor force, to say nothing of the 13 percent increase in the number of non-Hispanic civilian workers. Indeed, the representation of Hispanics among all civilian workers has nearly doubled, from 8.5 percent to 16 percent of the workforce, states a separate article by Marie Mora, professor of economics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“The growth rate of the number of Hispanic civilian women in the labor force was particularly acute (157 percent) compared with their male counterparts (124 percent) in the past quarter century,” states Mora. “The population growth rates of female and male civilian non-Hispanic workers rose by 18 percent and 9 percent, respectively, during this time.”

As a result, the share of Hispanic women among female workers doubled from 7.3 percent to 14.7 percent) and that of Hispanic men among male workers, from 9.5 percent to 17.7 percent, nearly doubled. Mora notes that the growth pattern was already observable almost 30 years ago, when a pattern from the 1980s was then observed. At that time, Hispanic workers had grown 44 percent to 7.7 million between 1980 and 1987, representing a fifth of the workforce growth in that period.

“One additional shift in just the past decade worth highlighting is that U.S.-born Hispanics have been driving population growth more than immigrants,” writes Mora, noting that by 2050, Hispanics will represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. “If Hispanic women continue to disproportionately enter the workforce, gender-related differences in labor market outcomes (including earnings, self-employment, labor force participation, and occupations) as well as in family/societal factors (such as fertility rates, maternity/parental leave, and access to childcare, healthcare, and schools) will become increasingly important.”

AFOP Member Organizations Mark “Golden” Milestones

United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS)
AFOP was happy to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July as United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) marked its 50th anniversary. With the theme “Celebrating the Past and Present” the event included a gala dinner and annual corporation luncheon during which UMOS recognized staff and community partners. Said Lupe Martinez, UMOS President and Chief Executive Officer, “We are also proud of our many friends and supporters, corporate and community partners, past and present board and staff, clients served, as well as elected officials and sister agencies and organizations with similar missions. All are considered part of the UMOS family.”

White House Congrats Letter

 

HELP-New Mexico
Help-NMHELP-New Mexico also celebrated its 50th milestone with its 50th Anniversary Golden Gala & Golf Tournament last month in Albuquerque. HELP-New Mexico was created and incorporated as Home Education Livelihood Program, Inc. in 1965 by the interdenominational New Mexico Council of Churches and its successor, the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Church Women United. The founders included pastors, ranchers, farmworkers, housewives, businessmen, and government workers. The HELP-New Mexico organization is governed by a board of directors representing sectors including public, business, low income, Native American, parents, and other community members.

New Report on Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Food Insecurity

The Food Action and Research Center reported last month that migrant and seasonal farmworkers tend to be young and have very high rates of food insecurity, especially among those who have children, according to a review in Social Work in Public Health. On average, migrant and seasonal farmworkers are 33 years old. Many have terminated their education by middle school, in part because the legal minimum age for farm work is 12 years compared to 16 years for other sectors of the workforce. The ten studies in the review article found varied rates of household food insecurity among both groups (migrant and seasonal) of workers even though all ten studies used the same USDA 18-question scale. In most studies, food insecurity rates were high and ranged from 50 to 65 percent; however, one study in the Southwest reported a much higher rate of 82 percent and one study in the Northeast found a much lower rate of 8 percent. Seasonal farmworkers tend to be relatively stationary while those who are migrant workers tend to move frequently, and have higher rates of food insecurity than their seasonal counterparts (55 percent versus 43 percent, respectively). Both rates are still dramatically higher than the national average.

Household level risk factors for food insecurity in this population included: lack of access to stoves and refrigerators for food preparation and storage; presence of children; and transportation challenges (reliability as well as distance to work, grocery stores, and assistance, such as food pantries). Individual risks included low maternal education and lack of documentation of legal status. (The latter makes workers vulnerable to abusive worksite practices. Workers on H-2A visas, for example, have certain rights, including the availability of food and food preparation facilities at the worksite.) Strategies to cope with food insecurity included adult reduction of food quantity or quality in order to feed children, seeking help from assistance programs (e.g., WIC, school meals, food pantries and SNAP), and eating wild foods hunted or gathered by the family or workers’ group. To improve food security for this population, the authors suggest that social workers advocate for immigration reform, increases in migrant and seasonal worker wages, inclusion in federal assistance programs, and improved access to healthy foods through alternative emergency food models, such as mobile distribution points.

Read the full report here…

Labor Awards First Federal Apprenticeship Grants

On September 8, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced the department’s award of the American Apprenticeship Initiative grants. In making the announcement, Secretary Perez stressed that the American Apprenticeship Initiative is the department’s first direct investment in this on-the-job training model. [View Full Press Release]

According to Labor, annual federal funding for apprenticeships usually supports only the administrative and regulatory work of the registered apprenticeship system. Apprenticeship sponsors, such as employers, unions and joint committees, typically fund and provide the training. Looking to increase the prevalence of this form of job-linked learning, DOL officials hoped that the grant funding would become an incentive for employers, unions and other stakeholders to increase the number of apprenticeships.

When the Employment and Training Administration solicited applications for these grants back in December, the agency anticipated using $100 million from H-1B visa fees to fund about 25 awards ranging from $2.5 to $5 million. The announced awards totaled $175,799,846 to 46 grantees, 11 of which were made at the $5 million award ceiling. This was made possible because the agency received more H-1B visa fee revenue than anticipated. A list of grantees can be found here.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Meet the United States Department of Labor — Portia Wu

Portia Y. Wu was sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training in April 2014. She now leads the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) in its mission to address our nation’s workforce needs through high-quality training and employment programs. Working with States and territories, municipalities, labor management organizations, employers, educational institutions, fellow Federal agencies, and other partners, ETA strives to assist workers in gaining the skills and credentials needed to enter good jobs in promising industries that offer opportunities for advancement. ETA also addresses the needs of workers and businesses through the Unemployment Insurance program, which provides critical support to millions of Americans as they search for work, and through the Office of Foreign Labor Certification programs.

Wu has worked in the public, non-profit, and private sectors on a wide variety of labor issues and policies including job training, wage standards, work and family policy, immigration, pensions and retirement, and worker safety. Most recently, she served at the White House Domestic Policy Council as Special Assistant to the President for Labor and Workforce policy. From 2003 to 2010, Wu held several positions, including Labor Policy Director and General Counsel, advising Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

Wu is a graduate of Yale Law School and Yale College and holds a Master’s Degree from Cornell University. She is originally from Albany, New York and she and her family live in Washington D.C.

http://www.doleta.gov/etainfo/Portia_Wu.cfm

AFOP Signs on Lifeline Internet Access Support Letter to FCC

laptop-768694_1280For many years, the federal government has subsidized low-income people’s access to telephone service through the Lifeline program, offering phone companies a subsidy for providing free or lower-cost mobile or traditional phone service. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency with jurisdiction over the Lifeline program, is now considering whether the program should be modernized to include broadband Internet access.  Recognizing the importance of access to farmworkers, AFOP has signed a letter supporting its inclusion in the program.

According to the letter’s sponsor, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, broadband is as important today as electricity was during the last century, enabling people who use it to perform a full range of online activities, and giving more Americans access to digital education, health care, social services, and job opportunities.  Any national goals would be more easily and inexpensively achieved if millions of low-income people could effectively use broadband service, including accessing program information and performing a variety of functions through online portals instead of in-person visits or telephone calls.  Yet there continues to be a serious gap in broadband adoption among low-income communities and communities of color.  Without Internet access, students of color cannot do their homework, working single mothers cannot earn degrees online at night, and seniors and people with disabilities cannot utilize the most modern and accessible health care.  The list is endless.

Lifeline is the only federal program that addresses the cost of broadband.  Sponsors are asking anti-poverty and other organizations to sign on to the letter urging the FCC to take the necessary steps to modernize Lifeline within the year.

The deadline for electronic signatures is September 25.

To read the letter:  http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/telecom/Lifeline-Broad-Base-Letter-for-Circulation.pdf

To sign the letter:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Eow2m-6o8ni5fSyu72uvoPEIKaXS5592pkoixuLcJsg/viewform

Millennials Unemployment Down, But…

The advocacy group Young Invincibles is reporting that the unemployment rate for young adults ages 18 to 34 fell from 7.5 percent in July to 7.0 percent in August (seasonally adjusted), while the national unemployment rate also improved, from 5.3 percent in July to 5.1 percent in August.

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While it is encouraging to see this slight improvement for Millennials, racial disparities persist. Young black adults and young Hispanic adults saw little change and still disproportionately struggle to find work. The unemployment rate for each of these groups fell by only one-tenth of a percentage point. The unemployment rate for young black adults (not seasonally adjusted) fell from 13.9 percent in July to 13.8 percent in August, while the unemployment rate for young Hispanic adults (not seasonally adjusted) fell from 8.3 percent in July to 8.2 percent in August.

In comparison, the unemployment rate for young white adults (not seasonally adjusted) fell by nearly an entire percentage point, the greatest margin among all racial groups of young adults. The unemployment rate for young white adults fell from 6.6 percent in July to 5.7 percent in August.

Here are more details on how different populations of young people fared in August 2015:

  • The unemployment rate for black/African American young adults ages 18 to 34 is 13.8 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in August, down from 13.9 percent in July.
  • The unemployment rate for Hispanic/Latino young adults ages 18 to 34 is 8.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in August, down from 8.3 percent in July.
  • The unemployment rate for Asian-Pacific Islander young adults ages 18 to 34 is 4.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in August, down from 5.2 percent in July.
  • The unemployment rate for white young adults ages 18 to 34 is 5.7 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in August, down from 6.6 percent in July.

Read the full Young Invincibles article…

Success Story: Nilsa Rodriguez

A former Proteus client, Nilsa Rodriguez, is having great success with her new business: “Fiesta Super Movil” or “Party on Wheels”. The event planning and recreation business started with the assistance of Proteus partner, the Nebraska Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (REAP) Program. Anna Santos, case manager in Columbus, Nebraska, tells this story:

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Nilsa lives in Schuyler and spent many years working as a seasonal farmworker for Monsanto. She had dreams for herself that started with becoming a Proteus client. Nilsa began taking English as a second language (ESL) classes and was conversant enough to move onto the next step. She explored occupations and was thinking about becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), but eventually she realized that she was an entrepreneur at heart.

As her case manager, I helped Nilsa make the connection with the REAP Program. REAP provides the business education and financing needed by budding business people. It is a “mini-incubator of rural entrepreneurs.”

After completing her REAP classes, Nilsa was able to take her idea of becoming a party planner and turn it into a real business. Armed with a business plan, insurance knowledge, accounting and tax systems information, and a support system to be there for questions going forward, Nilsa was ready!

With a grant from REAP, Nilsa was able to purchase bouncy houses, tables and chairs. She was also able to put a building on her property to store supplies and decorations. She even purchased a trailer so that she could move her equipment from place to place. Currently “Fiesta Super Movil” – “Party on Wheels” is doing well enough that Nilsa can support her family, including a new baby born in 2015.

With the services provided by Proteus and REAP, Nilsa no longer has to spend her time laboring in the cornfields of Nebraska. She has the flexibility to be at home with her children while she operates a successful business in her community. And because of her determination to become bi-lingual with the help of Proteus and her ESL classes, Nilsa is not limited to doing business only with Spanish-speaking customers!

– See more at: http://www.proteusinc.net/2015/09/september-2015-newsletter/#party