With DOL Support, AFOP Brings Peer Best Practices Sharing

Rural Employment Opportunities (REO), a statewide non-profit in Helena Montana, participated in the AFOP Peer Best Practices Sharing Program in April.  Individuals from the NFJP programs in Texas and Arkansas flew into Helena along with AFOP Workforce Development Director Katy Nelson from AFOP headquarters in Washington, DC.

In the last two years, REO has had an almost complete turn over in staff including the executive director, program manager, CFO and most of the employment and training case managers so there was a huge gap in historical knowledge and operational practices.  It was extremely valuable to sit down with knowledgeable colleagues and be able to ask questions about how their programs operate.  We were able to discuss the new WIOA funding and regulations as well as ask about database issues, recruitment and where to find needed resources.  In addition, we were able to validate some of our own processes and procedures. We brought all of our staff in from across the state and they were able to get the “whys” behind some of the regulations and learn how the NFJP program has changed over the years.

One of the most valuable things about the program beyond the depth of knowledge these folks had, was the ability to really get to know them and feel like there was a place to go to get answers. The genuine concern and willingness to help that was brought to the table makes this an extremely valuable program to all grantees.

Reported by Jami Anderson Lind, Executive Director at REO Montana


Peer Best Practice Sharing and Review participants also gathered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for a demonstration of ORO Development Corporation’s electronic case management system and its integration with a paperless office system.  Participants spent two days talking to systems experts and ORO program staff to learn about their experience transitioning to a paperless systems, and the ways the systems have been beneficial to their operation and client services.

“I was happy to see how the electronic system workout for another organization and see their results. It was important to see how the filing system has the capability to have it work for your organizations style.”

One participant reported, “I was happy to see how the electronic system workout for another organization and see their results. It was important to see how the filing system has the capability to have it work for your organizations style.”  Another said, “A major takeaway is that change can always be challenging.  I think training is a challenge, getting everyone used to a new process. I think it will be a big job because of the variety of programs we work with, but I think, long term, it will save time, money and obtain good results.” Another participant stated about the setting, “I have sat in classes at different conferences about CERTSS; it was nice to see how it actually works by having an actual case manager work with it.  I learned about current barriers that ORO case managers face when they are out in the fields that could also be a potential barriers for our staff in regards to internet connectivity.”

If you are interested in participating in peer best practices sharing and review, please contact AFOP Workforce Development Director Katy Nelson at nelson@afop.org.

Persistence Pays Off For NFJP Client

Previously published in the Proteus May 2016 Newsletter

After a series of referrals and one phone call, Tylar H. contacted the Proteus Inc. office in Kokomo, Indiana. He was unsure if Proteus could help him, but was willing to take the chance.

TylarHe had graduated from Ivy Tech Community College with a degree in Criminal Justice and was starting his journey to the Indiana State Police Academy. The fact that he speaks three languages, graduated Ivy Tech with honors, and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa was incredible when you consider he was working and volunteering in the community while attending school. His hard work in high school, college, and volunteer work had finally paid off. He was achieving a goal he had set many years ago. The Indiana State Police Academy wanted HIM. Tylar knew the police academy training is intense and lasts several months, but through online classes he still wanted to extend his education at Ivy Tech Community College in order to further educate himself in criminal justice and the law.

However, after paying his way through college, Tylar simply did not have the funds to pay for the additional costs of living, equipment, and supplies he needed for the State Police Academy, as well as his upcoming career costs. His hard work and efforts seemed to simply not be enough.

Because of his farmworker and life experiences, he was eligible for the National Farmworkers Job Program. His excitement and gratitude for the funding that would allow him the ability to obtain the gear and supplies he needed was incredible. While information gathering and contact was difficult given the intensity of the academy, his approval was finalized and he became a Proteus client. Through a series of Sunday afternoon conversations and meetings, he received funds that have allowed him to progress in his education, continue in the academy, and pay his travel expenses, as well as purchase the supplies that he will need. He will graduate and be inducted into the Indiana State Police in May 2016.

Tylar is attending school to earn a position on the Indiana State Police force. Here he looks out over the fields that made him.

His drive to progress himself and his community is amazing and is instantly recognizable. The fact that he has been able to development a goal, maintain the steps in order to accomplish his goal, and achieve so much in such a short period of time has allowed him to develop into an amazing individual who will serve his community and state well. His strength and endurance through work and school allowed him to identify with the public, which he so wishes to protect and serve.

The work of Proteus employees on Tylar’s behalf is a testament to the life changing ability that Proteus has on the farmworkers and their lives. Additionally, the changes that Proteus provides goes beyond out clients and extends throughout our community, state, and the future of the many individuals that will be touched by our clients achievements.

New OT Rule Raises Question: Why Not Farmworkers?

White House

From the Desk of the Executive Director
Daniel J. Sheehan
AFOP Executive Director

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently praised the Obama Administration’s new rule making millions of workers eligible for overtime pay as the president’s “most significant action on behalf of middle-class paychecks.” The rule boosts the threshold salary level under which salaried employees must be paid overtime (OT) from $23,660 a year to $47,476.  Regrettably, though, and as the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) is quick to point out, the Nation’s farmworkers are once again left out of needed reform.  The only unanswered question remains “Why?”

According to the CBPP, the new rule will directly affect 4.2 million workers.  The Department of Labor says that is the number of salaried workers newly eligible for overtime pay.  That is, their weekly salary stands between the current and the new threshold, between $455 and $913.  CBPP argues that not everyone in that range will end up working overtime — though about 20 percent regularly do so — but if they do, they will now be eligible for the OT premium.

The Department of Labor also believes the new rule will also indirectly affect 8.9 million workers.  These are also workers who earn between the old and the new thresholds, but the difference between them and the directly affected group is that these workers should already be getting overtime pay, but are not.  The rules state that when someone’s duties at work are such that they are not bona fide exempt workers, they should be covered by OT.  These workers tend to really not manage or supervise other workers — they are not recognizable as executives, professionals, or administrators — and thus should be non-exempt.  Now, because their pay is under the new threshold, there should be no more ambiguity about their coverage status.  That is about 8.5 percent of employment, affected directly or indirectly, says CBPP.

The Center concludes its analysis that the Administration’s action is a progressive change that was a long-time coming, one that will deliver a boost in pay to some workers and relief from unpaid overwork for others.  It will transfer a relatively small amount of the nation’s wage bill from employers to workers, and in doing so, restore the purpose of a labor standard that is as important now as it was when it was first introduced in the 1930s.

But behind all the headlines is a strange fact about the U.S. job market that the new rule largely left unchanged: a huge list of American jobs are specifically exempt from overtime, most notably in AFOP’s case farmworkers.  The Politico newspaper has reported that the administration’s overtime regulation estimates that up to 4.5 million workers fall into this category, including up to 900,000 in agriculture work.

According to Politico, some jobs are exempt for obscure reasons dating back to the 1930s, but there’s one big shift that has left some workers out in the cold.  Decades ago, legal protections for many of them seemed less important—even undesirable—because they had the backing of powerful labor unions to negotiate wages and safe working conditions on their behalf.  The decline of unions, however, has left such workers unprotected in the modern labor force, covered neither by the law nor by a strong union contract.

The overtime exemptions are as old as the underlying Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).  A host of political compromises left some workers out of the overtime requirement.  Historians generally attribute the exemption for farmworkers to considerations based on race and the need to get the support of Southern lawmakers.

For other occupations, though, the exemptions have a more surprising origin: labor unions did not want those workers covered.  Politico reports that many labor leaders worried the FLSA would limit their ability to collectively bargain with employers.  For that reason, many heavily unionized industries, like trucking, are exempt from overtime regulations to this day; in the 1930s, the drivers just did not need the labor protections because their union was very strong.

When the FSLA was passed in 1938, 29 percent of all non-agricultural workers were in a union. That number peaked in 1954 at 34.7 percent. But today, it has plunged—just 7.5 percent of non-farm employees were unionized in 2015. Yet, the carve-outs remain, leaving millions of workers unprotected either by unions, or by federal overtime law.

The exemptions for the industries specifically mentioned in the FLSA—even for outdated reasons—are not something President Obama has the power to fix. They are written into the law, and Congress must act to change the statute, something it shows little appetite to do.  State and local governments have attempted to fill some of these holes with labor regulations of their own, but many workers can still fall between the cracks, especially in states with weak labor laws.

The new overtime rule comes amid a broader debate about the future of the labor market, as more and more workers are classified as independent contractors.  Under that classification, workers not only do not qualify under overtime and minimum wage laws, they also do not receive benefits like health insurance, pay into worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance, and are not covered my most anti-discrimination statutes.

Policymakers are grappling with how to ensure workers are protected in this changing work environment.  Some have proposed a portable benefit package that accrues based on hours worked without ties to a singular employer.  Two former Obama administration officials suggested a third worker classification may be needed for workers whose jobs do not fit neatly as either a traditional employee or independent contractor.

Politico contends that the future of overtime is intricately tied into these ideas, especially if the number of independent contractors continues to grow.  The president’s new rule is a reminder that the labor laws of the 1930s may need a much deeper updating in the years ahead.

Readers can find TEN 36-15 — Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division (WHD) Overtime Final Rule – in the ETA Advisory database and at: http://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=9467

2016 Annual Art & Essay Contest Now Open!

Contest ImageThe Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs’ (AFOP) Children in the Fields Campaign is proud to announce that we are now accepting submissions for the 2016 Migrant & Seasonal Farmworker Children Essay & Art Contests. The theme selected for this year’s contests is Cultivating Roots of Opportunities and the contest flyer and guidelines have been posted in both English and Spanish on our website.

Through AFOP’s Migrant & Seasonal Farmworker Children Essay & Art Contests, each year we are able to collect hundreds of essays and works of art from students across the country, giving farmworker children the opportunity to showcase their heartwarming and compelling stories on the national stage and to empower them through our contests as they find the power in their voice. Our mission is to show America the realities our farmworker families face through the eyes of their children and to spur action to provide better educational support for our farmworker children.

Winners are selected by a diverse panel of national community partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Consumers League, Human Rights Watch, and the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association. Names of winners and winning entries will be published in AFOP’s Washington Newsline and the best posters may be compiled to be presented to key members of Congress. All contact information of participants will be kept confidential.

In addition to providing these children with small scholarships to help cover their educational expenses, our first prize winners are invited to be recognized at AFOP’s National Conference (#AFOP2016) on September 21, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. Coming to our national conference to accept their award is, as one contestant described, “an inspiring, life-changing experience.”

Winners will be notified via telephone or by mail by Wednesday, August 31, 2016. For more information or to review the contest guidelines, please contact Amber Lee James at 202.384.1767 or james@afop.org.

About the Children in the Fields Campaign:

The Children in the Fields Campaign is a project of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), a national federation of non-profit and public agencies that provide job training and services for America’s farmworkers. The campaign strives to improve the quality of life of migrant and seasonal farmworker children by advocating for enhanced educational opportunities and the elimination of discriminatory federal child labor laws in agriculture. For additional comment or an interview, please contact Daniel Sheehan, Executive Director, at 202.384.1754 or sheehan@afop.org.

Closing the Loopholes, Opening Opportunities

By Amber James, Program Analyst for Workforce Development


“A nation can neither achieve nor sustain prosperity on the backs of its children. In the global economy, the exploitation of children must not be tolerated under any circumstances or for any reason. When children are exploited for the economic gains of others, everybody loses–the children lose, their families lose, their country loses, the world loses. When even one child is exploited, every one of us is diminished.” – Former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

In recognition of National Farmworker Awareness Week, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) would like to raise awareness about the scourge of child labor in U.S. agriculture.

Around the world, agriculture remains the most important sector where 98 million, or 59%, of child laborers (ages 5-17) work, as well as the most dangerous occupation with a fatality rate of 80% for children under 15. In the United States, there are approximately 2.5 million employed farmworkers, and about half a million are under 18 years of age. The majority of child farm workers are unpaid members of migrant and seasonal farmworker (MSFW) families accompanying their parents in the fields to increase earnings.

MSFW and their children suffer greater rates of fatality, mortality and morbidity than most of the American populace due to a combination of poverty, hazardous working conditions, limited health care access, and slack labor regulations. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that an estimated 33,000 children have farm-related injuries each year in the U.S., and more than 100 of these children die as a result of their injuries. The leading causes of fatal injuries to youth were the result of children being directly involved in farm work.

The Human Rights Watch, Pesticide Action Network (PAN-NA), farmworker advocates and public health experts have also documented farmworkers’ elevated risks of chronic diseases linked to chemical poisonings, including Green Tobacco Sickness, cancer, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Of course, MSFW youth face far greater health risks than their adult counterparts from pesticide and nicotine exposure, unsanitary facilities, musculoskeletal injuries, long work hours, extreme weather exposure, hazardous equipment and machinery, and even sexual and verbal abuse.

Moreover, MSFW youth are continually put at a disadvantage, and are seldom able to access educational and extracurricular opportunities more easily obtained by other children. These children often become entrapped in a cycle of poverty.

Amber Article 3

Although incredible headway has been made over the last few decades in publicizing the plight of America’s ‘hidden workers’ and advocating for greater corporate social responsibility and fairer labor standards, our regulatory system has still failed to protect MSFW youth. There needs to be greater commitment to closing loopholes in U.S. labor law, and facilitating the extension of child labor protections to U.S. agriculture.

During this year’s National Farmworker Awareness Week, we again draw the public’s attention to an antiquated loophole in our own food system –the agricultural exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938.  The FSLA loophole still permits children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours on a farm outside of school, and children at least 16 years of age to perform hazardous work restricted to adults in other industries. Regardless of the age, the work jeopardizes the physical, mental, and social development of child farm workers, and continually exposes them to pitiable conditions that would be deemed undignified and unlawful in any other U.S. industry or country (as most countries have adopted ILO-based legislation that prohibits or places severe restrictions on child labor).

AFOP reiterates our commitment to eliminating the legal discrimination that permits the present situation by closing the FSLA loophole that allows children to be employed in agriculture at the expense of already being disadvantaged. We envision a future in which MSFW youth have enhanced educational opportunities, adequate housing and bathrooms, potable drinking water, improved health care access, and are able to fully participate in the “American Dream.”

Amber Article 2

On a positive note, AFOP would like to applaud the recent success of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), of which we are a long-standing member, in helping close a draconian loophole in the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, which allowed the import of goods and commodities produced by forced adult and child labor into the country when domestic production trailed demand. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), approximately 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor, and around 168 million are child laborers – 85 million engaged in hazardous work.

In February, President Obama signed the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act” (Public Law 114-125) into law, pressuring both U.S.-based companies and global supply networks to take greater responsibility in monitoring their supply chains and ensuring that labor practices do not violate the principles of decent work or the rights of a child (which the United States has yet to ratify). The law will target 136 goods from 74 countries based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The closure of the loophole, after 86 years, indicates the U.S. Government’s reconfirmed interest in curtailing American involvement in questionable labor practices, and should have significant implications for effectuating greater compliance with ethical standards. Unfortunately, the legislation fails to acknowledge the existence of unfair and exploitative labor practices on American soil, and may do little to protect the hidden workers and children who harvest the fruits and vegetables that end up on our plates every day.

There has been an increased urgency in the United States and international community to combat the worst forms of agricultural labor around the world, but where is acknowledgement of and uproar over the shameful working conditions thousands of MSFW endure in our own country? How much longer until they also have federal social protections?

A Personal Reflection: Honoring the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

In recognition of National Farmworker Awareness Week and in honor of the birthday of the great farmworker and civil rights advocate, the late Cesar Chavez, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is reposting a New American Media commentary by Elva Yañez. Her very personal remembrance of Chavez and the everlasting impact his work on laborers everywhere is well worth the read. To the Chavez family and all those who struggle to carry on his mission of justice, AFOP says, “Happy Birthday,” and thank you for all you do for farmworkers.

Daniel Sheehan
Executive Director
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

A Personal Reflection: Honoring the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

New America Media, Commentary
Elva Yañez
March 25, 2016


I was fortunate to be a child of the civil rights era. I learned from and was shaped by the world around me. When I was five years old, my sisters, mother and I walked to the Golden Gate Theater on Whittier Blvd in East Los Angeles for a Saturday matinee. The theater was far but our steps were light; I was especially excited because the Golden Gate was a beautiful and elaborate movie palace from the 1920’s with a second floor balcony. Just as we reached the theater, my mother stopped near the ticket booth and told us we had to go home. There was a picket line of striking workers in front of the theater that she refused to cross. My disappointment was overwhelming as we climbed on the bus to head home but I learned a deep and long-lasting lesson from that experience—always honor a picket line.

I think about that incident and its lessons a lot as we approach the holiday honoring the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

My mother Angelina was the first of her family born in the U.S. My family, like many, had come to Los Angeles during the tumultuous Mexican revolution. She became a garment worker as a teenager during the Great Depression and witnessed a good deal of labor unrest. Later on, she became a great admirer of Cesar Chavez. Angelina respected him for his humility, his courage in acting on his moral convictions, and for embodying the values of justice, equality, and fairness. Co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union with Dolores Huerta, Cesar organized Mexican and Filipino farmworkers who labored under brutal conditions. Their struggles for fair contracts with growers won workplace protections, higher wages, and collective bargaining rights in a sector that much of organized labor thought was unwinnable. Chavez’ leadership helped transform the social justice landscape in the U.S. and around the world.

Cesar insisted that social justice transcended individual campaigns about labor law and fights over union contracts. He believed in the importance of empowering workers to fight for and claim their rights. The movement’s triumphs – led by Chavez and so many that followed in his footsteps – conveyed a powerful message that David could actually defeat Goliath. Workers with virtually no support and even less political power could defeat some of the nation’s most powerful industries by building strong grassroots movements, inspiring leadership among those most impacted by injustice, and waging strategic campaigns.

Like many children, I was heavily influenced by my mother, and her love and appreciation for Cesar became deeply ingrained in me. One of my first volunteer experiences was for the UFW union as a high school student. After school I rode my bike to the union’s headquarters, also on Whittier Blvd. in East L.A., where I typed, filed, and listened to the stories of Joe Serda, who traveled the country as an organizer for the grape boycott. In college, I continued to volunteer for UFW fundraising events and leafleted in front of stores that sold boycotted products.

These experiences shaped my career working with groups waging social justice campaigns, including community-driven policy initiatives. To this day, I still regularly consult a pocket-sized booklet called “Axioms for Organizers,” which was compiled by Cesar’s mentor, Fred Ross, Sr. “Axioms” is a collection of organizing wisdom— distilled to its essence— that builds upon generations of experience. It has served as both a reference point and a touchstone for my work on tobacco and alcohol policy, land use, urban park issues, and health equity. Many organizations, such as Prevention Institute, embody Chavez’s work for social change. By looking at the root causes across systems to address injustices, and working to change local conditions, we know that communities can become empowered to ensure safe and healthy lives for their children and families.

The story of Cesar’s influence on my life is not a unique one. His legacy as one of the greatest “activist incubators” of our times is well deserved, as he helped transform so many of the young activists that worked with and for him into veteran organizers and longtime strategic visionaries fighting for equality and justice. As a woman, Dolores Huerta has also been a source of inspiration for me; now in her mid-80s she is still fighting racism, discrimination, and other injustices. Early in her career, she left teaching, unable to tolerate seeing the hungry children of migrant workers— and dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color.

The lessons from Cesar’s life and the farm worker movement translated for me into a career focused on improving the community conditions that influence health and wellbeing. As Director of Health Equity at Prevention Institute, I am able to act upon shared values of health equity and social justice while upholding a commitment to authentic engagement, rigorous policy development, and public health approaches.

This March 31st, we will proudly celebrate the legacy of Cesar on the holiday named for him, as I do every year. While we honor and celebrate his accomplishments and influence, we will also reflect on the work that remains. Ongoing exposure to racism, discrimination, and lack of opportunity continue to exert a toll on the quality of life of millions of Americans. The fight for social justice and equity rages on: we see it in the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson, and Flint; among California farm workers still exposed to pesticides and working in dangerous conditions; and in present day justice movements— including Black Lives Matter, Latino “Dreamers”, Muslim immigrants, and LGBT activists— that demand equal treatment and opportunity under the law.

Honoring Cesar’s legacy links us to both historic and contemporary struggles for justice and democracy, and emphasizes the fundamental importance of grassroots organizing in waging effective movements for change. Cesar Chavez Day reminds us of the importance of having humility, respect, and courage as we work to eliminate inequities and expand fairness and justice in our communities. ¡Si se puede!

Elva Yañez is Director of Prevention Institute.

Lifting Others Out of Poverty

By: Kathleen Nelson, Director of Workforce Development
March 30, 2016

AFOP WorkforceMany farmworkers cherish the role they play in bringing fresh food to tables in homes across the country. It’s not surprising that many of the farmworkers who qualify for National Farmworker Jobs Programs (NFJP) across the country, choose to pursue careers in the agricultural sector. Through NFJP training programs across the country, farmworkers can gain the skills they need to work year-round in the industry that they love.  AFOP member and NFJP Grantee MET, Inc. has helped many farmworkers take the next step in their agricultural careers with their Farm Labor Upgrade Program. People like Carmen Julia De La Garza, were able to receive skills training including computer application, CPR/First Aid, and OSHA Safety Training, as well as specialized agricultural skills training in farm contracting and tractor & forklift operation (including a Forklift License), which made her a valuable asset to her employer, who ultimately hired her full-time as their first female forklift operator.