As we celebrate Labor Day this year, too many of this country's 80 million workers still don't receive fair wages or adequate workplace protections — including workers on farms across the country. But there's a change coming for farmworkers, with stronger workplace protections on the horizon.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been promising to strengthen existing rules for the past 15 years. Thanks to thousands of people — farmworkers, farmers, healthcare professionals and more — keeping clear, public pressure on the agency, the agency is finally poised to make it happen.
Farm labor is one of the most dangerous professions in the country, yet farmworkers are specifically exempt from federal safety laws that protect other workers. In 1995 the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) was developed to fill that void, but the law has fallen far short.
As it currently stands, the WPS has failed to adequately protect farmworkers from hazardous chemicals on the job. The reality in the fields has remained the same for far too long: farmworkers regularly face harmful exposures to pesticides, with an estimated 10,000-20,000 poisoned each and every year. Countless more suffer long-term health harms.
Across the finish line
After 15 years of delay and some powerful organizing by farmworkers and farmworker advocacy groups, we're on the threshold of winning more protective rules. These past two years our broad coalition has done some great work, including:
- Pressing members of Congress to demand quick action on the WPS;
- Delivering more than 200,000 comments to EPA with the same message; and
- Enabling farmworkers to travel to Washington, D.C. to personally deliver their message to government officials.
Right now, a stronger WPS is making its way through inter-agency review, with EPA on the hook to bring it across the finish line. When implemented, these new policies will go a long way toward ensuring that farmworkers have on-the-job protections like adequate safety gear, shade and water on hot days, and training before using hazardous pesticides.
And the new rules will keep youth working in the fields from handling health-harming chemicals, too.
There's more work to do, and we're keeping the heat on EPA to ensure the agency (finally!) enacts stronger workplace protections — and soon. Stay tuned for the next opportunity to join this important work!