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Farmworker voices reach Capitol Hill

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Margaret Reeves
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Today farmworkers from across the country are showing up on Capitol Hill to demand rules that protect them and their families from harmful pesticides. We urge leaders in Washington to listen carefully — and then do the right thing.

EPA has been promising to strengthen existing rules for the past 13 years, but the reality in the fields remains the same: farmworkers regularly face harmful exposures to pesticides. An estimated 10,000-20,000 are poisoned each year, and countless more suffer long term health harms. With today's fly-in, more than a dozen farmworkers from several states will put faces and stories to these numbers for lawmakers, and deliver a simple message: Enough is enough.

Farm labor is one of the most dangerous professions in the country, yet farmworkers are specifically exempt from federal occupational 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.

PAN and our partners have documented, reported and reiterated the weaknesses and shortcomings of the rule since the EPA began its WPS review back in 2000. Now it's time to get them fixed.

Safer Food, Farmworkers & Families

The aim in DC is to mobilize congressional pressure on EPA to improve worker safety rules. Leaders from the farmworker advocacy community will join the farmworkers in delivering this message, including Ramon Ramirez, president of the Oregon farmworker group Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) and Virginia Ruiz of the DC-based group Farmworker Justice.

Ruiz will present the group's powerful new report Exposed and Ignored that documents on-the-ground realities of "how pesticides are endangering our nation's farmworkers."

The farmworker delegation will also carry thousands of signatures from PAN supporters who support stronger farmworker protections. The full list of signatures will be delivered directly to EPA in the fall — if you haven't yet signed on, please add your name today.

This week’s activities will raise our collective voice loud and clear as we call for new rules that ensure farmworker safety, such as:

  • Better, more frequent training on health risks of pesticides, including safety measures workers can take to protect themselves and their families; employers’ responsibilities to ensure their safety; and worker rights.
  • Worker access to timely information about the use, location, and hazards of specific pesticides on the farm where they work.
  • Special protections for pesticide handlers.
  • Improved enforcement of safety standards at the state level.

The congressional meetings have been organized by partners at Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), along with others in the new Safer Food, Farmworkers and Families campaign.

No more waiting

Farmworkers should not have to wait any longer to receive the same level of protections afforded other workers in this country. Every day we wait is another day that these two million hard-working men and women are exposed to toxic pesticides in their daily jobs.

That's why we're joining with partner groups across the country to convince EPA that the time to strengthen safety rules for farmworkers is now.

The list of partners in the Safe Food, Farmworkers and Families campaign is growing fast. Founding members include California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF), Earthjustice, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), Farmworker Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), United Farmworkers (UFW) and of course, PAN.

A healthy, safe, and fair food system will benefit us all, protecting the health and serving the economic needs of farmworkers, farmers, rural communities and consumers. Shifting away from reliance on hazardous pesticides is a key step toward this goal.

But as long as harmful pesticides are in use, farmworkers need better protections in the field.

Si se Puede!

 

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