Demand Enforcement of Labor Rights for Farm Workers. End Employer Retaliation.
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Honesto Silva Ibarra, a 28-year-old father of three from Mexico, died and four other workers were hospitalized as a result of heat stress while working at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington.
This and other recent cases highlight the neglect and abuse by farm owners and supervisors of their H2-A guests. Ibarra, complained of headaches for days, retired to his cabin on two occasions saying that he couldn't go on, only to be told by his supervisor to return to the field, or else. According to several news reports, he went to a Bellingham clinic complaining of headaches after picking berries at Sarbanand Farms. He collapsed and was later transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he died.
He attempted to fly home for care but couldn't purchase a ticket because his work visa had expired, a situation many of the Sarbanand workers were faced with. Illegally transported with expired work documentation from the parent company, Munger Farms of Salinas, CA, they were at the absolute mercy of their employer.
They don’t have any ability to leave and look for a different job. They’re wholly isolated from the community. They live on the farm. The farm provides their food. They don’t have connections, drivers licenses, cars or in many cases, legal documentation. They’re also reluctant to complain for fear of being blacklisted from future employment.
Employers need to be clear with workers about their access to medical care or time off should they get sick or injured as well as their benefits through workers’ compensation.
Although workers are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant Seasonal Worker Protection Act and a host of Washington State labor and safety laws, the abuses continue. The visa expirations are not a Washington state issue, but the expired visas would intimidate a worker from calling a state agency for help. Enforcement of existing law must be increased.
THEREFORE: We, the petitioners ask that Governor Jay Inslee spearhead an effort to provide better conditions for Agricultural workers statewide.
1. Change the mandatory “your rights as a worker” poster to include a violation HOTLINE phone number. The Department of Labor and Industries has a phone number for “people in immediate danger” on the mandatory posters, but a HOTLINE number on the poster would make it easier to report wage and safety violations like those that that led to the death of Ibarra and the hospitalization of four others who worked at Sarbanand Farms.
2. Amend Washington State Law to forbid employers from engaging in retaliatory practices against workers who protest poor and unsafe working conditions. Again, enforcement of existing laws must be improved. (More than 70 workers were fired for protesting working conditions at the farm.)
3. All supervisors and employees must be trained on heat illness prevention before working outdoors. This includes: information on what to do in an emergency and who to call for medical help. Provide cool, fresh water and SHADED AREAS for rest breaks. Employees have the right to a minimum 5 minute cool down rest in the shade at any time during the shift, and employers are reminded that they have an obligation to tell employees that they have these rights without retaliation.
The value of Washington's crops in 2015 was $10.7 billion. We can do better by our workers.
Access to shade.
(1) Shade shall be present when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When the outdoor temperature in the work area exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the employer shall have and maintain one or more areas with shade at all times while employees are present that are either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling. The amount of shade present shall be at least enough to accommodate the number of employees on recovery or rest periods, so that they can sit in a normal posture fully in the shade without having to be in physical contact with each other. The shade shall be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working. Subject to the same specifications, the amount of shade present during meal periods shall be at least enough to accommodate the number of employees on the meal period who remain on site.
(2) Employer shall provide timely access to shade upon an employee's request.
(3) Employees shall be allowed and encouraged to take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating. Such access to shade shall be permitted at all times. An individual employee who takes a preventative cool-down rest (A) shall be monitored and asked if he or she is experiencing symptoms of heat illness; (B) shall be encouraged to remain in the shade; and (C) shall not be ordered back to work until any signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated, but in no event less than 5 minutes in addition to the time needed to access the shade.
(4) If an employee exhibits signs or reports symptoms of heat illness while taking a preventative cool-down rest or during a preventative cool-down rest period, the employer shall provide appropriate first aid or emergency response.
Petición en español
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