FJ Policy Update - January 2023
Federal Legislative Update
The 118th Congress is officially in session, and it started with fireworks as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives took five days and a historic fifteen rounds of votes to select California Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House. The contentious start to the session and the ongoing committee selection process have made January a slow month for legislative activity, but we can expect a busy slate of committee hearings to begin next month.
Major issues on the horizon for 2023 include the five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, a sprawling piece of legislation that covers commodity supports, nutrition programs (e.g., SNAP), rural development, energy programs, and much more. Speaker McCarthy is also demanding steep spending cuts in exchange for increasing the federal debt limit, which must occur by this summer to avoid a default. In addition to legislative battles, the divided Congress will see increased oversight activity. Rep. Virginia Foxx, the new chair of the House Education and Labor, is already calling for a series of hearings to probe the activities of the US Department of Labor (DOL) and other labor agencies.
On the Senate side, the Biden Administration has re-nominated a slate of nominees who were not confirmed in the previous Congress. Nominees particularly relevant for the farmworker community include Jessica Looman for DOL’s Wage and Hour Administrator and Jose Javier Rodriguez to lead DOL’s Employment and Training Administration.
Federal Administrative Updates
DHS Announces Streamlined Whistleblower Protections for Immigrant Workers: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released guidance that clarifies the process for undocumented workers and other immigrant workers to request protection from deportation while pursuing workplace legal claims in conjunction with a federal, state, or local labor agency. This is a critical step towards ensuring that immigrant workers can report illegal treatment in the workplace without fear of retaliation. Read the new guidance here.
Biden Administration Releases New Rulemaking Agenda: The Biden Administration released its latest regulatory agenda, providing a comprehensive overview of planned rulemaking for 2023. Major upcoming rules include proposals on worker protections in the H-2A program from both DOL and DHS. Access the full regulatory agenda here.
DOL Timesheet App Now Available in Spanish: The Department of Labor announced that its Timesheet app is now available in Spanish. This app is designed to help workers and employers track work hours, breaks, and overtime, along with calculating wages earned. Read more.
White House to Wind Down COVID Emergency: The White House announced that the COVID-19 public health emergency will be ending on May 11. The current state of emergency has been in place, with periodic renewals, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The end of the emergency will have an effect on a wide range of emergency measures and public health benefits currently in place. Read more.
Monsanto Sued for Violating Federal Civil Rights Law: On January 19, Public Citizen, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Aid Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit against Monsanto for violating federal civil rights law. The suit alleged that Monsanto and the plaintiff’s former attorneys engaged in illegal discrimination when they refused to finalize a settlement agreement with Elvira Reyes-Hernandez, a non-U.S. citizen farmworker who was diagnosed with cancer after exposure to a Monsanto product while working as a farmworker. Read more.
Multimillion-Dollar Wage and Hour Settlement Moves Forward: A federal district judge granted the preliminary approval of a seven million dollar settlement for a group of farmworkers in California. Aldapa v. Fowler Packing Co., No. 1:15-cv-00420-ADA-SAB, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5985 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2023). The wage and hour class action settlement covers over 20,000 seasonal farmworkers who have spent almost a decade in court. Read the decision.
DOL Takes Nursery to Court to Prevent Illegal Retaliation and Obstruction: Nursery from DOL is continuing its renewed focus on injunctive relief to prevent illegal retaliation against workers. On January 18, a federal judge in New York granted the Solicitor of Labor’s request for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to prohibit a New Jersey-based nursery from threatening its employees, obstructing and interfering with a DOL investigation, telling workers not to comply with DOL’s requests, communicating with workers about the investigation, and terminating employees without providing notice to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. Read the order.
As state legislative sessions get underway across the country, Farmworker Justice is monitoring major bills that would affect the farmworker community. In Pennsylvania and Maine, for example, lawmakers are once more seeking to extend overtime and unionization rights to farmworkers. Know of a bill we should have our eye on? Please reach out to our policy team at the emails below.
North Carolina: The NC Department of Labor is considering petitions from a coalition of farmworker advocates, represented by NCJC, SPLC, LCCR, to adopt two proposed rules. The first focuses on protecting workers from airborne infectious diseases and the second addresses safeguards for migrant workers, including additional safety measures for shared housing and transportation. These petitions follow previous petitions and ensuing litigation started in 2020. Read more.
Washington: On January 1, 2023, WA agricultural workers must be given overtime pay for working over 48 hours in a workweek. This is the second stage of the agricultural overtime phase-in schedule. Beginning next year on January 1, 2024, WA agricultural workers will receive overtime pay at the 40 hour mark. Read more.
In the News
USDA Ignores Its Own Proposed Labor Standards (American Prospect)
Op-ed: Want an Agtech Revolution? Center Farmworkers’ Expertise (Civil Eats)
People exposed to weedkiller chemical have cancer biomarkers in urine – study (Guardian)
Storm flooding compounds misery for California farms and workers (LA Times)
Support for farmworkers is an essential part of climate change policy (Prism)
Half Moon Bay Shooting unmasks poor living conditions for farmworkers (Washington Post)
Scoop: Torres Small top contender for USDA No. 2 (Politico)
The FJ Policy Team is always here to serve as a resource for our partners.
- Alexis Guild, Director of Health Policy and Programs
- Andrew Walchuk, Senior Policy Counsel & Director of Government Relations
- Heide Hernandez-Jimenez, Legal Fellow
- Mayra Reiter, Project Director, Occupational Safety and Health
- Trent Taylor, Staff Attorney