Monday, January 24, 2005

Migrant farmworkers: setbacks and victories

Two articles in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription only) require no comment. Here are the first three paragraphs of each:

Labor Department Ends Survey Of Migrant Farm-Worker Status

January 24, 2005; Page A4

The U.S. Department of Labor has suspended the only national survey that collects detailed data on employment, health and living conditions of migrant and seasonal farm workers.

The move has caused concern among some policy makers and scholars, who say the survey has documented the rapid growth of immigrant labor in the agriculture industry. Based on interviews with thousands of laborers, the National Agricultural Workers Survey gathered data that helped the federal government allocate funds to health, education and social programs in rural areas for nearly two decades.

Among the survey's key findings is that the U.S. is increasingly dependent on illegal immigrants to harvest its crops. More than half of all crop workers in the country are illegal immigrants, up from just 12% in 1990, according to the latest farm workers' survey. The agricultural industry employs about 2.5 million people, whose average annual family income is $10,000 to $12,000.

and this one

Farmworker Gets Rare Win Against Grower

January 24, 2005; Page B1

In a case that spotlights problems faced by migrant women working on farms, a federal-court jury in Fresno on Friday found one of California's largest agricultural businesses liable for sexual harassment and awarded its employee nearly $1 million.

The unanimous verdict against Harris Farms Inc. marks the first time that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken a sexual-harassment case involving the agriculture industry to trial. Previous cases brought by the agency, which enforces antidiscrimination law in the workplace, have been settled out of court. Farm-worker advocates and labor lawyers applauded the verdict, saying it focuses attention on a widespread problem that is rarely reported.

"The jury's verdict sends a message to all agricultural employers that they must protect their workers against sexual harassment," said William Tamayo, regional attorney for the EEOC in San Francisco.

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