Testimony of Areli Arteaga, on behalf of the United Farm Workers of America and UFW Foundation, Idaho State Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee — March 12, 2020

Testimony of Areli Arteaga, on behalf of the United Farm Workers of America and UFW Foundation, Idaho State Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee — March 12, 2020

Chairman Guthrie, Vice Chair Hartog, and members of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today and share the views of the United Farm Workers of America (“UFW”)  and UFW Foundation and the experience of the workers we represent.  

My name is Areli Arteaga, I am proud to come from a family whose labor feeds the United States and many parts of the world. I am also proud to have been born and raised in Idaho. My three brothers and I spent most of our childhood and teenage years living on a dairy farm in Parma, ID where my father worked.  While Idaho is known for its famous potatoes, I like to remind folks that we also lead the nation in milk from cows, ranking 4th among all states.

In my professional capacity, I serve as the Political Special Projects Coordinator for the UFW and I am submitting this testimony on behalf of the United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation.

Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and other early organizers, the UFW is the nation’s first enduring and largest farm worker union. The UFW is a labor organization that represents migrant and seasonal farm workers in various agricultural occupations. Through collective bargaining, worker education, state and federal legislation, and public campaigns, the UFW seeks to improve the lives, wages, and working conditions of agricultural workers and their families. The UFW Foundation—a non-profit sister organization of the United Farm Workers Union—provides critical services and resources to farm worker and immigrant communities. As one of the largest Department of Justice accredited immigration legal service providers in the United States, UFW Foundation regional offices annually serve over 100,000 immigrants.

The UFW and the UFW Foundation firmly believe that the workers who harvest the food that this nation enjoys deserve protection from pesticide exposure.  Both organizations actively champion legislative and regulatory reforms that advance the health, safety and well-being of farmworker and immigrant families, rural communities, and beyond. For decades, we have been fighting to correct the historical inequities that penalized farm workers with weaker protections than workers in other industrial sectors.

Farmworkers Are Instrumental to Idaho’s Agricultural Industry

To feed Idaho and the nation, farm workers work with dairy cattle for milk production, in beef cattle ranching and farming, or in the harvesting of our world famous Idaho potatoes.

Given the nature of agricultural work, their close relationship to the land and regular exposure to the elements, farmworkers toil under the scorching sun and in extreme temperatures, performing skilled and strenuous work in fields, nurseries, greenhouses, dairies, and ranches. In the course of that work, they face a range of hazards including but not limited to, heat illness, occupational and residential exposure to a range of harmful pesticides.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, in Idaho alone, 45,585[1] agricultural workers were hired and the fruit of their labor helps generate $7.6 billion[2] dollars in the market value of agricultural products sold.  My mother, and many farmworkers like her, make significant contributions to Idaho’s agricultural industry.  For approximately five months, she works in the production of onions, in the setting, repairing, and removal of  the irrigation system and weeding the onions. During other times in the year, she works in alfalfa and carrot seeds fields.

In a year there are times she will work in 3 to 5 of these crops. Regardless of the weather conditions, come rain, wind or hail, the workers are out there, producing our food for the rest of us.

Working in the fields is no easy task, it is skilled work. When I worked in the onion fields near Parma, Idaho we were once given the task to remove a weed that wraps itself around the crops.  We were not allowed to use a hoe because the onion was too young and it would pull the onion out of the ground. While I struggled working on my knees for long hours, my mother would swing by to teach me skills with the knife that would help me catch up to the rest of the crew. It was then I realized I needed to get my college degree because my parents like other immigrants sacrificed so much for us to succeed.

I am extremely proud of my parents and my family because they came to this country with just the clothes on their backs, and with their skilled labor, they contribute to their community and play a fundamental role in our agricultural system.

In Idaho and Across the U.S., Farm Workers and Agricultural Communities are on the Frontlines of Pesticide Exposure and they Deserve Strong Protections

In Idaho, pesticide use is estimated at a minimum of 19.5 million pounds and maximum of 22.2 million pounds.[3] If farm workers in fields across the nation, and workers who handle and apply pesticides aren’t adequately trained on the safe use of pesticides and protected from exposure, the health and safety of workers, families and communities across the country is at risk.  Pesticide misuse doesn’t just lead to farmworker poisonings, it has led to serious harm for hundreds of homeowners and their families, and resulted in the tragic deaths of children.[4]

When it comes to pesticide misuse, we are not talking about hypotheticals and we don’t have to look far. The pesticide exposure in Parma, ID last year on memorial day showed us the failure to protect our farmworkers that sustain the agricultural industry.  The deaths of two children because of the misuse of a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) occurred in the state of Utah, our neighbor to the south.[5]

Most farm workers are exposed on the job to pesticides and they have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers. Many pesticides are associated with serious health effects. I regularly worry about my parents and their exposure to harmful pesticides like chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos is a nerve agent insecticide that is toxic to the brain and is widely used on alfalfa, corn, orchards, and other crops that farm workers in Idaho handle and that consumers eat as residues on their food.  In Idaho, chlorpyrifos use is estimated at a minimum of 118,383 pounds and a maximum of 121,814 pounds. [6]

There are as many as 2.4 million farmworkers across the U.S. and national surveys indicate that   29 percent[7] of farmworkers are U.S. citizens, 21 percent are legal permanent residents, while 49 percent are undocumented. And when it comes to language, 77 percent of farmworkers are most comfortable speaking in Spanish, 21 percent in English, and 1 percent in indigenous languages.

I share this, because these are factors that influence a worker’s ability to:

  • speak out in the workplace about the hazards they face on the job without fear of retaliation
  • access information about the chemicals that they are exposed to, directly or via a representative
  • be adequately informed about pesticide safety and poisoning symptoms
  • seek medical care when they feel ill
  • protect their children from take-home exposures

To address some of these issues, we have fought for laws and safeguards that provide life-saving protections for farm workers, agricultural communities and consumers across the country. These are efforts to provide a floor of protections for the people that feed us while respecting the right of states to set stronger protections to do right by their residents and citizens. Among them:

  • The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) which was strengthened on November 2, 2015 and protects approximately 2.4 million agricultural workers, their families, and communities adjacent to pesticide applications, from pesticide exposure and poisoning.
  • The Certification of Pesticide Applicators (“CPA”) rule which protects nearly 1 million pesticide applicators and prevents injuries, illnesses, and deaths from the misuse of deadly pesticides in agricultural, residential and commercial settings.
  • Petition to Revoke All Tolerances and Cancel All Registrations for the Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

To address some of the most pressing issues affecting Idaho’s agricultural industry and labor needs, we have also worked across the aisle and with the nation’s major agricultural associations:

  • In fact, the UFW and UFW Foundation were part of lengthy and bipartisan discussions that contributed to the introduction and passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R.5038) in the House of Representatives.  H.R.5038 is a compromise bill that will provide certainty to farmers and farmworkers across the nation and reform the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program to address the year-round labor needs of the dairy industry while providing fundamental protections to the people that feed us. On December 11, 2019, and with the endorsement of dozens of agricultural employers in Idaho, this bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 260-15 and currently awaits action by the Senate.

Farmworkers feed our families and communities, without regard to region, race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, or whether we are Democrats or Republicans.  Feeding Idaho, the nation and much of the world is honorable and important work. Farm workers and agricultural communities shouldn’t risk death or illness from pesticide exposure when reasonable measures can prevent such tragedies and protect them from these hazards. 

One of the most common causes of pesticide poisoning is exposure to pesticide spray drift during applications. People live, work, learn and pray in spaces that are adjacent to agricultural operations, which puts workers, children and communities in harm’s way.  Alarmingly, among many things, HB 487 proposes to limit the ability of the state of Idaho to hold pesticide applicators accountable for the misuse of pesticides. 

At the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently closed a public comment period on a proposal to weaken national protections for workers and communities from pesticide drift. Specifically, EPA’s proposed revisions[8] to the Application Exclusion Zone provision within the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard threatens the health and safety of ALL farm workers and residents of agricultural communities by allowing for the use of pesticides in a manner that poses an unreasonable risk of harm.

When you combine what HB 487 proposes to do, with current efforts by the U.S. EPA, communities in Idaho will have little to no recourse (at the state or federal level) to protect themselves or hold individuals or companies accountable for one of the leading causes of pesticide poisoning. Additionally, by proposing to strike the words “faulty” and “careless,” instead of prioritizing the health and wellbeing of Idahoans, the bill puts the burden on the impacted workers and communities to demonstrate negligence, a higher bar to meet than faulty or careless behavior.  In fact, in a February 21, 2020 letter to Representative Toone, the State of Idaho Office of the Attorney General confirms that the language in HB 487 would protect those who misuse pesticides.

Who we really need to protect are workers like Maria Alicia Rojo who has worked for 13 years in Canyon County, ID in the production of potato, alfalfa, carrot, onion and setting irrigation drip systems. Workers like my mother, Maria Arteaga, who have helped produce Idaho’s potatoes and onions for 24 years are looking towards your leadership to oppose HB 487.

We stand ready to work with Republicans and Democrats, in this committee and beyond, to protect agricultural communities from pesticide exposure, illness, injuries and deaths. Rather than curtail Idaho’s ability to protect farmworkers and rural communities from pesticide exposure, we urge this committee to OPPOSE HB 487.

[1] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017 Census of Agriculture – State Data, Table 7. Hired Farm Labor – Workers and Payroll: 2017. Available at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_2_US_State_Level/st99_2_0007_0007.pdf

[2] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017 Census of Agriculture, Idaho State Profile. Available at https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Online_Resources/County_Profiles/Idaho/cp99016.pdf

[3] Wieben, C.M., 2019, Estimated Annual Agricultural Pesticide Use by Major Crop or Crop Group for States of the Conterminous United States, 1992-2017: U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/P9XLMNFG.

[4] 82 FR 952 https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-30332/p-125

[5] U.S. Department of Justice, Bugman Pest And Lawn, Inc. and Coleman Nocks Plead Guilty To Unlawful Use Of Pesticide. Available at https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/ut/news/2011/bugman%20plea.pdf

[6] Wieben, C.M., 2019, Estimated Annual Agricultural Pesticide Use by Major Crop or Crop Group for States of the Conterminous United States, 1992-2017: U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/P9XLMNFG.

[7] Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015-2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers. Research Report No. 13. January 2018. Available at https://www.doleta.gov/naws/research/docs/NAWS_Research_Report_13.pdf

[8] 84 FR 58666. Available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/11/01/2019-23718/pesticides-agricultural-worker-protection-standard-revision-of-the-application-exclusion-zone

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