Joining UFW Foundation executive director and farm workers who shared personal stories, discussed the H-2A program & workplace reforms
WARNER ROBINS, GA—U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh met with UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres and five Georgia farm workers today in Warner Robins to hear directly from them about conditions they face and to help build relationships between workers in the region and the Department of Labor.
Among the issues the workers raised during the meeting with the secretary were the need to reform the H-2A agricultural guest worker program, and the lack of drinking water and toilets in workplaces. UFW Foundation organizers on the ground in Georgia are in touch with many H-2A workers who’ve shared details about unsafe working conditions that put farm workers’ lives at risk. During the meeting, the secretary committed to improving enforcement of farm worker protections and shared his concerns about what he heard from the workers directly.
The UFW Foundation’s Tellefson Torres toured Georgia in June and met with women farm workers who reported there is often no field sanitation where they labor. As a result, these women and other workers are forced to relieve themselves in the fields, creating human rights and food safety dilemmas. Although the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s field sanitation standard requires employers to provide toilets within a quarter-mile walk for workers, it appears that even this minimal requirement is frequently violated, with few consequences for employers.
In February, UFW Foundation joined a coalition of labor, immigrant, and human rights organizations in urging the Biden administration to conduct a thorough investigation of the H-2A system following exposure by federal law enforcement of a criminal organization in South Georgia using the program for human trafficking, slavery, and money laundering.
The coalition’s letter described how “Operation Blooming Onion” uncovered brutal atrocities described by Acting U.S. Attorney Estes as “modern-day slavery,” which includes human trafficking, rape, the death of at least two individuals and inhumane working and living conditions. It also included a call to reform the program and implement policies further protecting farm workers, including recruitment reforms, transparency, and greater accountability.
“UFW Foundation looks forward to working with the DOL to solve the many struggles that H-2A and domestic workers face,” said Tellefson Torres. “Georgia employers are notorious for widespread workplace violations including wage theft, lack of toilets, failure to provide drinking water, among other workplace violations. We are encouraged after today’s meeting with Secretary Walsh that progress will be made.”
UFW Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advocates for labor rights and protections for farm workers across the U.S. For more information, visit https: www.ufwfoundation.org.
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