The U.S. Department of Labor joins others during National Farmworker Awareness Week to honor farmworkers across the country.
Our Wage and Hour Division has prioritized agricultural stakeholders throughout its ongoing Essential Workers – Essential Protections outreach initiative. These efforts will continue beyond this week with outreach events in English and Spanish for farmworkers, advocates and employers. We’ll be educating agricultural stakeholders on essential worker protections we enforce, such as:
Farmworkers deserve to live in safe and sanitary housing. And the vehicles used to transport these workers must be maintained in safe operating conditions. When farmworkers’ safety is at risk, the Wage and Hour Division will not hesitate to act, as evidenced by our recent investigation in Missouri and another in Idaho.
We are equally dedicated to protecting farmworkers who are victims of human trafficking. As a partner in the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, the department works aggressively with other federal law enforcement agencies to bring labor traffickers to justice, as we did recently in Georgia.
Over the past three years, the Wage and Hour Division has recovered over $21.5 million in wages owed to agricultural workers and assessed over $20 million in civil money penalties against employers, including those who intentionally or repeatedly failed to comply with the law, pay workers their hard-earned wages and ensure their housing and transportation safety. We use every available tool, including litigation, to protect workers from harassment, abuse and retaliation for asserting their rights. Agricultural workers are at higher risk for exploitation for several reasons, such as the migratory and seasonal nature of the work, their reliance on employer-provided housing, the physical demands of the job and typically low wages.
The storage silos, heavy equipment and chemicals that are necessary for agricultural work can also be dangerous, which is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration encourages all agricultural employers and workers to be aware of these potential hazards and how to avoid them.
And, of course, an issue that faces all farmworkers is heat stress and heat illness. Excessive heat can cause heat stroke and even death if not treated properly. It also exacerbates existing health problems like asthma, kidney failure and heart disease. Workers’ bodies need time to adjust to working in even moderate amounts of heat. That’s why, in addition to ensuring access to water, rest and shade, OSHA encourages employers to gradually increase workloads for workers who are new or have not recently worked in those conditions, and to monitor workers closely for signs of heat illness.
OSHA is also working, as part of the administration’s interagency efforts on workplace safety, climate resilience and environmental justice, to protect workers from the impacts of the climate crisis and dangers of working in heat. These efforts include initiating a rulemaking on Heat Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings, developing a National Emphasis Program to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths through outreach and enforcement and updating our materials and website on the heat illness prevention campaign.
To learn more about wage and hour labor laws in agriculture, contact the Wage and Hour Division online or by calling the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). We answer calls confidentially and in more than 200 languages. To learn more about workplace safety laws and resources visit OSHA online or call 800-321-OSHA (6742).
Jessica Looman is the acting administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the Wage and Hour Division on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.
Doug Parker is the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. Follow OSHA on Twitter at @OSHA_DOL.