The industry-backed “Agricultural Jobs” proposal, supported by the United Farm Workers of America and other advocates, will be introduced as a separate, stand-alone legislative proposal. The outcome of the legislation, which is uncertain at this writing, will largely determine who will be hired to work on American farms in the future. The proposed language specifically addresses housing needs of immigrant contract workers, and this aspect has implications for where workers will reside—in on-farm housing subject to federal regulation or, with vouchers, in any type of housing, including informal dwellings not subject to inspection by health authorities. Workers who live in on-farm housing can be subject to harassment and coercion to work unpaid overtime; but at the same time the preferred options of affordable private market, non-profit, and government-sponsored program housing is shrinking. In addition, most housing provided by non-profit organizations or public agencies is family housing, and is unavailable to groups of unaccompanied men.
Trade issues are of paramount importance to the AFF sector because of AFF commodity import and export. Trade agreements potentially can function as economic drivers for change, which could influence production capacity in the AFF sector and influence exposure of domestic workers and those outside the United States. The impact is already being felt in the sugar cane and sugar beet industries of the Deep South and far North, respectively; other impacts are seen in commodities as diverse as cotton and tuna. In the agricultural sector, another development adds complexity to the trade issue: genetically engineered organisms. Whole agricultural enterprises, such as rice and cotton production, have experienced savage swings in demand as countries have responded to reports of genetic shift in non-target crops, which have resulted in dramatic shifts in worker employment and exposure.
The AFF Program plays a positive and crucial role in providing information and tools to promote a safer and healthier work environment in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The committee hopes that its recommendations will help refocus and redirect program efforts, thereby enhancing the program’s impact on the safety and health of all populations at occupational risk in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.