vast forests, and seemingly endless open waters. Second, most of the more than 1 million businesses engaged in this sector are small, family-operated enterprises, a great many of which are part-time businesses or active only on a seasonal basis. Third, only businesses directly engaged in or producing commodities for interstate commerce have traditionally been subject to federal regulation owing to significant constitutional questions regarding federal jurisdiction. Finally, many, if not a majority, of the estimated several million people working as hired laborers in the AFF sector today are immigrants who are not authorized for employment in the United States, and this greatly complicates surveillance and arguably weakens a regulatory system based on self-reported complaints. Although the current number of hired farm workers is not accurately known, as of 1992 it was authoritatively estimated to be 2.5 million (U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers, 1992).

It is important to note that federal policy regarding workplace safety and health in most industry sectors, including AFF, was relatively limited until enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 USC 651-678). That statute mandated establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a regulatory agency, and NIOSH, an independent research agency. The law explicitly directed NIOSH to conduct research, directly or through grants or contracts, related to occupational safety and health. It was expected that NIOSH, among its principal activities, would provide independent research to inform OSHA’s regulatory decisionmaking.

Later, Congress intervened to weaken the original law, exempting “small farms” from OSHA and NIOSH jurisdiction. Specifically, the annual farming appropriations rider states that “none of the funds appropriated under this paragraph [OSHA funds] shall be obligated or expended to prescribe, issue, administer, or enforce any standard, rule, or order under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which is applicable to any person who is engaged in a farming operation which does not maintain a temporary labor camp and employs ten or fewer employees.”

The pattern of explicitly exempting large portions of AFF industries from federal laws that govern all other industries has a long history. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (29 USC 151-169), which affirms the right of most U.S. workers to engage in concerted action on their own behalf through organizations of their choosing, does not apply to any person employed as a hired farm laborer.

Federal governance of workplace conditions was first delineated by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA, 29 USC 201-219), which addresses such important occupational safety issues as child labor, wages and hours of work, and appropriate ages for operating hazardous machinery.1 In general, “all employees of a farm are covered under the FLSA on an enterprise basis if the annual gross

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement