The Biden Administration recently reversed a Trump administration decision by instituting a ban on chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide used on citrus trees, broccoli and soybeans that reduced IQs in children exposed to it, as well as got workers sick.
Yanira Merino, National President of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the ban and the chemical’s impact on migrant workers.
She also discussed the pay gap for Latinos in the farming industry.
Chemical ban a major win for farm workers
Chlorpyrifos had been sprayed on crops for years, but it took a long time to scientifically document the effects of its exposure. After years of collecting data that showed how dangerous the chemical was to farm workers, the LCLAA advanced the issue through the courts. They ended up with a victory through the Biden Administration.
Nearly 20,000 workers were poisoned by the chemical every year, not to mention the effects it had on consumers, Merino said.
It will take six months for the ban to go into effect, but it remains a big win nonetheless, Merino said. Unfortunately, the fact that the poisoning was allowed to go on for so long is just yet another example of how migrant workers are treated like second class citizens, she said.
Pay gap widespread in migrant farm worker community
Merino also discussed the pay gap for migrant workers in the farm industry. Many of these workers are undocumented, a fact farming companies understand and use to take advantage of the workers, she said.
Data shows that 95 percent of farm workers are Latinos, mostly immigrants. If they are undocumented, they frequently move from farm to farm. Seniority is difficult to accrue, as is any place in the community, Merino explained. If a worker asserts their rights, such as the right to a bathroom or drinking water on a hot day, they are frequently blacklisted and prevented from working on other farms.
The oppression of migrant and undocumented workers has led to exceedingly low pay, sometimes as low as $3.80 an hour, Merino said.
It is a challenge to unionize in the industry. While some states like California offer protection to workers, most do not.
The conditions migrant workers face are another reason the Richard Trumka PRO Act needs to be passed. The legislation would make it easier for workers to organize and assert their rights, Merino stated.