After almost a decade of court disputes, a federal judge has approved a detailed agreement between the Department of Labor and a coalition of farm worker organizations to provide a wide range of employment services and job protections for the millions of migrant laborers throughout the country.
The agreement, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. R. Richey, was described by lawyers last week as a major step toward final resolution of a protracted lawsuit in which the farm workers accused the Labor Department of discrimination.
Richey ruled in 1973 that employment service offices operated by the Labor Department, set up to provide counseling, training and job development, failed to give the "full range of benefits, services and protections" to migrant workers.
A year later, the Labor Department signed a court order to end such discrimination and to enforce fair labor laws for migrants. The case was reopened, however, in 1977 when the farm workers -- then represented by the Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter -- charged that the department had not lived up to the agreement.
The settlement signed last week sets specific actions the Labor Department has agreed to take to secure employment rights for migrant workers. It includes regulations to be published in the Federal Register this week to be adopted as rules by the Department of Labor that will be enforced by the department, attorneys said.
The proposed regulations include placement of 20 new "farm worker specialists" around the country to provide job services for migrant workers and coordinate enforcement of labor rules. In addition, 35 employes of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would be designated to oversee enforcement of OSHA regulations for farm workers.
National and regional committees are also proposed to draw up annual plans for labor law enforcement. The regulations also provide for outreach programs for regional employment service workers to reach migrant laborers on the job.
The regulations include the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the minimum wage, and the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act, which requires migrant work crew leaders to register with the government and provide basic employment for farm workers.
The Labor Department will take comments on the regulations for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Under the terms of the agreement signed by Richey, the farm workers coalition has the option to withdraw from the settlement if it disagrees with any changes in the regulations made by the Labor Department as a result of the comments.
The Labor Department has a total of 150 days to put the entire program into effect, according to Bruce Montgomery of Arnold & Porter. Richey scheduled a further hearing for June 4.
The lawsuit was brought by 16 farm worker organizations, mostly in the western part of the country, and the western region of the NAACP.