Debate has begun over the Department of Labor's proposed ergonomics regulation [editorial, Nov. 24]. But one occupational group in need of improved workplace safety will, once again, be excluded: migrant and seasonal farm workers.

Agriculture is routinely ranked among the three most dangerous occupations in the United States. Labor practices frequently are backward, even barbaric. Discriminatory laws and regulations deny farm workers many protections that other workers enjoy, such as access to toilets and hand-washing water.

Legislation recently introduced in Congress would remove most of the basic labor protections in both the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the temporary foreign agricultural worker law. The Labor Department says that "agriculture operations will be covered in future rulemaking."

When Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, the chief sponsor apologized for the exclusion of farm workers from the bill by saying, "I hope soon, to take on the agricultural workers." When federal law granted other workers the right to time-and-one-half pay for overtime work in 1938, farm workers were again left out. We're still waiting for farm workers to secure the rights most workers enjoy.


Co-Executive Director

Farmworker Justice Fund Inc.