President Obama and the Hispanic Community

EPA Takes a Step Forward in Protecting our Nation’s Farm Workers

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard in order to protect the nation’s two million farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure.

I am proud that this administration has taken another step forward in protecting our nation’s farm workers, a cause that is at the very root of my passion for public service. My hero and grandfather, Cesar Chavez, fought tirelessly for the rights of farmworkers, from higher wages and worker compensation, to access to drinking water and safety from pesticides.

My grandfather’s work centered around justice and ensuring that hard working, decent people were treated with the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by other workers in other jobs. The rule, covering farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses, has not been updated for 20 years – and certainly for many it is long overdue.  

The EPA’s proposed changes to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) include:

  • Annual mandatory trainings (rather than once every 5 years) to inform farm workers about the protections they are afforded under the law, including restrictions on entering pesticide-treated fields and surrounding areas, decontamination supplies, access to information and use of personal protective equipment. Expanded trainings will include instructions to reduce take-home exposure from pesticides on work clothing and other safety topics.
  • Expanded mandatory posting of no-entry signs for the most hazardous pesticides. The signs prohibit entry into pesticide-treated fields until residues decline to a safe level.
  • First-time ever minimum age requirement: Children under 16 will be prohibited from handling pesticides with an exemption for family farms.
  • New no-entry 25-100 foot buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields will protect workers and others from exposure from pesticide overspray and fumes. 
  • First-time ever access for farmworker advocates and medical personnel (in addition to farmworkers) of pesticide application and label information, as well as newly-required hazard information, all to be kept for two years versus 30 days.
  • Mandatory record-keeping to improve states’ ability to follow-up on pesticide violations and enforce compliance. Records of application-specific pesticide and hazard information, farmworker training and early-entry notification must be kept for two years.

This proposal represents more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input by federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community including farm workers, farmers, and industry. At its core this proposal includes key commonsense revisions that give workers the protections they rightfully deserve, recognizing, as my grandfather did, that we simply cannot turn our backs on the people that help put food on our tables every day.

As the President said at the dedication of the Cesar Chavez National Monument, “[Cesar] believed that when a worker is treated fairly and humanely by their employer that adds meaning to the values this country was founded upon, and credence to the claim that out of many, we are one. And he believed that when a child anywhere in America can dream beyond her circumstances America can dream beyond her circumstances and work to realize that dream, it makes all our futures just a little bit brighter.” 

For more information on the EPA’s Proposed Worker Protection Standard:   http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/safety/workers/proposed/index.html

Julie Chavez Rodriguez is the Deputy Director for the Office of Public Engagement at the White House.

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