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Illegal immigrant while working in the fields in the summer

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A new report looking at federal investigations of wage and hourly standards on U.S. farms shows most cases result in violations. It says the pace of investigations is slowing, potentially leaving more migrant workers vulnerable.

February 16, 2021

Mike Moen, Public News Service – IA

AMES, Iowa — An arctic blast has left all of Iowa frozen in recent days, but the spring planting season is inching closer.

new report suggests those who work on farms still face obstacles when it comes to workplace protections, and some of the Iowa data isn’t pretty.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute examined 15 years of federal enforcement of labor standards within agriculture.

Seventy percent of investigations by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division uncovered violations in this area among employers.

Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Institute, said not only are farmworkers in an industry that comes with safety risks, the numbers showed many are exploited financially as well.

“They’ve also been doing work without being adequately paid for it,” Costa contended. “By any objective measure, farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in the entire labor market.”

He noted because so many of the individuals lack immigration status, it’s difficult for them to speak up.

The report showed the issue is more widespread in states such as California and Florida. While Iowa isn’t in the top five for percentage of overall incidents, it did have the second highest average number of violations detected for each investigation.

According to the Institute, the violations are largely being driven by farm labor contractors, which recruit and hire seasonal agricultural workers.

The findings showed Iowa had the most violations per investigation of these hiring firms at 167.

Costa believes the analysis presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to take significant action.

“I think there’s no question farmworkers deserve better,” Costa asserted. “And there’s really no better time than now to figure out how to deliver for them.”

He added the findings come as farmworkers are hailed as heroes during the crisis.

The report recommended ways to enhance compliance, including increasing penalties for employers that are repeat offenders. The authors say it could be done with larger fines and more significant sanctions.

The researchers also suggested advocates and unions try to better educate farmworkers about their rights