Bruce Goldstein is President of Farmworker Justice, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit organization.

According to their website, Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. They work with farmworkers and their organizations throughout the nation.

Growing Magazine: 
In relation to your organization, can you elaborate on the importance of immigration in the agricultural industry?

Bruce Goldstein:
The large majority of farmworkers in the United were born abroad and the majority of farmworkers are undocumented.  Our agricultural industry and much of our food system would collapse if the government deported undocumented farmworkers. Immigration status profoundly affects every aspect of a person’s life. The lack of immigration status deprives farmworkers of economic and political power.  Undocumented workers are vulnerable to abuse and deportation, often too fearful to challenge unfair or illegal treatment on the job or participate in the life of their communities.  This country and the agricultural industry desperately need reform that provides undocumented farmworkers and their family members with an opportunity for immigration status and citizenship.

Growing Magazine:
How effective have your lobbying efforts been? What are you doing right and what could you do better?

Goldstein:
Our organization, Farmworker Justice, is relied upon by hundreds of organizations, the media, and policymakers for our analysis, recommendations and advocacy. Our coalition of farmworker, labor, civil rights, labor, Latino and other organizations has been effective in many ways, but not effective enough to achieve progressive immigration reform.  The battle over public opinion largely has been won on a vital point: a large majority of Americans support granting undocumented immigrants an opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship.  Through hard-fought negotiations, farmworker organizations reached detailed agreements with agribusiness representatives on immigration policy reforms that won bipartisan support and passed the U.S. Senate, but not the House. Unfortunately, we have not been able to overcome demagogues who scapegoat immigrants and obstruct reasonable policy reform to fix our broken immigration system.

Growing Magazine:
With immigration being a hot topic in this next election cycle, do you feel employers are supportive enough toward your organizations’ efforts?

Goldstein:
Farmworker Justice is a co-founder of the Equitable Food Initiative, a collaborative effort on corporate social responsibility of organizations representing farmworkers, growers, retailers, consumers and other stakeholders. We are hopeful that this innovative, encouraging collaboration will expand greatly and transform the agricultural sector and food system over the next few years. In general, however, Farmworker Justice serves farmworkers and does not receive support from farmworkers’ employers.  There are many areas of disagreement between us, including on the labor protections that the law should grant to farmworkers and how those labor protections should be enforced.  Although we have in the past cooperated with employer groups extensively to seek passage of a compromise on immigration reform legislation, our respective views of what is desirable are quite different in the absence of a compromise.  As a not-for-profit organization that does not engage in electoral or partisan activity, we do not express an opinion about employers’ efforts regarding election campaigns.

Growing Magazine:
Occupational safety policies is one of the main topics that Farmworker Justice advocates for. What are some ways that Farmworker Justice has brought attention to this issue?

Goldstein:
Farmworker Justice has long advocated for stronger occupational safety policies, including at the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency, to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths among farmworkers and their family members.  Farm work is one of the most dangerous jobs due to machinery, pesticides, constant bending, lifting, climbing ladders, and other hazards.  Federal and most state policies discriminate against farmworkers in occupational safety protections.  We have brought attention to these issues through numerous mechanisms:  publishing major reports (for example, “Exposed and Ignored,” about pesticides), newsletters, fact sheets and other materials that are circulated widely to various audiences; obtaining news coverage, writing op-eds, and obtaining editorials; using social media to educate and spark action; speaking at conferences and meetings to engage other constituencies; bringing farmworkers to Washington, D.C. to testify at hearings, meet with officials and participate in government advisory committees; collaborating with physicians, public health experts, academics and others who can provide authoritative data, analysis and opinion; filing lawsuits when legal rights have been violated by employers or government agencies; and supporting farmworker organizing in the fields and mobilizations to persuade policymakers.

Growing Magazine:
Workers constantly face safety and health hazards from working with pesticides or lack of sanitation. Has the organization seen a decrease in injuries from getting the word out there?

Goldstein:
The statistics on injuries and illness in agriculture are unreliable because a significant number of injuries go unreported, so the actual numbers are unknown.  We have seen some improvement in occupational health and safety of farmworkers due to tighter regulation of field conditions and pesticides.  Although violations abound, nearly 30 years after OSHA issued the Field Sanitation Standard, most farmworkers have access to clean drinking water and toilet facilities in the fields.  Improved regulation of pesticide use and worker protections have resulted in the removal of many dangerous chemicals from agricultural communities and fewer acute poisoning incidents.  However, agriculture remains one of the most dangerous industries in the US, and farmworkers and their families bear a disproportionate share of occupational injuries. Greater awareness of the health hazards by both employers and workers, more education and safety training of workers, improved enforcement of health and safety laws, and tighter regulation of health hazards will go a long way in improving the living and working conditions of US farmworkers.   Furthermore, collaborative models such as the Equitable Food Initiative have the potential to transform the culture of safety in agricultural workplaces for the benefit of farmworkers, their employers, and consumers.

Five Questions is a GrowingMagazine.com monthly series that discusses industry-related topics with the people who influence the industry.