Food Production, Markets, and Economic Impact
Farmers and food workers deserve a level playing field, a safe work environment, and the opportunity to sell at a fair price. The Administration has scorned these basic rights for farmers and ignored the vital role that food and farm workers play in our economy. Instead, the repealed rules have benefited a handful of the largest meat and poultry companies, made it more difficult for restaurant workers to protect their rights, and delayed sensible safeguards for farmworkers applying pesticides. The President and his senior leaders have expanded the push to deport as many immigrants as possible leaving many food and farm workers in immigration limbo not knowing if or when they might be deported. These policies have left unpicked food rotting in fields and restaurants short-handed.
  1. Secretary of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue withdrew new rules that would give smaller livestock farmers and contract poultry growers power under the Packers and Stockyards Act. As it currently stands, a handful of large meat and poultry processors have overwhelming economic power to set prices and contract terms, and to retaliate against farmers who speak out. These abuses, and farmers’ limited legal options for protecting their livelihoods, are severe and well-documented. Additionally, Secretary Perdue has chosen to abolish the Grain Inspectors, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) and entrust the Agricultural Marketing Service with enforcement. AMS officials are charged with promoting and often go on to work for multinational poultry and livestock processors, creating a direct conflict of interest with GIPSA’s role as a watchdog for industry abuses. Read more about this rule from the National Sustainable Agriculture CoalitionOrganization for Competitive Markets, and Politico.
  2. The impact of the Administration's immigration policies has been felt deeply in immigrant communities by food workers. The Administration's indiscriminate and sweeping crackdowns have terrorized immigrant communities  and negatively impacted many producers who rely on them. In part because of this enforcement, the H-2A guest worker visa program has grown rapidly, without any increase in resources or oversight to keep up the program's modest worker protections. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are a key part of the food system, particularly on farms. Any solution to immigration policy should recognize the rights and dignity of the workers and their families who help put food on Americans’ tables. Read more about this problem from the International Business TimesNational Public RadioNewsweek, and Mother Jones.
  3. The EPA delayed the implementation of a revised rule that includes worker protections from pesticide exposure. This rule was created under the previous administration in response to incidents where poor training led to toxic pesticide exposure for workers. The EPA is also preparing to roll back other crucial protections from pesticide exposure, including rules for children handling pesticides, the right to information on pesticide exposure, and safety measures for surrounding residents.  and the lack of any restriction preventing children under 18 from applying these chemicals. Some pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, can cause lifelong neurological problems from improper exposure. Read more about this reversal from Farmworker JusticeEnvironmental Working GroupEarthJustice, and the Huffington Post.
  4. The Administration’s Department of Labor is promoting a new rule that would allow restaurants to take ownership of employee tips and decide their distribution or even keep them. This reverses a forty-year-old precedent that tips are the property of the employee who earned them, unless there is a documented agreement in place on how they will be distributed. While some restaurants claim they need this practice to increase wages for kitchen staff, giving owners control of over $5 billion annually is an opening for abuse against workers. Read more about this change from the Washington PostNational Public Radio, and MarketWatch.
  5. The Administration implemented new rules that restrict workers’ ability to file complaints against fast-food chain employers. Many large companies, particularly restaurant chains, use franchise ownership or contractors as a key part of their business. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had previously considered these corporations and their franchises to be “joint employers,” because the corporation dictates standards for the independent owners and by extension all of their employees. The new ruling states that NLRB will no longer consider operations like fast-food franchise restaurants to be joint employers, making it possible for massive companies to benefit from a standardized workforce without having the responsibility to bargain or live up to agreements with these employees. Read more about this change from Oxfam America and in the New York Times.
  6. The Administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue implemented a reorganization of USDA offices that abolishes the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development and eliminates rural development issues as a key mission area within USDA. After vocal pushback from rural development advocates, Secretary Perdue created an Assistant Secretary position reporting directly to the Secretary. Eliminating rural development as a mission area and shifting these resources to export trade to benefit the largest agribusinesses is the wrong direction for USDA. Read more about this reorganization from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Harvest Public Media.
  7. The Administration has failed to fill crucial Senate-confirmed leadership positions at the Department of Agriculture after a year in office. Of the 13 positions, only four have been confirmed, seven have no submitted nominee, and two more have been delayed due to concerns over nominees’ lack of qualification, positions, and ethical issues. Sam Clovis, a nominee for USDA’s chief scientist, withdrew after a vocal outcry about his lack of scientific background, a history of racist comments, and involvement in questionable campaign practices in 2016. Read more from the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post.

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