Facing up to near catastrophic safety events among migrant workers, Florida has since 2004 tried to turn a corner: tougher monitoring, reform of a national class code for death benefits, and a new legislative commission which just issued a report.
Transportation deaths alone would have been a sufficient spur. According to Rural Migration News, in April 2004, nine were killed and 10 injured after their van rolled over four times on I-95 in Fort Pierce. In June 2004, two were killed when a van built for seven, but with 11 workers, overturned; most of the men had no identification.
Florida in May 2004 revived the Florida Agricultural Workers Safety Act (FAWS), which expired in 1998. (See details below). It also corrected an egregious wrong in state law. Citing an award winning Palm Beach Post series in late 2003 (link now dead), Workers Comp Insider reported that state law since the 1920s put death benefits at 50% less if the deceased was not an American or Canadian. In 2003 the legislator upped the U.S/Canadian award from $100,000 to $150,000 – but retained the 50% cut, despite a reported state Supreme Court decision striking it down. Only in 2004 was the wrong corrected by law. The Palm Beach Post reported in 2003 since 1990, nearly 30% of the death cases settled, with the average settlement of $32,000.”
The new law creates a Legislative Commission on Migrant and Seasonal Labor to supervise and coordinate migrant labor programs geared to improve worker living conditions, health, housing and sanitation as well as knowledge of labor laws, education, transportation and public assistance. This month (Feb 2006) it issued a
Report to the Legislature.
See my earlier posting on SAFE: Socially Accountable Farm Employers.
According to Rural Migrant News,
FAWS increases penalties from $1,000 to $2,500 on contractors who do not keep records of work done by farm workers, requires pesticide safety training, and prohibits farm labor contractors from requiring workers to obtain housing or to buy goods from them. The Florida Department of Agriculture will get four new enforcement officers to monitor the practices of labor contractors, whose registration fees will rise from $75 to $275.
Farm and worker groups generally endorsed the revived FAWS, which was named after Alfredo Bahena, who came to the United States as a teenager, fought for pesticide protections, and died in an auto accident in April 2004. Florida has 3,600 licensed farm labor contractors.