OSHA Reluctance WITH the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, most workers won access to minimal sanitation facilities at the worksite toilets, handwashing facilities, and drinking water. The OSHA standard was enacted to “assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions.” But those standards don’t apply to the estimated two million farmworkers in the United States, some working the 300,000 jobs in Texas. Why not? Because soon after the act took effect ? Secretary of Labor James Hodgson exempted agricultural employees from its benefits. Protection of farmworkers was left to the states, and, in the case of Texas, standards weren’t enacted until 1983. Now OSHA is considering ex tending the sanitary protection laws to farmworkers. It’s been a long-running battle. In 1972, the Migrant Legal Action OSHA to issue a field sanitation standard for farmworkers. This launched a series of lawsuits all decided in favor of farmworkers which OSHA, led by a parade of Labor Secretaries under various U.S. presidents, dutifully appealed. Year after year their defense was the same: further study is needed. Finally, in 1982, farmworkers entered into a settlement with OSHA. OSHA was immediately to begin developing a standard, completing it by 1985 or explaining then why it was not complete. A proposed rule was due by Jan. 16, 1984. It was presented Feb. 22. Although the dangers of poor sanitation have been known for at Hereford onion’ harvest, June 1980. Pho to by Jim Ste ie r t One, which includes Deaf Smith, Parmer, and Castro counties, at first claimed that field sanitation is under federal, not state, regulation. When I reminded him that there were no federal standards but that TDH had issued state regulations the past summer, Moritz did the recall that there were state standards for which he is responsible. But, he said, he didn’t know of any violations. “Increased farm mechanization,” he said, has left “very few farmworkers in this area.” Not so, said Beardall. Last summer 47,000 farmworkers migrated to Region One to work and at least as many laborers are expected this year. That does not include the farmworkers already living in the area. According to Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Liberties Union, when local district attorneys did not prosecute violations of sanitation laws before the issuance of 1983 state regulations, many claimed that the labor standards on sanitation did not apply to farmworkers. Mark White’s 1982 ruling, however, stated that while specific regulations had not been promulgated for farmworkers, the existing law did apply. DA’s could have prosecuted under the law, requiring the courts to define specific standards, but most were not so inclined. The failure of Hidalgo County Attorney Robert Salinas to pursue sanitation violations \(Salinas claimed the law did re-election campaign. Salinas narrowly lost re-election after the United Farm Workers Union members campaigned against him on the sanitation issue. Roland Saul of Deaf Smith County apparently was also not inclined to pursue aggressively the 1982 cases involving the rights of farmworkers to sanitation facilities. Saul’s private law firm, Saul, Smith, and David, from which Saul has since resigned, represented Jack Griffin, of Griffin and Brand, at the time. UFW organizers claim that work stoppages help persuade growers to provide sanitation facilities. Rebecca Harrington, director of the UFW in Texas, said “It’s been our work, no one else’s, that’s made the growers comply.” She said an inspector often will “tip off a grower that he’s coming,” allowing the grower time to get the toilets temporarily clean and the drinking water ready. Because the union is not active in the Panhandle, growers there are not under the same pressure to comply with the TDH rules. Trini Gamez, an ex-farmworker and a paralegal for TRLA in Hereford, said it’s true that growers in her area seldom obey the standards. When they are enforced, she said, just two toilets usually exist for 200 to 300 workers. “I think what you need is more teeth in the law,” said Gamez. “We had a judge in the area who told workers that men and women could go use the cornfields for toilets.” To make matters more complex, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is considering its own standards for farmworkers and they may have fewer teeth, not more. The OSHA standards would supersede state regulations, TDH sanitation director Lowry said, and this could be a step backwards for Texas farmworkers because the proposed OSHA standards are less specific than those already in Texas. osgA proposes, for example, no specific amount of drinking water per worker; Texas does. Disposable towelettes, says OSHA, may be substituted for washing water; Texas requires potable washing water. The agency took public comments on the issue through April 27, and will hold public hearings around the country during the next few weeks. People wanting to speak at these hearings were required to notify OSHA before the end of the public comment, period. Texans will voice their opinions June 12 and 13 in Lubbock. Luis Torres, of the Migrant Legal Action Program, said a final ruling isn’t likely until 1985. He has little patience with those who object to health standards for farmworkers. “Anyone who thinks these are unreasonable standards should shut off their toilet for a week, then we’ll talk about it,” Torres said. 16 MAY 18, 1984
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