Padilla Introduces Bills to Strengthen USDA Support for Farm and Food System Workers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced a pair of bills to equip the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better meet the needs of farm and food system workers. The Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act would create the USDA Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce to serve as a liaison and a resource for farm and food system workers. The Voice for Farm Workers Act would expand the role and staff of the USDA Farmworker Coordinator to allow for increased collaboration within the Department, with farm workers, and with relevant stakeholders.
Padilla’s legislation addresses key priorities from the USDA Equity Commission Interim Report, which notes that the Farmworker Coordinator position has not been adequately funded or sustained, and recommends that the USDA fund and elevate roles for professional staff solely dedicated to farm workers’ concerns and perspectives. The bills are cosponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is also a cosponsor of the Voice for Farm Workers Act.
“Our farm and food system workers feed the nation and sustain our economy. Too often, lack of access to language services, outreach, and USDA programs leaves them vulnerable to challenges including food and housing insecurity, lack of health care access, and inadequate job protections,” said Senator Padilla. “These bills would equip the USDA with important tools to integrate workers’ key priorities and viewpoints, including enhancing collaboration across the Department, with the federal government, and with key outside stakeholders.”
“For too long, farm and food industry workers haven’t had the representation they should in policymaking that affects their jobs and their lives. Our bill would change that and ensure workers in the ag industry in Ohio and around the country have a voice and input on policy affecting the huge sector of our economy that they power,” said Senator Brown.
“Farm and food system workers are the backbone of our country, working tirelessly to put food on our tables. We must ensure that their voices are represented in government so we can address their concerns and needs. These bills will not only help amplify their voices within the federal government, but will also ensure we provide the resources to meet their needs. I am proud to fight for our nation’s farm and food system workers and push for their voices to be heard,” said Senator Gillibrand.
“Farmworkers are absolutely critical to the success of our farms and to the larger success of rural America. It’s long past time we expand our current support programs, and create new resources to bolster, protect, and represent our farm workforce. I thank Senator Padilla for his leadership on the Support our Farmworkers and Food System Workforce Act and the Voice for Farmworkers Act, and urge my colleagues to support these important bills,” said Senator Welch.
Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act
This legislation would establish a new Office of the Farm and Food System Workforce within the USDA to uplift the voices of farm workers and food system workers at the federal level. The Office would serve as a link between these workers and the USDA, providing a platform for their concerns and interests and helping develop recommendations and new initiatives for the Department.
The bill would also create a Farm and Food System Worker Advisory Committee of relevant stakeholders — such as farm and food system workers, labor unions, civil rights advocates, higher education, women farm worker or food system groups, and non-profits — to better represent these workers’ interests and perspectives. Building upon the USDA Equity Commission recommendations, it would also set up a Farm and Food System Workforce Interagency Council, comprised of representatives from various federal agencies to improve coordination, planning, program development, and policymaking across cabinet-level leadership.
In addition, the Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act would require the Office to summarize its efforts to improve the work and livelihood of farm and food system workers in an annual publicly available report examining, for example, how climate change affect the food system and recommendations for improving access to USDA programs and initiatives.
Full text of the bill is available here.
Voice for Farm Workers Act
The USDA Farmworker Coordinator position, established in the 2008 Farm Bill, serves as a dedicated liaison for the Department and farm workers nationwide but has lacked the sufficient staff and resources to adequately address farm workers’ needs. This legislation would strengthen the Coordinator position with new resources and staffing capacity to improve the ability of the Coordinator to act as USDA’s primary point of contact on farm worker issues, coordinate and advise on farm worker serving programs across the Department and federal agencies, and support farm workers and farm worker-oriented community-based organizations to better access USDA programs.
Specifically, the Voice for Farmworkers Act would expand the Farmworker Coordinator duties to allow for the Coordinator to create recommendations for new initiatives and programs, conduct further outreach and research related to farm workers, and collaborate within the Department on programmatic and policy decisions related to farm workers. In addition, it would integrate additional entities for the Farmworker Coordinator to consult with such as institutions of higher education, local education agencies, and community-based nonprofit organizations.
Furthermore, the bill would allow the USDA to employ the staff necessary to assist the Farmworker Coordinator carry out their responsibilities to better meet the needs of our nation’s farm workers.
Full text of the bill is available here.
Both bills have been endorsed by organizations and stakeholders including: United Farm Workers (UFW), United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), Union of Concerned Scientists, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Labor) Food Alliance, Farmworker Justice, Rural Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, National Employment Law Project, National Education Association, and many more.
“We applaud Senator Padilla for these pieces of legislation, which would implement key recommendations from the USDA Equity Commission, ensuring that USDA resources and attention represent the interests and perspective of farm workers and not just agricultural employers,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “These pieces of legislation will help address this historic imbalance by establishing the precedent that our federal government institutions charged with protecting and growing American agriculture must also be able to include the workers who are the true backbone of our nation’s agricultural industry, as well as their families and communities.”
“The UFCW is proud to endorse Senator Padilla’s Voice for Farm Workers Act and Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act. These key pieces of legislation would finally give food and agriculture workers a dedicated voice within the agriculture department by creating a Department of Farm and Food System Workforce while allocating resources towards helping the USDA reshape an essential industry that for too long has prioritized corporate profits over both worker and consumer safety,” said Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers International President. “As the nation’s largest food processing and grocery worker union, we know how hard our food and agriculture members work to ensure grocery shelves are stocked and communities across the country have access to safe and quality food. Even during an unprecedented global pandemic and in record-breaking heat waves, our members get the job done in some of the most dangerous working conditions. The fact is, food and agricultural workers keep America fed, all the while helping to produce massive profits for their employers. Workers across our food supply chain have more than earned their seats at the table when it comes to their own workplace safety and food quality.”
“In our work, with partners like the Farmworkers Association of Florida, La Alianza Agricola and others working directly with food and farmworkers, we have heard repeatedly the need for workers to have a voice in decisions about our food system, and access to services and support from the USDA,” said Dr. Ricardo Salvador, Director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “After all, without these workers, the agricultural and food system of the U.S. would not function. These bills would make it clear that the USDA has a responsibility to the people who plant, tend, harvest, package, and serve our food. The next Food and Farm Bill should make the health, safety and representation of food and farmworkers – the people who make the whole ag and food system work – a priority.”
“Alianza Nacional de Campesinas strongly supports the “Voice for Farm Workers Act of 2023” and the “Supporting Our Farm and Food System Workforce Act of 2023.” Farmworker women are often unable to access or simply unaware of USDA programs and opportunities because adequate outreach hasn’t been done. This bill proposes some necessary changes to the USDA’s Farmworker Coordinator role that will better serve farmworkers, such as hiring staff to conduct outreach to farmworker communities and hear directly from workers. The bill would also make resources and programs more accessible to farmworkers, particularly by prompting the USDA to be more accessible and use more inclusive language. We believe expanding the role of the Farmworker Coordinator is an important step in addressing how farmworker women have been unjustly marginalized for far too long,” said Mily Trevino-Sauceda, Executive Director of Alianza.
Senator Padilla is a longtime champion for farm and food system workers in California and across the country. Padilla recently reintroduced the Fairness for Farm Workers Act, legislation to update the nation’s labor laws to ensure farm workers receive fairer wages and compensation. Padilla has also been a vocal champion against the dangerous working conditions faced by workers due to an intensifying climate. Last week, at the end of the hottest month in history, Padilla and his colleagues recently led one-hundred and twelve members of Congress to call on the Biden Administration to implement an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace federal heat standard as quickly as possible. The letter urges OSHA to model the federal standard after the provisions in Padilla’s Asunción Valdivia Heat Stress Injury, Illness, and Fatality Prevention Act, legislation he just re-introduced to protect the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. He was also the first Senator to take up UFW on their invitation to work alongside farm workers for a day in the fields.