Guest Blog: My background in farmwork

By Luz Vazquez Hernandez, NCL Child Labor Coalition Summer Intern

Coming from a background of farmwork, I know the struggle against heat. At 14 years old, I began picking blueberries in Michigan during the summer, and from there on I learned to pick a variety of crops all over Michigan and my home base in Florida. I spent my weekends and any school days off – including summers – picking strawberries, squash, pickles, peppers, and jalapeños.

I learned to push my body and to handle extreme weather conditions. I suffered pains and aches that my parents felt every day. Complaining to my parents was not an option, and my body adapted.

Working in the fields during intense heat were the worst moments. Covered in layers from head to toe, with pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a hoodie, and a bandana was my daily attire. Covering most of my face, the bandana made it hard for me to breathe in extreme heat; at times, I felt my body, head, and eyes just shutting off. I felt I could not go any longer, but seeing my parents endure the heat and hold it in, I tried to do the same and distract myself from my thoughts.

It was common to see workers faint, as taking breaks in the shade and drinking water were not enough. I witnessed my mom, dad, and brother faint more than twice in 100-plus-degree weather, which always made me scared; somehow, we all managed to continue our 12 to 13-hour shifts because our paycheck depended on how many crops we picked.

We could not afford to take long lunch breaks – we often had a bite or two of lunch and a Gatorade, and then immediately went back into the fields. Before I turned 19, I stopped working as a harvester because I knew that I had greater opportunities than my parents and that farmwork was not the only job I could have.  I have made it a goal of mine to share my story and continue my education so that I can help create the changes that my community needs.

I am now a rising senior at Michigan State University, and I am interning with the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC). I am grateful because I get to work closely on policies affecting my community and interests. However, knowing that I get to work inside an office with air-conditioning makes me feel guilty because I know that my parents and younger siblings are in Michigan picking crops in this summer heat, sweating, thirsty, and hoping for a cloud to bring shade to them.

As a nation, the United States needs to take immediate action to protect farmworkers from extreme heat exposure. As temperatures rise, farmworkers’ suffering is increasing. Farmworkers feed America and deserve protection.

A current legislative effort addressing heat protection is the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, which sets standards needed to protect workers from heat, such as having drinking water accessible, requiring rest breaks, and providing access to shade. The bill would require employers to educate and train workers to recognize and prevent heat illness and mandate emergency protocols.

In a separate initiative, the Biden administration recently proposed a set of regulations to protect workers in extreme heat. The rules focus on including heat safety regulations at work, and they direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help establish a nationwide protection standard. These two initiatives are vital if we want to protect farmworkers from heat illness.

After years of seeing my parents toil in the fields and working beside them, I feel the need to be an advocate for my community. Interning with the NCL and CLC, I have become acquainted with numerous congressional bills, but the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is one that would affect me and fellow farmworkers. The work of the National Consumers League and Child Labor Coalition and groups like the National Heat Network, organized by Public Citizen, gives me hope that soon farmworkers and other outdoor workers who work in extreme heat will have safer working conditions.

NCL’s Child Labor Coalition praises the Biden Administration’s proposed rule to protect indoor and outdoor workers from extreme heat

July 3, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

WASHINGTON, DC – The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) strongly supports the Biden Administration’s proposed rule to protect indoor and outdoor workers from extreme heat. The U.S. Department of Labor announced the rule on July 2. The CLC is chaired by the National Consumers League (NCL) and has 37 organizational members, including numerous farmworker organizations and nonprofits. Both the CLC and NCL are members of the national Heat Stress Network, organized by Public Citizen.

Read the full proposed rule.

While the proposed rule does not recommend age-specific guidelines for child or teen workers, they would benefit greatly from OSHA-mandated heat-related safety protections. Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke, injuries, illnesses, and even death.

Exemptions to U.S. child labor law allow children in agriculture to work at age 12, and, in some cases, even younger, and those exemptions allow them to work unlimited hours, when school is not in session.

Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy at the Child Labor Coalition, emphasizes the dire conditions faced by outdoor workers: “Farm workers perform physical labor in high heats without the benefit of shade. They work long hours under the hot sun with temperatures well exceeding 90 degrees, sometimes over 100 degrees without a break. They risk passing out, heat stroke, and death. We are most worried about children and teens. There is no doubt that putting rules in place will save lives.”

“President Biden and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su have taken an important first step,” says Maki. “The proposed rule provides a pivotal opportunity to have a national conversation and develop comprehensive OSHA regulations to protect workers across many industries. We strongly urge the Department to add specific protections for children working in agriculture. We know that children are at increased risk of heat illness.”

The Protect Indoor and Outdoor Workers from Extreme Heat rule proposes several critical measures to address worker safety:

  1. Heat Risk Evaluation: Employers would be required to evaluate heat risks and develop comprehensive plans to mitigate these risks, especially when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
  2. Rest Breaks and Hydration: Mandatory rest breaks and access to drinking water are key components to ensure workers stay safe and hydrated.
  3. Acclimatization Protocol: Employers must develop protocols to help new employees or those returning from vacation or sick leave adjust to the heat during their first week back.
  4. Heat Illness and Emergency Response Plan: This includes appointing individuals to implement heat emergency procedures, instructions for transporting affected employees to emergency medical facilities, and procedures for responding to signs of heat-related illness or heat stroke.

The proposed rule extends to indoor work environments as well, ensuring that workers in hot indoor settings are also protected. However, the proposed rule specifically excludes professions such as firefighters and emergency response teams.

Employers would also be required to provide training, implement procedures to respond to heat-related illnesses and take immediate action to assist workers experiencing symptoms of heat emergencies.

Summer heatwaves are upon us, and while many of us retreat to air-conditioned spaces, countless workers endure the blistering sun and soaring temperatures. For those laboring in the fields, on construction sites, and in other outdoor environments, extreme heat can be deadly. Record-breaking temperatures across the United States create life-and-death situations for outdoor workers, and each year, thousands of workers suffer from heat-related illnesses and hundreds die.

Whether working indoors or outdoors in high heat, the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness are the same and include weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fevers, overheating, and muscle cramps. According to the Mayo Clinic, workers are encouraged to exercise caution when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) and extreme caution when they are between 90-103 degrees. Temperatures higher than that are considered dangerous.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Child Labor Coalition lauds Wage and Hour’s Child Labor Enforcement Strategies that includes creating a fund for victims and use of “hot goods” provisions

March 27, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Reid Maki, reidm@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2820

Washington, DC – The Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing 37 groups engaged in the fight against domestic and global child labor, expresses support for the innovative enforcement strategies in this week’s enforcement action by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The action, announced March 25th, involved fines of $296,951 for a Tennessee parts manufacturer, Tuff Torq, and required the company to set aside $1.5 million as “disgorgement” of 30 days’ profit related to the company’s use of child labor. Disgorgement is a legal term for remedy requiring a party that profits from illegal activity to give up any profits that result from that activity.

Tuff Torq, which makes components for outdoor, power-equipment brands such as John Deere, Toro, and Yamaha, illegally employed 10 children, including a 14-year-old, for work that was hazardous—an identified task involved permitting a child to operate a power-driven-hoisting apparatus, which is a prohibited occupational task.

The Department employed several new or recent strategies in the case, including employing the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “hot goods” provision, which was used to stop the shipment of goods made with oppressive child labor.

“The use of the ‘hot goods’ enforcement tool is also an important new strategy, which Wage and Hour announced it would use last year,” said Reid Maki, director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League (NCL) and the CLC. “It’s another critical tool in DOL’s arsenal. Once companies realize that the shipment of goods has been stopped, they feel an immediate impact of the violation.”

“This is the first use of victim’s fund that we have noticed in a child labor enforcement action,” added Maki. “Teens employed in factory settings are often unaccompanied minors and typically very impoverished. When enforcement agents find teens working illegally, they are dismissed with no resources to survive, move forward, and reassemble their lives. A victim’s fund is something the CLC and the Campaign to End US Child Labor – the CLC is a founding member – has touted as desperately needed.”

A third innovation involves how DOL calculates child labor fines. DOL recently announced it planned to change formulas for calculating fines, which previously had been capped at $15,000 per child involved in violations at a specific work site. The new strategy involves applying the maximum fines for each violation, not limited to the number of children involved.

“It’s clear they have used the new formula in the Tuff Torq fines,” said Maki. “Fines levels came in at an average of $30,000 per child—almost double what we would have seen under the old formula. With Congress unable, at this point, to pass into law any of several bills that would increase fines by a factor of ten, DOL’s creativity here is most welcome. Fines must be raised to inflict some real pain on corporate perpetrators. We’re not where we want to be yet, but it’s good to inch closer.”

“Wage and Hour also deserves praise for directing its enforcement action at Tuff Torq,” noted Maki. “In the past, corporations that benefited from child labor have often not been held accountable, as they blamed staffing agencies for illegal hires. Holding beneficiaries accountable is something DOL said it would do when it announced its meatpacking investigation results in February 2023—it’s great to see it happening.”

The Wage and Hour Division faces a big challenge in that its inspectorate, estimated at below 750 inspectors, is too small for a country the size of the U.S. The CLC has called for a doubling of the inspectorate over the next five years and is working to help increase congressional appropriations for that purpose.

Wage and Hour has noted a sharp increase in child labor in recent years, having found 5,792 minors working in violation of child labor laws. The Economic Policy Institute indicates the increase in violations is 300 percent since 2015.

“We are especially troubled by the prevalence of children in hazardous work,” said CLC Chair Sally Greenberg, who is also the CEO of the National Consumers League. “Far too many children are working illegally in meatpacking, auto supply factories, and other hazardous work sites. The U.S. can and must do more to protect these vulnerable children.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Child Labor Coalition welcomes the Senate Introduction of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety Act of 2024 (CARE Act)

March 25, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Reid Maki, reidm@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2820

Washington, DC – With the beginning of Farmworker Awareness Week today, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing 37 groups engaged in the fight against domestic and global child labor, applauds Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and for introducing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE). The legislation, introduced on March 21, would close long-standing loopholes that permit children in agriculture to work for wages when they are only 12 and 13—younger than other teens can work. The bill would also ban jobs on farms labeled “hazardous” by the U.S. Department of Labor if workers are under the age of 18. Current U.S. law allows children to perform hazardous work at age 16.

“With their whole future ahead of them, our country must do better protecting children working in the agriculture industry,” said Senator Luján. “Across the country, thousands of children are working under hazardous conditions in the agriculture sector, risking their health and education. I’m introducing the CARE Act to raise the floor and bring our agricultural labor lines in with other industries to better protect children and improve the working conditions they operate in.”

“It’s amazing to us that discriminatory loopholes, which allow very young kids to work 70- and 80-hours a week, performing back-breaking labor on farms, have been allowed to exist since the 1930s,” said Reid Maki, Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League and the Child Labor Coalition. “The impact of the exemptions on farmworker children educationally is harmful and their health is at significant risk on farms.”

“We’re grateful for Senator Luján’s tremendous leadership on this issue.” said the CLC’s Chair Sally Greenberg, also the CEO of the National Consumers League. “It’s been 22 years since we’ve had a Senate bill that would fix our weak child labor laws that discriminate against farmworker children and leave them unprotected from farm dangers. This day was long overdue. We applaud Senator Lujan for taking action to protect child farmworkers.

“Growing up as a migrant farmworker child, I saw first-hand the detrimental consequences of our inequitable child labor laws,” says Norma Flores López, Chair of the Child Labor Coalition’s Domestic Issues Committee. “Working 70 hours a week, performing back-breaking work did not prepare me for a career in agriculture. Rather, it robbed me of my childhood and my health. Working children must be protected from dangerous work that is not age-appropriate, and the CARE Act provides this critical change in our labor laws.”

In the House, Rep. Raul Ruiz introduced a version of the CARE Act, H.R. 4046, earlier in the congressional session; it has 45 cosponsors.

The Senate bill, which does not have a number yet, has been endorsed by 46 organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the Economic Policy Institute, the UFW, Farmworker Justice, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Farm Medicine Center. The House version has been endorsed by 200 national, regional, and state-based organizations, noted Maki.

“The US will not fix the country’s child labor problem until Congress provides children working in agriculture with the same protections as all other working children. Congress should pass this bill without delay to protect children from dangerous work that harms their health and development,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director, Human Rights Watch.

In addition to raising the minimum age at which children could work in agriculture, CARE would significantly increase minimum fines for employers who violate agricultural child labor laws; the bill would also establish minimum fines for the first time. The legislation would also codify a ban on children applying pesticides and increase data collection and analysis of child farmworker injuries.

The children of farm owners working on their parents’ farms would not be covered by the protections of the CARE Act—this aligns with the wishes of organized farmer groups.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

National Consumers League condemns legislation in Florida that preempts local ordinances to protect workers from heat exposure

March 15, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League is condemning a vote by the Florida House of Representatives to approve legislation that will upend Miami-Dade’s proposed local workplace standards requiring drinking water, cooling measures, recovery periods, posting or distributing materials informing workers how to protect themselves, and requiring first aid or emergency responses. The Florida Senate approved the measure yesterday.

This measure rushed through the state legislature ahead of adjournment on Friday, March 8th and will prevent local governments throughout Florida from requiring water, shade breaks or training so workers can protect themselves from heat illness, injury, and fatality.

Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy for the Child Labor Coalition under the National Consumers League, made this statement:

“Not only is the Florida legislature usurping the duty of local government to protect workers from heat stress in one of the hottest states in America, but by denying workers access to water and protection this Dickensian measure ignores the reality of heat and heatstroke among Florida’s workers. Indeed, hundreds of workers die across the U.S. from heat exposure each year. The legislation also forbids the posting of educational materials to help workers protect themselves from the heat.

NCL has throughout its history worked to eradicate child labor and abusive labor practices, including protecting children in America working in the fields from exposure to heat, dangerous chemicals, and long hours. U.S. law allows children to work at younger ages in the agricultural sector despite its significantly increased danger. It also allows teens to do work known to be dangerous at younger ages—16 versus 18. NCL works to close both of those loopholes and protect children from agricultural dangers and exploitation. These vulnerable teen workers in agriculture are at great risk from heat exposure.

NCL is urging Governor Ron DeSantis to veto this legislation. NCL also urges the United States Congress to enact the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, which would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt interim heat standards, while the agency continues its years-long slog of adopting a final heat protection rule. NCL is a member of the national Heat Stress Network, which works to protect outdoor works from heat dangers.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization to present annual awards to Former HHS Secretary and Former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, California AG Rob Bonta, and child marriage survivor and activist Fraidy Reiss on Wednesday, October 11

October 11, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, has announced it will honor former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Governor of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius and California Attorney General Rob Bonta with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award, on Wednesday, October 11 in Washington, DC.

In addition to the Trumpeter Award, NCL will honor activist Fraidy Reiss with the 2023 Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, named for NCL’s first general secretary and one of the most influential figures in 20th century American history. Reiss is a forced marriage survivor and activist who founded Unchained At Last.

The National Consumers League is also proud to announce that it has bestowed an honorary Trumpeter Award to President Joseph Biden for his exceptional work to protect consumers and workers. President Biden’s focus on safeguarding hard-working Americans from the burdens of hidden or junk fees is unprecedented and deserves special recognition, says NCL’s Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg. No living president has ever been given this award.

MEDIA ADVISORY

What:              National Consumers League’s 2023 Trumpeter Awards
When:             Wednesday, October 11, 2023

                         7 pm Presentation of Awards

Where:            Mayflower Hotel DC 1127 Connecticut Ave, NW

                         Washington, DC 20036

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, has been honoring visionaries in consumer and worker protection with its annual Trumpeter Award since 1973. Past honorees include: Senator Ted Kennedy, the award’s inaugural recipient; as well as Labor Secretaries Hilda Solis, Robert Reich, and Alexis Herman; Senators Carl Levin and Paul Wellstone; Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers; U.S. Representative John Lewis; and other honored consumer and labor leaders.

Last year’s Trumpeter recipients were U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the National Institutes of Health and former Science Advisor to the President. Mary Cheh, Ward 3 DC Councilmember, was recipient of the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award.

This year’s Trumpeter Awards will feature a reception, dinner, and speaking appearances by NCL leadership, honorees, as well as:

  • Susan Hogan, NBC News4 Consumer Investigative Reporter
  • Lael Brainard, Director, National Economic Council
  • Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Brian L. Schwalb, Attorney General, Washington, DC
  • Carol Ode, Representative, Vermont State Legislature
  • NCL Board President Joan Bray, Former Senator, Missouri General Assembly
  • NCL Board Member Jenny Backus, Backus Consulting
  • NCL Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg

To learn more, visit NCL Trumpeter Awards.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Safety in question: The alarming disparities between cannabis product health claims and research, and the magnified risks for women

By Health Policy Intern Grace Lassila

July 27, 2023

When I started my National Consumers League (NCL) internship in May 2023, I quickly dove into NCL’s health policy work. NCL is leading on several efforts to protect consumers –one area of focus that stood out to me is their work in the cannabis policy space. NCL is a founding member of Cannabis Consumer Watch (CCW), which educates consumers on cannabinoids, their effects, the risks related to the unregulated marketplace, and the ways policymakers and regulators can help protect consumers. NCL is also a part of the Collaborative for Cannabinoid Science and Safety (CCSS), which also works to educate people about cannabinoids and policy in the interest of public health.

CCW’s “test your cannabis knowledge” quiz was shocking for me. Going into the quiz, I was fairly confident about my knowledge, but as I started getting wrong answer after wrong answer, I realized I had no idea that not only are these products under-researched, but they may pose serious public health risks for consumers. Products can be sold, without having gained FDA approval, making false claims about their medicinal abilities.  And side effects are not adequately researched or revealed to consumers.

One particularly concerning aspect of the cannabis marketplace is that while CBD or Delta-8 or other cannabis products are often marketed to women, there is a concerning lack of research into the safety of these products for women. Historically, misogyny and sex discrimination have made women’s health severely under-researched and underfunded. More research on diseases, disorders, and medication is conducted on men, not women. Women are misdiagnosed far greater than men are, and experience dangerous health outcomes because of it (Greenhalgh). And without sufficient research and data on women’s health, it is incredibly difficult for legislators to write policy (Adams). Overall, for women’s health to improve, more resources need to be devoted to this issue.

Despite cannabis companies’ marketing efforts that claim their products can help with anything from menstrual cycle-related pain to morning sickness, there is little insight into the effects of cannabis or cannabis derivatives on women, pregnant people, nursing parents, and newborns. What we do know is that the risks are very real – a recent study found that THC use during pregnancy was linked to changes in fetal development and several studies have shown that CBD can be transferred to a baby via breast milk. The FDA strongly advises against THC or CBD usage while pregnant or breastfeeding. And, given the evidence currently available, I would caution any women from using these products for medical benefit.

The lack of regulation, as well as research, is very concerning. Because the FDA currently does not regulate these products, consumers have no way of knowing whether the dosage, ingredients, or claims on the label are accurate and no way of knowing whether or not they are contaminated. Though some products may acknowledge they are ‘Not Approved by FDA,’ many consumers may not see this fine print – and assume that anything they can buy at their local grocery store must be safe for consumption. While the risks of an unregulated cannabis marketplace affects all consumers, women who need medical health and relief and turn to cannabis products may be more at risk.

The good news is that in January of this year, the FDA recognized this grey area for regulation – particularly for CBD – and stated that CBD would not be regulated as a food and dietary supplement anymore, because of the unknown safety risks, and requesting that Congress act quickly to protect public health and the consumers involved.

While cannabis products are often marketed as a miracle drug, they are not. While there may be some health benefits, without comprehensive research and regulation of these products, the risks outweigh the potential good. Consumers remain responsible for making their health decisions, and women in particular should be vigilant. The FDA is heading in the right direction but more must be done to protect consumers – and women in particular. I encourage you to learn more about a safe path forward here and help NCL raise awareness of this important issue.

Sources:

Adams, Katie. “Women’s Health Is Suffering Due to Lack of Research and Funding, Experts Say.” MedCity News, 9 Dec. 2022, medcitynews.com/2022/12/womens-health-is-suffering-due-to-lack-of-research-and-funding-experts-say/#:~:text=Women’s%20health%20has%20been%20historically,healthcare%20conference%20in%20Washington%2C%20D.C.

Eversheds Sutherland. “FDA Says ‘No’ to CBD: Now What?” FDA Says “No” to CBD: Now What? – Eversheds Sutherland, us.eversheds-sutherland.com/mobile/NewsCommentary/Legal-Alerts/256713/FDA-says-no-to-CBD-Now-what#:~:text=Since%202018%2C%20the%20FDA%20has,%2Dapproved%20drug%20(Epidiolex). Accessed 6 July 2023.

Greenhalgh, Ally. “Medicine and Misogyny: The Misdiagnosis of Women.” Confluence, 5 Dec. 2022, confluence.gallatin.nyu.edu/sections/research/medicine-and-misogyny-the-misdiagnosis-of-women.

Grinspoon, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD): What We Know and What We Don’t.” Harvard Health, 24 Sept. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476.

“What You Should Know about Using CBD When Pregnant or Breastfeeding.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/what-you-should-know-about-using-cannabis-including-cbd-when-pregnant-or-breastfeeding#:~:text=FDA%20strongly%20advises%20against%20the,during%20pregnancy%20or%20while%20breastfeeding.&text=Cannabis%20and%20Cannabis-derived%20products,products%20appearing%20all%20the%20time. Accessed 6 July 2023.

Growing up in fields

By Child Labor Coalition Intern Jacqueline Aguilar

July 20, 2023

I grew up in a small rural area named Center, Colorado which has a population of about 2,000 people. Growing up my parents were always working in the fields, I remember my father coming home from work, and I would feel how raspy his hands were on my face. I would always ask myself, “Why are his hands so rough?” Eventually, I realized it was because of the hard work he did every day.

In middle school, buying school clothes was difficult for my parents. I started working in the lettuce fields at the age of eleven with many of my friends. We would go in at 5:00 am and get out around 2:00 pm, my parents couldn’t take me to work because they had their own job to get to, so I would have to catch a ride with my supervisor at 4:30am and get home around 3:00 pm.

Walking down those lettuce fields was draining physically, and mentally. It consisted of tired feet walking down the field with my blistered hands holding a bulky hoe and keeping an eye out on the lettuce heads making sure they grew the right way. Most days would start with the fields cold and wet with dew. I was often drenched in mud. By the time the sun rose, it was boiling outside. I would still wear layers of clothes to avoid getting sunburnt and wrap bandanas around my head and neck.

There was no cold water available for us during working hours, or even on our lunch break. We normally worked a 12-hour shift with a 30-minute lunch—typically just cold food or snacks since we didn’t have enough time to go home and make something.

I found the work exhausting, so I started working a food service job. But soon found myself back in the fields when my father got diagnosed with lung cancer. My father had migrated to the U.S. when he was 19 and had been working in the fields ever since. The cancer could have been caused from the fertilizer, dust, and pesticides that he breathed in the fields.

My mother is now disabled with torn ligaments in her shoulder, which can also be from her field work and the movements of sorting the potatoes for so many years.

My parents were unable to provide for me financially and had to move three hours from home for my dad’s cancer treatment, so I worked the potato harvest while attending high school. I juggled a lot of responsibilities during this time, and it was difficult to still be a child with so much on my plate.

I recall one morning it began to snow, we didn’t know any better, so we kept working in the heavy weather. My fingers and feet grew ice-cold as I sorted potatoes, and I wished they would tell us to go home for the day. At that moment, I knew I wanted more for myself.

I am trying to give back to my community. I dedicate two days of my week tutoring ESL students at Center Middle School, where I previously attended. I want to help Spanish-speaking students continue school without the language barrier.

I have also been connected to the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program since youth. For the past three years, I have been the Otero Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Recruiter in the San Luis Valley in Colorado which allows me to promote a good program that benefits farmworker children and parents. I am an active member of the College Assistance Migrant Program at Adams State University where I’ve learned the value of an educational community and the power of coming together to work toward a common goal.

I am now a rising junior at Adams State University working toward a major in sociology with an emphasis in social work and a minor in Spanish. I hope to receive my Master’s degree at Colorado State University-Pueblo to become a medical social worker. I want to stay close to my community to help families that face barriers to medical services—just as mine did when my father had cancer.

The Child Labor Coalition expresses alarm over the results of DOL’s investigation into child labor at meatpacking plants in the U.S. and calls for current protections to be enhanced, not weakened

February 21, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org(202) 823-8442

Washington, D.C. – The Child Labor Coalition, consisting of 39 organizational members who work to end exploitative child labor domestically and internationally, calls attention to today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that its just-completed investigation found 102 children working in cleaning crews in 13 meatpacking plants in eight states. DOL levied a fine of $1.5 million in civil money penalties against Packer Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI).

The children often worked the graveyard shift and used caustic chemical agents while they cleaned meat processing equipment including backsaws, brisket saws and head splitters. DOL learned that three minors were injured while working for PSSI.

Sally Greenberg, chair of the Child Labor Coalition, publicly called for meatpacking plants to be investigated for underage worker in 2008 during a congressional hearing on child labor.

“While we applaud this seemingly robust investigation by U.S. DOL, we wonder why the meatpacking firms who benefited from illegal child labor are not being held liable,” said Reid Maki, who is the Child Labor Coalitions coordinator and the Director of Child labor Advocacy for U.S. DOL. “Firms like JBS Foods, Tyson Food, Cargill, Turkey Valley Farms and others, hired PSSI to do the cleaning but company employees witness underage workers performing hazardous work with dangerous chemicals and did nothing to stop it. Why aren’t these companies being punished?” he asked.

Maki noted that the fine amount is the legal maximum that DOL could assess in the case but $1.5 million is roughly one day’s revenue for a company like PSSI that has over $450 million in annual revenue. “We would really love to see maximum and minimum child labor fines increased, and we had discussions with Senator Schatz’s office about it this very week,” he noted.

Maki noted that the investigation results are well-timed because the state of Iowa is considering a reprehensible child labor bill that would allow children to work expanded hours and in hazardous work areas.

“Iowa bill S.F. 167 not only extends hours for teen work, it permits minors to work in highly hazardous areas like meatpacking loading docks and assembly areas,” said Maki. “It’s a cynical, dangerous bill that builds in liability waivers for employers against teen worker injuries that the legislative authors know will happen. We strongly oppose this bill.”

Other states, including Ohio and Minnesota, are considering bills to weaken hard-won child protections.

Maki also noted giant loopholes in U.S. child labor law that expose child workers on farms to great risks. “Our weak child labor laws allow kids who are only 12 to work unlimited hours on farms when school is not in session. We’ve met many 12-year-olds who work 70–80-hours a week in the summer and in stifling heat, performing back-breaking labor,” explained Maki. “A teen worker has to be 18 to perform hazardous work in the U.S. but in agriculture they only need to be 16,” he added.

“The presence of young children in farm work, makes it critical that U.S.DOL begin enhancing hazardous work rules for child workers in agriculture,” said Maki. “DOL succumbed to political pressure when it scuttled needed protections over a decade ago and since then has refused to honor its responsibility to protect kids from known work dangers.”

We have also been waiting for DOL to protect child tobacco workers who regularly become ill from nicotine absorption and poisoning, noted Maki. “You must be 21 to buy cigarettes in the U.S., why does U.S. law allow tobacco growers to hire 12-year-olds to harvest this toxic crop? DOL needs to do more to protect these vulnerable workers.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Do children in America ever work in deplorable, dangerous, Dickensian conditions? The short answer is “yes.”

Reid Maki is the director of child labor advocacy at the National Consumers League and he coordinates the Child Labor Coalition.

Most Americans are unaware that the U.S. still has child labor, but 2022 made it abundantly clear that we do, and stories in the news made it clear that conditions can be downright shocking. Here are 10 child labor stories or developments that indicate child labor in the U.S. is not something in the past. Through the Child Labor Coalition, which the National Consumers League founded in 1989, we bring together 39 groups to work collectively to reduce international and domestic child labor and to protect working teens from occupational dangers. Our top 2022 U.S. developments:

  • Minors found working illegally in Brazilian-owned JBS meatpacking facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota. Several children suffered caustic chemical burns, including one 13-year-old. The children worked on the killing floor in cleaning crews, toiling long nights in the graveyard shift and used dangerous pressure-washing hoses while they stood in water mixed with animal parts. Initially, the number of children numbered 31 in Nebraska and Minnesota, but U.S. DOL has suggested the number of illegally employed teens in processing plant cleaning crews may be much larger. The CLC has expressed concerns about teens illegally working in meat processing plants since a large immigration raid in Iowa in 2003 found 50 minors working illegally in the plant.
  • Teens found working in an Alabama factory that supplied parts to Hyundai. In July, labor officials found three siblings, aged 12, 14, and 15, working in an Alabama stamping plant that supplied part to the car manufacturer Hyundai. According to reports, a larger number of minors worked in the factory in recent years. The story drew enormous publicity because factory-based child labor in the U.S. has become rare.
  • The Wisconsin legislature passed a bill to weaken child labor laws by expanding the hours of teen work, which endangers children’s educational development and presents certain health risks. The CLC amplified the work of labor unions on social media, we also wrote a letter to Gov. Tony Evers, urging him to veto the proposed legislation, which he did in February. According to research, high school age workers who toil more than 20 hours a week get lower grades and have an increased risk of dropping out.
  • An estimated 300,000 children still work for wages in agriculture, performing backbreaking labor in searing heat. Currently, federal law allows children who are only 12 to work unlimited hours as long as they are working when school is not in session. Federal legislation which would protect child farmworkers, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE), H.R. 7345, would raise the minimum age of farm work from 12 to at least 14 and lift the age of hazardous work from the current 16 to 18—the same as all other sectors. CARE saw some promising developments in 2022, including the holding of a congressional hearing on the bill—the first since 2009. We also secured over 200 organizational endorsements for CARE and we worked with CLC-members Human Rights Watch, Justice for Migrant Women, and First Focus Campaign for Children to obtain 47 CARE legislative cosponsors.
  • The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act, H.R. 3865 –and its companion bill S.2044—would ban child labor on U.S. tobacco farms where children toil long hours and routinely suffer symptoms of nicotine poisoning such as vomiting, fainting, dizziness, headaches and nausea. In a desperate attempt to keep nicotine off their skin, many teen tobacco workers toil while wearing black plastic garbage bags with holes punched out for their arms and head. Some teens work at great heights and great danger in tobacco drying barns. In the U.S., you have to be 21 to buy cigarettes but at age 12, you can work on tobacco farms and suffer poisoning from toxic nicotine. In this congressional session, we helped secure 32 cosponsors for H.R. 3865—more than double the amount of cosponsors in the 116th.
  • Enforcement of domestic child labor laws in 2022 through mid-November saw an almost 40 percent increase in the number of child workers involved in a violation of child labor rules—nearly 4,000 children, according to reporting by com, using Department of Labor data. Nearly 20 percent of the violations involved teens performing hazardous work.
  • USDOL and state labor agencies frequently found child labor violations among fast food restaurants. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey fined Dunkin’, the donut franchises, $145,000 for over 1,200 child labor violations in 14 stores. U.S. DOL found violations in 13 Pittsburgh area McDonalds restaurants in which teens worked too many hours or too late, as well as a case of a teen doing prohibited hazardous work
  • In September, Human Rights Watch, a CLC member, issued a child rights report card for all U.S. states related to child marriage, child labor, juvenile justice, and corporal punishment, and how well they meet the standards set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Alarmingly, only four states earned passing grades: 20 received an “F”; 26 received a “D”; four received a “C” and none received a “B” or and “A.”
  • In July, Massachusetts became the seventh US state to ban entirely child marriage. Like child marriage globally, U.S. child marriage has substantial health, educational, and financial impacts on teens who marry. Most states have broad exemptions that allow teens to marry with the approval of parents or the courts. Massachusetts joins six other states that passed legislation to end child marriage: New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The CLC is a member of the National Coalition to End Child Marriage, headed by the NGO Unchained at Last.
  • The CLC and HRW held a series of meetings with Wage and Hour in 2022 to secure the reopening of the occupational child safety rules for agriculture called “Hazardous Occupation Orders.” These rules have not been updated for agriculture in roughly four decades despite many lessons-learned about farm injuries during that time. We also helped Rep. Roybal-Allard and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) draft a letter to DOL Secretary Walsh urging enhanced safety precautions. The letter had 47 congressional signatories.