Migrants' conditions 'deplorable' Plan to expose violations on farms reportedly scuttled

September 23, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Farm worker advocates have charged that the White House bowed to farm employer pressure two years ago and blocked a comprehensive plan by then-Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole to improve "deplorable" conditions of migrant farm workers.

Aides who worked on the 152-page plan -- a copy of which was provided to the Los Angeles Times -- confirmed that political considerations helped block its main recommendation: A series of "concentrated, high-visibility enforcement strikes" to uncover wage and health violations on farms throughout the country.

Some of the strikes were planned for farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

A spokesman for current Secretary of Labor Lynn M. Martin contended that 25 of 35 major items in the plan have been or are being implemented and that an additional seven are under study. The spokesman, assistant secretary Steven I. Hofman, said investigators have conducted some raids.

Farm worker advocates strongly disputed Mr. Hofman's statement, charging that the government has done little to rectify the problems of migrant workers.

"His claim is not only a joke but a demonstrable lie," said Joseph Kinney, executive director of the National Safe Workplace Institute in Chicago. "All the data on farm worker protection are going backward. Each year, thousands of farm workers suffer from pesticide poisoning, a wide range of occupationally related injuries and fatalities, outrageous field sanitation and other abuses."

Ms. Dole sent her plan to the White House in July 1990. She said in an accompanying memo that she was "about to implement" her initiative because "I have personally witnessed the deplorable living and working conditions of some migrant farm workers . . . I was shocked and deeply moved."

The plan's main thrust was to deploy Department of Labor "strike forces" to investigate violations.

Three months after submitting her plan, Ms. Dole resigned to head the American Red Cross, partly in frustration over the White House's rejection of the migrant worker initiative, sources said.

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