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December 2, 2003

Things that are actually important. Nathan Newman remarks on the Eighth Circuit’s ruling that Elaine Chao’s Labor Department (not exactly a hotbed of pro-worker activism in the first place) may not require agribusiness giant Advanta USA to provide accessible porta-johns to seasonal fieldworkers.

After noting that conservative opponents of “judicial activism” seem to never have problems with interventions like this, Newman also observes that this decision will probably get next to no attention in the usual liberal talking shops. Gay marriage in Massachusetts is a big deal; the question of whether farmworkers are entitled to take a shit in dignity is dull.

Don’t miss out on Newman’s comment section, where some knowledgable folks are discussing the predictable consequences of making it hard for farmworkers to go to the bathroom. You may not want to eat canned tomatoes again any time soon. [11:00 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Things that are actually important.:

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 12:35 PM:

This is really strange coming as it does so soon after the recent hepatitis-A outbreak, which has been blamed on green onions shipped from Mexico to a restaurant in western Pennsylvania (said restaurant being less than 30 miles from me), and which has caused three deaths and over 500 illnesses. You would think something like that would point out the need for proper hygiene all up and down the food-preparation chain. Apparently, though, this logic is totally outweighed though by "agribusiness" (what an ugly word!) and their "need" to increase its profit margin.

Makes you wonder what *they* eat.

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:14 PM:

The decision is garbage, but that's more due to GI/GO than bad judicial decisionmaking (the lack of deference is, I think, incorrect here). The law itself, designed to be more convenient for agribusiness than workers, is the problem.
Basically, the law says that you place toilets every quarter mile unless it would be inconvenient, in which case you may place them at vehicular access points. That's bad law. The judicial decision simply accepting Advanta's argument that it would be inconvenient to put portapotties in a field is also, of course, stupid.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 06:52 PM:

Always-- ALWAYS-- thoroughly wash those fruits and vegetables.

"American" agriculture-- manned as it is by a combination of legal and illegal immigrants, migrant workers, the (very) occasional family farmer, and otherwise a whole lot of badly paid other people, is amazing. It leads the nation in industrial accidents, it has exemptions from various worker safety rules that cause the first thing, it has exemptions from minimum wage laws that should make other industries incredibly jealous, it uses chemicals and bio agents that should make the rest of us gasp, and on net, it is subsidized to the tune of kazillions, increasing American taxes, screwing up the "free market", and of course, keeping cheaper ag. imports from the Third World safely out-- so that the most desperate nations in the world ALSO suffer needlessly. I won't even talk about distortions caused by ethanol subsidies and the Archer Daniels Midlands and Monsantos out there.

Just another indignity farm workers must suffer in the name of the almighty buck. Probably, not the worst of them by any means, I would guess.

Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 10:52 PM:

Okay, so what can the rest of us *do* about this? Anybody see the New Yorker article this past summer about how Tropicana and Minute Maid, among others, profit from the literal slavery of illegal immigrants picking Florida citrus crops?

What I want is some sort of labeling system that would tell me that the produce I'm buying is "worker safe;" you know, like those dolphin-safe labels on tuna? And if that's never going to happen, I at least want to be able to figure out which canned stuff in the supermarket contains Advanta products so I can boycott them. And I don't know how to get that information: does anyone else here?

Barring "worker safe" labels on the piles of oranges in the produce section of my supermarket, the best bet would seem to be to buy organic produce from local farmers, but that's not always possible. Does anyone here have any good tips for a) ethical eating and b) trying to pressure the likes of Advanta into ethical behavior? Can we call Amnesty International on them?


Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 11:04 PM:

One of the worries this raises has to do with the fact that washing the fruits and veggies can't fix all ills.

I was reading about the Hep A outbreak and the scariest thing about it was the comment that the onions were contaminated in the tissue (from absorption, apparently) and the strictest of food-handling guidlines could not have made those onions safe for raw consumption.

I think I'm gonna plant more veggies.

Terry K.

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 12:13 AM:

As far as food safety/labor concerns go, I've taken up the following small step:
I now avoid American preserved/canned products whenever possible, in favor of European.

Frankly, I pay literally a penny more per can of Italian canned tomato preparations, and I know that not only am I getting better tomatos, I'm likely getting them from a workforce that isn't equally likely to get turned over to la migra by their employer as get paid.

It's a small price. And similar rules go for canned fish and similar.

Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 04:28 AM:

I don't know about Italy, but a significant amount of casual agricultural labour (agricultural casual labour?) here in the UK is done by recent immigrants with little English, good reasons not to talk to the authorities, or both. These days they're more likely to be East European than Indian or Pakistani, but plus qui change...

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 12:35 PM:

And how about the Bush administration's suggestion that we weaken mercury emissions reuqirements for the engery industry. The FDA already has mercury contamination advisories in effect for a number of species of fish.

No lobbiest left behind, I guess.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 12:39 PM:

All this is coming from the administration who had to use its own cooks in England because the Queen's were not satisfactory.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2003, 01:15 PM:

I think the only way you can guarantee something as "worker safe" is to grow it yourself, and this is hardly feasible for most folk, and impossible if you want to have a truly varied diet. Farmers markets are another option, but the only real way to deal with it is to pressure governments and regulatory commissions so that this sort of thing doesn't happen, period.

Dave ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 12:03 AM:

Quoting from the ruling, since none of you could be bothered to skim through it:

Taking advantage of the Standard92s terrain exception, Advanta placed facilities wherever Advanta could find vehicular access, knowing
detasselers would not always be within a one-quarter-mile walk of the facilities.
However, Advanta placed facilities as close to where the detasselers worked without
actually placing the facilities in the middle of the cornfields. Facilities were located
at one end of some rows and both ends of other rows.

Where's the problem with this?

Dave ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 12:21 AM:

And I missed BSD's post. Sorry.

So why is it so bad that they have toilets at the ends of the rows instead of right in the middle of the corn?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 12:24 AM:

Problem the first: your assumption that "none of you could be bothered to skim through it."

Since I know from direct personal experience that that's a lie, I'm not sure why I should take anything else you say seriously. Although, definitely, it would be a grave injustice if a hugely profitable agribusiness operation were to be forced to provide toilets for its seasonal employees. Gosh, it might be mildly inconvenient! My heart is aflutter with sympathy.

Actually, my heart is aflutter with curiosity about exactly what kind of person thinks this would be a grave injustice. Are you retarded, perhaps, or just a sadist at heart? Or, alternately, do you think the lowest level of wage-work should be maximally horrible, just to keep the rest of us in line? The latter option does have the advantage of being sane and rational, at least from the point of view of the owner class. Did they provide you with kneepads, or did you have to buy your own?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 12:42 AM:

Dave, I am perhaps unreasonably prejudiced against people who are rude the first time they show up here. If you were to reconsider the "none of you could be bothered" trope, I'd probably be more impressed than the gesture warrants.

I'm just saying.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2003, 01:08 AM:

Dave, that depends on how long the rows are, and how many and far apart they are, and just what 93some94 and 93other94 mean, doesn92t it?

Dave ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2003, 12:41 AM:

My first post was indeed very rude and ill-considered, and I apologize for insulting all of you.

Avram: Yes, it does, and maybe I'm too inclined to trust the court here, but this looks like one of the few ways migrant workers aren't getting screwed over.

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2003, 09:58 AM:

How big are the fields out West?

In the flatter farming areas of Michigan, I've seen fields that look to be a kilometer across - the narrow way. And I've never been in the flattest farming area of Michigan (in the Thumb).

reg1123 ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2003, 12:21 AM:

The decision said that the fields are a half mile to a mile long and the portapotties were placed at both ends in some cases or at only one end but does not indicate which rows had one and which had two. This could conceivably mean that you would have to walk a mile to take a dump. Guess the members of the court have never done any hard physical labor out in the broiling sun.

As someone who does workers comp cases for a living, I find this decision to be a perversion of the reason labor standards were enacted. If you go back to the policy reasons behind the enactment of these laws, it was in large part to benefit the workers, not the employer. But, again we are living in strange times.


Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2003, 01:51 AM:

One odd bit I noticed in my skimming of the first few pages of the decision was that they took statements made about other situations where workers rode on machines that travelled fairly quickly up and down rows of crops, and applied them to a situation where workers walked up and down the rows.

It seems to me that the best regulation would be worded in terms of travel time to the facilities, rather than distance. Of course, then an employer would hire an Olympic sprinter, and use him to establish benchmark travel times.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2003, 03:00 AM:

This may be veering off-topic, but Jeremy's and Reg1123's comments remind me of the "Walking Purchase", one of the odder ways white settlers cheated the Indians -- and this in Pennsylvania which, due to the Quaker influence, had been more fair about such things. But William Penn was dead by then and his heirs were far less scrupulous.

The short version: the Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indians), who were the predominant native tribe in eastern Pa., had agreed to let the whites have as much land as a man could walk in a day and a half. But the whites hired strong, fast walkers and cleared a path ahead of time, so they were able to walk a much longer distance than the Lenape had expected -- the last of the three walkers travelled approximately 65 miles! Thus the Lenape had to cede much more territory than they'd thought they would.