Manuel Cunha, Jr.: Harassment Not “A Big Problem” On Farms
June 25, 2013, 9:28 pm ET
Manuel Cunha, Jr. is the president of the Nisei Farmers League, a trade association representing farm owners across California. Sexual harassment might be an issue for some farm workers, he told FRONTLINE, but the scope of the problem is no greater in agriculture than it is in other industries. “I can’t say it’s a big problem,” said Cunha. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 27, 2013.
What is the Nisei Farmers League?
It is an agricultural organization that represents growers of all types — ranchers, farmers, any farmworkers.
Everywhere in the country?
Predominantly in California, north to south, east to west, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Provo, Utah.
And you represent them in what context?
… Everything from immigration, making sure we have the right immigration bills and the right immigration issues out there that need to be addressed. [We] also deal with the Department of Homeland Security and audits that are going on that are incorrect and that are targeted toward certain groups of communities.
We work with our farmers on water, pesticides, transportation, housing, air equality, even issues related to illness, and even issues as you’re talking about today, teaching our foremans [sic], our growers, owners about sexual harassment. And as a matter of fact, we’re working with EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] putting together a video over the next three months on training about sexual harassment that will work with employees.
… Let’s go to the issue. You had said that you’re developing a video with the EEOC on issues of sexual harassment.
What was your reaction when the Human Rights Watch report came out and said that there [is] essentially an epidemic of sexual harassment and violence in the agricultural sector?
I disagree with the report. I disagree with the findings. We know what’s going on in our farms. We’re in the farms. We don’t just sit in our office. We go out in the field and train workers, meet with workers, a variety of things.
“There is probably harassment going on, not just in agriculture in California, but all businesses, state agencies and even our Capitol.”
We did this because we’ve been doing it for the last eight years, been doing trainings. … We see the questions that are fielded to our safety programs, to our sexual harassment training, and that was the biggest request by workers: Can we have a video like you did with heat illness? We said: “My God, that’s a great idea. So let’s do it.”
So we met with the director in L.A.; we met with one of the commissioners in Washington, D.C. And we have a small little film crew — nothing of the elegance of this — that we’re going to be developing a video [with] that’s about eight to nine minutes and will be able to be shown to the workers in the field, shown to supervisors.
They came to us saying we did a great job on the heat illness video and [what] a fantastic job the industry did working with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]; could you do something like that? The workers’ foreman, the crew boss. said: “Yeah, let’s do it. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
… You said that when you saw the Human Rights Watch’s report, you disagreed with it.
I disagreed with it because of the facts. I don’t see any facts. I see my industry every day, and we don’t see it.
I don’t see the cases flying out of this Fresno office. I don’t see EEOC cases. I don’t see anything even from the state or fair housing and unemployment agency [Department of Fair Employment and Housing]. I don’t see anything from Wage and Hour [Division]. I don’t see anything from DOL [Department of Labor]. …
… When [EEOC regional counsel] Bill Tamayo tells us that his cases represent the tip of an iceberg, what’s your reaction?
I don’t see any of the cases; I don’t see the facts. It’s easy to make all of these claims, but until the claims are proven and documented, fine.
Is there a problem in the industry? There certainly probably is, but I don’t see cases. But I also know cases out of agriculture. I can talk about my county; I can talk about my construction industry; I can talk about Sacramento County. There are cases.
Now, if there are certain cultures that are more vulnerable, then I can say OK, we need to look at that. Where is the vulnerability from?
The vulnerability that they describe, Mr. Tamayo and others, is that you are dealing in an industry with a huge power differential between, in many cases, undocumented, but not necessarily, and in some cases not literate farmworkers.
I don’t agree with that statement at all. We pay the minimum wage and above. The average worker in this state is paid somewhere around $9-something, or whatever it is. …
… They say that agricultural workers are in isolated conditions, generally, out in the middle of the fields in various places; many of them are illiterate or don’t speak English. Some of them don’t even speak Spanish; they speak various indigenous dialects. They are not aware of what their rights are generally. Especially if you’re undocumented, you don’t have much recourse.
This puts them in a relationship where their supervisors and foremen, [it's] a top-down relationship where they can be manipulated and they can be preyed upon. And this has led to what’s been called an epidemic of sexual harassment and violence.
… My biggest problem in the San Joaquin Valley today is human trafficking and drug activity upon even the women, holding girls and women hostage so that the men can move the drugs. And they are fearing for their lives, and they are prostituting. And many other things that go on when the cartel controls people, including men or boys. …
So there is sexual violence; there is kidnapping. If you will, there is the denial [of] liberty. These mostly undocumented people are being exploited, you agree at least, by the cartels?
One hundred percent. …
But when people bring up the subject of undocumented, primarily undocumented female farmers working in the fields, and they are at the mercy some would say of their supervisors and foreman, and they are reporting, according to the EEOC and others, that part of the price of working is submitting to sexual harassment and possibly sexual favors, you don’t believe that?
No. I believe that there is a very small percentage of that going on, because their own culture is taking advantage of their own, just like they did in IRCA, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, when many Hispanic groups were formed. Consultants, to legalize people, falsify documents and everything — their own culture.
That’s not to say that that’s right or wrong. It’s absolutely bad. Do we have workers of female sex and male sex being harassed by a crew boss or by other workers? There probably is. There probably is.
And do your members know?
If our members know about it, if a grower knows about it, we get a call immediately. We go out and find out what’s going on. In most cases, any time an issue comes to our organization, we’re on it within that day. We don’t let it ripen for a week or two.
Especially those types of issues that we need to resolve immediately, and especially when it endangers workers’ lives, their freedom, their rights of any type, we’ll get on it immediately, and we will deal with those. But in the last several years, we’ve only had two harassment cases.
… You’ve only had two harassment cases?
That you’ve been made aware of.
That I know of, that dealt with our members. And that was it. Now, is there more? If there are, I don’t hear about them. The agency does a very poor job then of doing outreach and education.
I think the question goes back: Does EEOC do outreach and education? And the answer is they don’t have a budget. And that’s pretty sad.
… The entire budget of EEOC, with all the things they do, makes them one of the smallest independent agencies in the federal government.
But it doesn’t matter. Education is education. You go to the Department of Education and you get funding. You go to the chair of the committee. That’s a poor excuse.
We’re doing it at the cost of our organization and our growers. We’re developing educational materials because we believe that the education is in the field; the education is in the packinghouse; the education is driving a tractor. If we don’t have education and awareness, then how do people deal with all that?
… Can I read you something [National Farm Workers Association co-founder Dolores Huerta] said?
… I’d like to hear her comment.
She says that this sexual harassment that we’re talking about is an epidemic in the fields. She says that she recently talked to a group of people, women. They said on a particular crew, every single woman on this crew said the foreman had hit on every single one of them.
She said: “I know employers are in total denial about this. They don’t take responsibility for their workers. Management will often take the word of the foreman or manager against a woman if she does come forward, and women know this. They know that they are not going to be heard. They know that nobody is going to be there to support them and protect them, and this adds to their reluctance to come forward.” That would explain why you only have two cases.
No, it does not. Dolores Huerta, bring me those cases. Go have your UFW [United Farm Workers] go pick at the grower if all of these cases have been going on.
You pick at the growers to unionize them. Then why don’t you go to that grower and say, “Hey, we have nine women here, and we’re filing charges”? Or go to the California Rural Legal [Assistance] and file the charges. But to say and do nothing, then I have a problem with that. I have a real problem with that.
If our growers know there is a problem, we are going to deal with it. And to have all the women in the crew get hit on by the staff crew boss, and the same thing, then I wonder what’s going on there, because it should have been taken care of — the third woman, the fourth woman, the fifth woman — because all of them aren’t illegals. There are married women probably and resident aliens and probably citizens working in these crews.
But, Dolores, why didn’t you go and address it? You are going to pick at farmers anyway on pesticide and no wages and all that. Why didn’t you go to the grower and tell [them] that? Because, well, we were fearful for their job and their lives. No, that’s a poor excuse.
Bill Tamayo, EEOC regional counsel, he says that … women come to him and say –this is a quote — that “women are being raped in the fields by co-workers and supervisors,” and that they call it “the green motel.”
If a state agency person is saying that, legal counsel, I have a problem with him, number one, for making those type of accusations as a federal or state employee or attorney. I’ve never heard it called that.
You’ve never heard “the field of panties”?
No. And I’ve never heard that we literally rape the women in the fields. I’ve never heard that from a farmworker, and I talk to a hell of a lot of farmworkers.
You know the Harris Ranch case?
I know of the Harris Ranch case, and that’s all I will say about it. I mean, I didn’t read the case.
You know it’s the only one of these cases that’s gone to trial.
I know that.
You know that there is a seven-figure judgment against Harris Ranch, that it was upheld on appeal.
I know that it’s what I read in the newspaper.
Why wouldn’t you study it if it’s right here in Fresno, or nearby, and it’s an example that you say you’re looking for? You’re looking for cases that are going to go to court.
No, that’s not what I said. When cases go to court … our goal is to teach and educate our growers, our contractors, our foremans and the workers that they have rights and that employees cannot be [mis]treated and must be paid the right wages and must have the right, safe working conditions.
And if there are problems that exist in the field by the foreman or by the supervisor, we’ve got to deal with it. That’s what our organization does. I don’t go around looking for case trials, witch-hunting. I’m not one of those type of lawyers or ambulance drivers. Our organization goes out and does training on the issues that are important.
I understand, but you began this conversation saying to me that there are no cases; there are very few cases.
We don’t see them in the news.
Or many of the cases the EEOC does never even become public record.
I don’t know that.
Maybe then I’m giving you some new information.
Maybe I need to hire someone to go out looking. No, I feel that my time and my staff’s time for my organization is more important educating.
… The most prominent case to this day that has gone to trial on these issues is a rape case involving a woman here, and tried here in Fresno, in the federal courthouse here. She alleged she was raped three times at Harris Ranch and assaulted a fourth time physically, and that’s when she decided to complain, basically. She was intimidated beforehand and didn’t know what her rights were. She began to learn about them, and the last incident took place, and she eventually wound up at EEOC, and she filed both an EEOC action and a private lawsuit.
I can’t comment on that.
Does that represent a valid case to you of sexual harassment and rape?
If that actually happened, if it did, that is not acceptable at all, by anybody. And even Mr. Harris and many of our contractors and farmers do not at all support that.
Mr. Harris to this day states that he said that he still doesn’t believe that anything happened.
Well, right. I don’t know the details of whether there was any relationship with the man or with other men and her and not. I don’t know that. That’s not what I do at my organization. …
Is there an example of sexual harassment, assault or rape involving female farmworkers that you believe is accurate and true?
The ones that we know of, there was no rape, no physically raping the person, no. It was more of comments made of the person because of her looks. …
I have never dealt, as long as I have been president of our organization, have ever been involved in any other ag groups or our own [where] actually a woman was physically raped, molested and everything. No. …
You’ve never heard anyone say that, particularly among the undocumented female farmworkers, that they feel intimidated?
I’ve heard that from the female traffickers. That’s where I’ve heard it for the last four to five years. That’s where I’ve been hearing it all the time.
Now, the human traffickers that you are talking about, they are related to the drug cartels, and they are trafficking the women?
They are trafficking people and holding usually the women hostage so the men work and give part of their check to them. That’s where I’ve heard it from actual field-workers, and especially in that group in 2011.
So, from your perspective, the real problem isn’t on the farms with the owners of the farms or their foremen. The real problem has to do with the exploitation of the workers by these criminal gangs.
In the last five years, that’s where I’ve heard that more than anything ever. Is it happening on a farm? Is it happening at city hall? It could be. But I don’t know that. …
Most of the women that we’ve interviewed who claim to have been physically assaulted or raped appear in shadow because they say [they fear] retaliation, shame, and they don’t want their families to know, etc. One woman has appeared so far completely on camera. She’s in a lettuce field up in Salinas. We asked her, and she has made a civil complaint that’s been settled against someone for raping her.
A foreman or another worker?
… A crew boss. We asked her: “It happened to you; what else has happened to you? Has it happened to others?” She says this happened at every workplace that she says she’s been. Whether you see it or not, in one way or another, it’s there. She’s saying to us, on the record with her identity exposed, that this is a prevalent problem that she runs into as a worker in the fields in California. And I don’t know whether it’s any of the companies of your members or not. Is she making it up?
I would disagree with the statement that it happens in every business, every farm. I would disagree with that.
Wherever she goes, she says.
I do know that I’ve heard women say that that woman over there is soliciting him for money. I’ve heard of that. And you know, OK, that’s what she’s doing. She’s doing her job, and she’s working in the field, or in her job as an employee, and what she does afterward you have no control.
Your farmworker league, your members, would they like to see all of these undocumented workers, and women obviously as part of that, be documented?
We’ve been at it since 1999 to get legal immigration for all, comprehensive, because the government screwed up. When Ronald Reagan signed IRCA, he said: “Congress, this is the beginning. You need to move forward and do more immigration reform.” It never happened. It hasn’t happened for 26 years.
We have a lot of issues dealing with immigration, not just for agriculture but for a variety of people. If you allow workers to be safe, to go and come, a work visa, and those that are here that have family here have an opportunity for residency and citizenship, you eliminate a lot of other problems. …
Is there sexual harassment, violence going on in the agricultural fields here in California?
I will respond like this: There is probably harassment going on, not just in agriculture in California, but all businesses, state agencies and even our Capitol, OK? Is there some activities going on in the agriculture industry? There probably is. I don’t know of that here, and that’s why an organization like ours is saying if this is going on, how do we educate the workers? How do we educate the folks that might be getting harassed, that they have an opportunity to address and not fear a retaliation by a foreman or by anybody else?
Or, if they’re undocumented, by the authorities.
The undocumented part is the biggest fear because of what Arizona police, sheriffs and everybody did in that state. It has reflected here. That’s why the sheriff in this valley will not partner up with Homeland Security to go out and do raids, just because of that one reason. They want the people that are illegal to feel like they can trust their sheriff.
And that is the fear, because of what they’ve seen Homeland do. They don’t know the difference between the sheriffs, the police and the border patrol. They are all enforcement. And when they don’t know that, they are very much fearful that if they go there, they are going to get busted. Their children are at home now, and they are going to be loaded on a bus, just because they went to go turn somebody in. And they thought that by going to the police or to the enforcement side that would be OK.
So they don’t report?
They don’t report because of that one massive issue of legal/illegal.
We have been struck by the lack of information, like numbers, for instance, surveys of any kind, on the conditions of agricultural workers, that is. For example, if one of the problems is sexual assault of various kinds, whether it’s by human traffickers or foremen or whomever, that your organization or AgSafe or any of the other organizations haven’t commissioned any kind of survey of the workers to see what is their opinion of what’s going on. As a result, everyone has their own interpretation of what’s happening.
We went out and are putting out a video.
But that’s an educational video.
But it’s an [educational video] that will help those folks realize that if this is going on, you must go to this person and tell them. How do you do that? You can go to a second person so you don’t even have to worry about focusing on the cops or the police. But here is somebody else you can go to. You can even go to your church. You can even go to the minister and let him know that this is going on. That’s the purpose.
“We realize that there is an issue and we want to address it. What we don’t know [is] the size of the problem.”
My organization’s major goal is for grower [safety] and the worker safety to be there and to protect it. My second biggest goal is to get immigration done. And to do that, it takes a lot, because you have to convince the anti-immigrants on why you need to get immigration reform done, and there’s only so many days in a week.
Our industry [in] this state has to deal with 84 regulatory agencies. No other business, not even yours, not even [University of California,] Berkeley, not even a hospital, has to deal with that many agencies from city, county, state and federal. And by the way, I have to deal with trade, with trade countries and all that they require. And if you look at the list that our farmers have to deal with, it’s amazing they get through 30 percent of it.
I’m just giving you a reaction. I hear you say you the farmers have 84 regulators that you have to deal with, and I’m being told from the other side that agricultural businesses are the least regulated. They are not covered by various labor laws.
Depending on what state you are in.
I’m telling you, California has 84 regulations, everything down from the Regional Water Board, EPR [extended producer responsibility], Food Safety, the air district, [Cal]ARP [California Accidental Release Prevention], the Federal Clean Air Act, the Federal Water [Pollution Control] Act.
Let me even go a step further. The taking of our water for the smell, OK, with the [Natural] Resources Agency — taking federal water for fish, we have to deal with that. Our storage facilities, our underground water, our fertilizers, our chemicals all are monitored.
And if anybody thinks we have less labor laws, that’s bunk. I have to deal with the Department of Industrial Relations that you have to deal with as well as a university or as an employer. I have to deal with the Department of Labor.
… So you are overburdened with regulators.
But that doesn’t stop us from keeping on trying to deal with issues that continually come forward to us to work on. EEOC, where’s your materials? You have anything we can give out to workers, handouts like we did with the heat illness? The heat illness was the best thing ever. You should look at that one, a great working relationship of reducing heat illness fatalities. …
And we went to the workers and asked them, “Would this be the way you want it, or do you want a bunch of words?” “No, we want pictures.” So we developed that. And that’s what we’re trying to do with EEOC, is you’ve got nothing out there, so how does anybody know where to go, what to do or what not to do? …
So you’ve gone to the workers and asked them what they want in the way of education about sexual harassment?
We went to the foremans, to the owners and to the workers, and the thing they kept coming back to us with last year in 2012 and even in the beginning of 2011 [was], “Can you guys do a video like you did with heat illness?” …
So is it possible, in your view, that Bill Tamayo and Dolores Huerta are not dreaming this up and that there is a big problem with sexual harassment among your workers?
I can’t say it’s a big problem, no.
And isn’t this what they asked for, training?
No, but training doesn’t say you’ve got a big problem.
Then why would you want it?
Because the education material is lacking by the agency, because of what we did with heat illness, and we want to do it with other programs. Even with other programs, why not have the material so they can understand at their level? I don’t need some dang bureaucrat with a document that has a lot of vocational style of education, of master’s degree. What does an employee understand?
… I don’t know why you are resisting saying you are creating similar material on the issue of sexual harassment and assault because you also recognized this is a problem in the fields in California.
Not just in the fields — in businesses. If there is issues in businesses, including agriculture, OK, then EEOC needs to say, “In the last four years, we’ve had this many complaints, this many cases.” They may not have gone to court, but this is how many cases. So many cases of rape — great, let’s come together and figure out what we need to do to help reduce the amount you say is going on.
That’s never happened. We went to EEOC and said: “You’ve got no materials or nothing. How do we go out and leave stuff for workers to know who to go to if there is a problem?”
Dolores Huerta, why don’t you have the UFW bring up documents and give it to them, or the state attorney, who says it’s rampant?
You’re not responding to something that is not a problem.
We are responding because the agency doesn’t have any materials to help educate the foremans, the growers, the business sector and even the workers [about] where to go. Right now, their biggest threat is immigration, illegal. Number two, the only people they can go to if there is something going on is the church if they go there, or they know of an advocacy group out there or whatever, and so they go there.
Is it fair to say that you recognize there is a problem but you don’t know how big it is?
But you’re trying to respond to it with educational material.
That’s the best statement you’ve said on that question only. I would agree with that.
That we realize that there is an issue and we want to address it. What we don’t know [is] the size of the problem. We don’t have all the facts on it. The agency isn’t out there collaborating with us at all. At least OSHA came to us and we, agriculture, jumped up and said, “OK, we want to develop materials.”
So we went to the workers. We literally went to the workers — I wasn’t going to let Berkeley staff go out there, because there is a difference in environment — but we met with workers in the field and said, “What would be good?”
You wouldn’t let Berkeley staff [go]? What’s the problem with Berkeley?
Some of the staff don’t understand farmers or farmworkers, so they have a really single idea of how bad agriculture is. We are the demons. But after we worked with them and they worked with us, we hit off a pretty dang good relationship.
… You have 440,000 seasonal workers. How many have documentation problems?
Ninety percent plus.
So 400,000 or so.
Are half of them women?
No. Probably 12 percent or 15 percent. Maybe 15 percent total of the workforce.
So you have about 60,000 to 70,000.
It could be, between field workers, packinghouses, processing facilities, offices, a variety.
And most of them have documentation problems?
Oh, I would say, yes.
And you would agree that most of them are fearful of going to law enforcement if they had a criminal complaint in the area of, like, sexual violence.
Yes, even it if was sexual harassment, or even if it was extortion by a human trafficker that’s holding their daughter hostage.
So their reluctance to report what’s going on with them, in their lives, the way in which they are being exploited or harassed, the fact that we can’t come up with good numbers about it, is explained by the fact that they are afraid to come forward to report it.
It’s an issue which the government has failed to deal with. And it’s put these people, no matter if it’s men or women, in a situation that they have no recourse because of what we deal with enforcement.
And if we can deal with immigration and do it right, then if those people have a problem, they can come forward right away and we can take care of the bad actors. Tomorrow.
So what the EEOC is saying is that in the way in which they go about doing their cases, which is methodical –
Very methodical. It’s like they are in slow motion.
– and they have limited resources –
That’s an excuse.
– that when they are actually able to put together what they think is a credible case, that represents, they say, a small piece, the tip of an iceberg of what is actually going on.
If they knew what was actually going on, then they would be filing all of these cases. If it’s that big of a problem, … then why hasn’t it surfaced to the agency at the federal level, saying that we see all of this going on and we need to bring it to be addressed?
Their national headquarters just said that’s one of their major commitments.
No, their major commitment was several weeks ago that the federal EEOC adopted that no employer now can do a background check on a felon. And President Obama addressed that in April knowing that no employer is going to be able to do a background check on felons; you are going to have to hire them. That was their biggest commitment.
It wasn’t about talking about what you are referring to, no. Never surfaced [in] their board agenda. What was more important was felons and those criminals should have a right to go to work in the employer’s outfit, or [someone can] be a janitor at school that’s a sexual pervert, [and] we can’t do a background check. OK, fine. So we have women beaters, sexual harasser people, and they’ve been accused of it and whatever, and we can’t do a background check now on them.
So I’m going to go interview them. Can you provide me with examples?
You can find the examples.
But you are the one making the statements. Help me document your statement.
You can find it because the president announced it. …
Do you think workers in general in agriculture are more vulnerable to sexual harassment?
You don’t think they are more isolated in where they work, how they work?
No. If the activity is going on, it’s going to happen in hotels, in restaurants, in cities, the Capitol. A lot of rooms in the Capitol. So it’s going to be in those areas.
The issue would be for those people, are they illegal? And if they are illegals, right off the bat and that’s their legal status, that’s the cause of the problem. And maybe this person who is their crew boss is the one who brought them here, and we don’t know what’s going on down the road, if somebody is being held hostage.
The crew bosses that I’ve seen in the last several years are cartel criminal bosses. They are not your regular farmworker who went up the ladder. No, they brought people here. They are the criminals, because they go to the contractor and they say, “I’ve got 15 people here that can work.” And what do they do? They fill out the paperwork and receive the training and all of that, but boy, they’re watched.
… We have a population of people who are undocumented, poorly documented, who have no recourse. They’re powerless. You pick on them, there’s nothing they can do about it.
The only thing is that if they know of advocacy groups or, in this case, the church.
So [what] you say, and I think that I would agree, is that we have no way of really quantifying this problem, because in some ways this is an invisible population that feels that it can’t afford to service because it’s vulnerable.
If in fact there is activity going on of harassment, the workers, the employees need to know where to go. They need to know what agency [to go to] and how to handle it. In many cases, workers don’t know where to go, and when our employers give information, it’s the agency that is a federal agency. The workers look at a federal agency, and in most cases that’s Homeland Security. The agency hasn’t done outreach in the past 15 to 20 years.
“I don’t go around looking for case trials, witch-hunting. I’m not one of those type of lawyers or ambulance drivers.”
About the problem, it exists in agriculture, construction, cities, the government, the White House. So when the agency isn’t out there trying to promote how to educate the victim in this case, or educate a person that if this starts to happen, here’s what you do, and that means that if you happen to be a victim, and it’s your supervisor or another employee — a supervisor may not even know anything — and this is happening after work, and they go home and this guy goes over to her house or apartment, there is nothing that helps an individual and tells them where to go to get help. There is nothing.
So what our industry does is that we put out pamphlets. We print them ourselves and say: “Hey, this is not tolerable. You have to have a policy, and you have to enforce your policy, and workers need to know that this is not acceptable. Here’s my phone number as the owner, the grower.”
And we have a lot of our growers do that, right at the seminars, at the trainings. But the agency has to be there saying: “Yes, if you have this, this is what you need to do. If you have a legal status problem, here’s where you go; here’s the agency you go to. And don’t fear that you’re going to be ICE’d off, loaded on a bus and sent back to –”
Deported. But there is none of that.
None of the agencies — not ICE, not the EEOC, none of the agencies — are providing an alternative method of communication or support.
No, the communication that ICE gives is you come to us and you’re illegal, and you know, or we’re going to go ahead and bust businesses that maybe have done everything legally, but the people working for them have document problems. So they’re going to tell them that you have to terminate them. You don’t have to deport them, but you’re going to have to terminate X number in a week or two.
Now those people become what? They’re vulnerable. They’re vulnerable. Those type of people know that they just got laid off [by], and they know a cartel person, and so now they are going to connect those people with that person, which is a bad person. Now all sorts of things can take place with that person.
Understood. And so now you’re saying ICE and EEOC are not doing anything? We found that the Department of Labor doesn’t ask these kinds of questions.
Oh, they do to our farmers. I’ve been to too many audits by the Department of Labor.
As far as I know, the Department of Labor investigators don’t come and say: “How many of your workers — we want to talk to your workers about being harassed.”
No, they go out and ask the workers in the field without the foreman and the grower, and they will ask them a variety of things: how they are transported, probably ask them about wages, is everything OK? They never ask immigration issues.
The Department of Labor never asks immigration issues.
Right. They have agreed to stay off of that, of not asking the worker, “Are you legal or not?,” and all that. They just say, “Have you filled out an I-9?” And the answer is yes, and that’s as far as they need to go.
And they are primarily interested in Wage and Hour.
Wage [and] Hour, transportation, housing — those are the big issues.
But they are not asking them about sexual violence?
They may have, but not that I can find. And I’ll be honest, the only one who does that is EEOC or Fair Housing and Employment. And EDD [Employment Development Department] has gone out sometimes with the state Wage and Hour folks, and they will have asked that. Are you being harassed or anything else? Because they are a part of the arm of the Fair Housing and Employment.
And we’ve also found that a lot of people don’t know what sexual harassment means.
Everybody thinks that it is having sex, but it can be a lot more. It could be harassment; it could be about a variety of things, and we try to educate them. It can be describing knocking on a young man by women, talking about how he looks or how she looks and how she dressed and how she talks to the clothing they wear. So harassment has a variety of things to it alone but not speaking about the sexual part of it.
Why do we get this feeling that people in the agricultural business community look at themselves as somewhat different? I’ve looked at testimony where they’ll say, “I’m just a farmer”; that you’re in a different kind of business than urban businesses.
Farmers don’t describe it in the way you are describing it. A farmer is different than a laundromat as a farmer, not exempt from any other regulations from anybody else like a dry cleaner or anybody else.
But the farmer is a farmer. He is at the whims of the market, rain, God and no labor. … He grows the crop, he raises the crop, he hires the employees, and the only thing he hopes is he can harvest a crop. And maybe he can’t because we’ve got a feud going on with Mexico, so Mexico has decided not to buy any more product from the U.S. Now that farmer has lost this entire crop. And how does he pay the bank? He doesn’t.
Mother Nature has been really good to us in the last several months with no rain and no snow. I am now going to create a horrible disaster on the west side. I’m also going to create disaster on the east side because of water allocations. But that disaster is going to create other problems the Resources Agency, Interior is not worrying about, and that is what do I do with 45,000 workers with no jobs? Families, houses, medical, food.
How does a farmer deal with that? He planted the crop, and he got told last week we’re going to take away another 5 percent of your water. Now he’s going to go out and disk 200 acres; he’s got to disk 100 acres of it up, disk it out. Who pays for any of that? He’s paid the workers; he bought the fertilizer; he bought the seed. No one. That’s what a farmer is.
But a farmer is not saying that he is exempt or that he is different in all of the regulations and requirements. No. Like I said, farmers have more regulations than a typical store owner because he is out in the open. ICE loves agriculture. Why? Because we’re a [captive] audience. We’re out there in the open. They see 200 workers in the field, they know, “Prime time, baby, prime time.” Or I’ve got a packinghouse and they are packing right now; that’s prime time. …
They are at the whims of the Congress; they are at the whims of trade; they are at the whims of Mother Nature. And if our buyers don’t want to pay, I have a labor crisis going on now, a shortage of workers. …
… What’s the responsibility of the grower, of the owner, if in fact the foreman, for instance, or the crew boss is harassing the workers and the owner doesn’t know about it? He’s not told about it, he or she. What’s their responsibility under the law? What’s their responsibility, do you think, morally?
Whoever the employer is, in this case it’s the grower, a farmer contractor, the city clerk, the construction owner. If your foreman is the one that’s in charge of the employees, they oversee them and direct them and all of the things that belong to the farm, and he or she is doing the harassment — because I noticed so far you never said the woman harassing the man; it’s always the woman being harassed by the man– but in this case the foreman is responsible to the employer. If he or she does not know that anything is going on, well, that’s a sad situation. Does that mean that he washes his hands or her hands and walks away from the problem? No. He’s responsible for whatever his foreman does.
And if the employees don’t go and tell you, then we’ve got a problem, because how does the grower even know, or the employer, that this is going on if the worker doesn’t go to the owner?
And just like today, many of our training programs show that the grower puts his phone number, his personal phone number, his cell phone out there for every worker to have, so if something is going on in the field, you call me directly, because the scenario that you just approached, at the end of the day, the grower is responsible or the contractor is responsible — whoever writes the payroll check as the employer, not an agency or something.
But if I’m the grower, and I hire the workers and I have my foreman supervising, and he’s misbehaving and I don’t know what’s going on, at the end of the day, I’m responsible. I may be, for what he or she has done to the workers or worker, I’m the one that’s going to end up paying.
And to those we’ve interviewed who say that the employers in these agricultural businesses are in denial about these incidents, you say?
If the question was asked, could it exist to whether the foreman is doing something and the grower doesn’t know? That exists, yeah.
But again, I go back to the original question on that answer or that statement. The workers have a fear because of their status. … And that’s why we hope that if you can pass this immigration bill, put these people into some type of protective status where they have the freedom like a citizen or a resident alien that can go to the police, go to the agency, or go to somebody and say this is going on and we can’t take it, and we’ve got to deal with it immediately. And I don’t mean wait a month or two to see. No. Deal with it immediately. It’s wrong, I understand that, but the government has put people that do these things that are in the human trafficking side and those on the regular employee side that have figured it out.
And sometimes it’s not happening on the job; it’s happening afterward. It’s afterward, and some of our growers have policies that say no dating any employee. No dating any employee, foremans or crew bosses. That’s pretty gutsy, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. …
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEThe Rise of ISISEncore PresentationDecember 8th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.