Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

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Search results for "farmworkers" ...

  • Unlivable: How Texas Fails Farmworkers

    A four-month investigation into the state of Texas’ inspection program for migrant farmworker housing revealed a broken system where regulators have never taken action against growers who house workers in substandard conditions and don't seek out illegally operating facilities.
  • Migrant farmworker housing abuses

    Based on extensive interviews and a review of thousands of inspection reports, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has found that chronically poor living conditions persist because the government agencies responsible for enforcing housing standards are often overwhelmed by workload or rendered ineffective by inadequate budgets and toothless policies. Abusive housing practices of both multibillion-dollar agribusiness corporations and small-scale growers continue to flourish as a result. And migrant farmworkers season after season are left to live in rundown apartments, ramshackle trailers and converted motels.
  • “Leaves of Poison” and “Dying on the Farm”

    More than 75 years ago, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was signed into law. A groundbreaking achievement in the fight against child labor, the FLSA banned children from mines and factories, while also granting the Secretary of Labor the authority to protect youth from working in any other hazardous occupations. This series on child labor in agriculture uncovers how loopholes in the law continue to put child farm workers as young as 12 at risk for grave illness, injury, and death. It shows how the agriculture lobby fought back in 2012, blocking new rules that would have closed these loopholes — and that children have died as a result. “Leaves of Poison” focuses on the use of children as young as 12 to harvest tobacco in Southern tobacco fields. Tobacco is a notoriously hazardous crop, exposing field workers to acute nicotine poisoning, with symptoms that can include dizziness, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and heart rate fluctuations requiring hospitalization. The plants are also sprayed with high doses of pesticides, which pose special dangers to adolescents whose nervous systems are still developing. These dangers have led countries such as Russia and Khazakstan to ban minors from tobacco work, and the United States has donated millions to eradicate child tobacco labor overseas. But a proposed rule by the Department of Labor banning children from the harvest (and other particularly “hazardous” tasks) was withdrawn by Obama administration officials in response to concerted lobbying by the American Farm Bureau. “Dying on the Farm” was an ambitious effort to track how many child laborers have died since those rules were scuttled in April 2012, which would have barred them from performing particularly “hazardous” tasks, such as harvesting tobacco, working in manure pits and grain silos, or using heavy power machinery. The investigation shows that child farmworkers “fall through the cracks” when it comes to government tallies of work-related injuries and deaths. Nevertheless, using FOI requests to Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Workers’ Compensation offices, surveying local press clippings, and speaking with medical practitioners who work directly with farmworkers we found that at least four young farm workers-for-hire have been killed and 39 injured while doing these hazardous tasks since the rules were withdrawn. Both “Leaves of Poison” and “Dying on the Farm” movingly tell the personal stories of young workers at a risk.
  • Hard Labor

    “Hard Labor” exposed the threats facing America’s invisible backbone – steelworkers, coal miners, fishermen, farmworkers and factory technicians, whose sweat equity helps buildings rise from the ground, crops travel from the fields to dinner plates, and the economy hum. Across the U.S., across scores of blue-collar industries, workers are being injured and killed by the thousands with little protection from Congress and the federal agencies that are supposed to safeguard them: the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard.
  • Wage Theft In the Fields

    American farmworkers have often experienced egregious abuses, but nothing is more pervasive, nor harder to ferret out, than the wage theft that results from a practice called farm-labor contracting. Found in the fields of every handpicked crop in the country, farm-labor contractors not only provide growers with crews, but also handle wages and manage everything from verifying immigration status to providing workers' compensation. The problem is, the contractors systematically underpay the workers. “Farm labor contractors,” says writer Tracie McMillan, “give American produce growers what companies like China's Foxconn offer to Apple: a way to outsource a costly and complicated part of the business, often saving money in the process and creating a firewall between the brand and the working conditions under which its products are made.” And yet McMillan — a fellow with both the Knight-Wallace program at University of Michigan, and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University — found that enforcement is rare: In 2008, inspectors visited only 1,499 of the more than 2 million farms nationwide; in 2011, California inspectors found just seven minimum wage violations on the state’s 86,000 farms. Fines are minimal: “It's cheaper to violate the law than to follow the law,” says one farmworker advocate. And wage theft is tedious to prove, requiring inspectors to interview workers, analyze time cards, and collect payroll records. That's why workers and their advocates in California are counting on a lawsuit brought earlier this year on behalf of two farmworkers against the contractors who hired them—as well as the growers who outsourced the work. The suit alleges that the contractors routinely undercounted the hours worked, failed to pay minimum wage or overtime, failed to provide safe or sanitary working conditions, and housed the workers in unsafe and unsanitary living quarters. The “collective action” suit—open to anyone who can prove he or she experienced the same treatment—may cover thousands of workers and deliver awards substantial enough to deter other employers from the same practices.
  • The Final Hours of Miguel Contreras

    Labor leader and Los Angeles power-broker Miguel Contreras was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Los Angeles, the week before the 2005 mayoral election. No autopsy was performed, and doctors were pressured to sign a death certificate. The article outlines political power bases in Los Angeles, and speculates how various issues would have had different results if Contreras had lived.
  • Fields of Despair: North Florida Laborers, Lured to Farms by Recruiters' Promises, Reap Poverty, Pain and Exploitation

    "'Fields of Despair' exposed the often hidden , and often brutal, working conditions encountered by farmworkers in the nation's second richest farm state. It told how the powerful profit even as workers suffer sweatshop hours, slum housing, poverty pay and criminal abuse." The reporter suggests that the fact that half of the state Legislature's House Committee on Agriculture are farmers or have connections to the industry might have affected the lack of reform legislation.
  • Fields of Despair

    This report examines the harrassment of Florida's farmworkers who are lured with fake promises by contractors. This report describes a tale of hidden, often brutal working conditions where farmworkers live in slum housing, povery pay and criminal abuse. The examination also unravels as to how scofflaw farm labour contractors (middlemen) are still eyeing preys despite many of them having stripped licences and prison histories. Furthermore, the story details on how work against this harrassment is unsuccessful largely because politicians themselves have vested interests in many farmlands in this area.
  • Minding the store

    Despite its pledge to provide nutritional food and protect the environment, the Whole Foods grocery chain has received its share of criticism. The Texas Observer documents employee complaints about the company's gain sharing incentive program, farmworkers protests against unfit work conditions and environmentalists who accuse the company of hypocrisy.
  • (Untitled)

    APF Reporter looks at Head Start programs for children of families of migrant workers. The Head Start programs are for families in which both parents work during the regular school season. The story also looks at educational opportunities for migrant farmworkers' children.