ACTOR AND ACTIVIST EVA LONGORIA JOINS CONGRESSWOMAN LUCILLE ROYBAL-ALLARD (CA-34) IN A RENEWED PUSH TO PROTECT CHILD FARMWORKERS IN THE UNITED STATES
EVENT MARKS THE INTRODUCTION OF LEGISLATION TO STRENGTHEN OUR CHILD LABOR LAWS AS WELL AS THE JULY RELEASE OF A DOCUMENTARY CAPTURING THE HARSH WORKING CONDITIONS OF OUR NATION’S FARMWORKER CHILDREN
At a press conference on Capitol Hill, Actor and Activist Eva Longoria joined Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) and other child advocates today in announcing the introduction of "The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment" (CARE, HR 2234), legislation which ensures adequate protections for children working in our nation’s agricultural fields.
“Agriculture is the only industry governed by labor laws that allow children as young as 12 to work with virtually no restrictions on the number of hours they spend in the fields outside of the school day,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard said. “Tragically, unable to keep up with the competing demands of long work hours in the fields and school, a recent report found that child farmworkers drop out of school at four times the national dropout rate – slamming the door shut on the very pathway that could one day help them escape a lifetime of unrelenting work harvesting our crops. I simply do not believe that our child labor laws reflect how we as Americans value our children.”
Exposing the hardships of child farmworkers, THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA, a new film by Shine Global, U. Roberto Romano and Executive Producer Eva Longoria, examines the day-to-day lives of child migrant laborers. The film focuses on three Latino youths, ages 12, 14 and 16, who are among the estimated 400,000 children who work as migrant laborers on America’s farms. The adolescents travel with their families across thousands of miles to pick crops in southern Texas, northern Michigan and northern Florida during the harvest season. Along the way, they face back breaking labor in 100-degree heat, physical hazards from pesticides, the emotional burden of helping their families through economic crises when work opportunities dry up, separation from their families and peer groups, and dwindling hope for their educational and economic advancement. The events surrounding the introduction of CARE also featured a special same-day screening of the documentary on Capitol Hill. The film will be released theatrically in Los Angeles and in New York in July, along with special screenings in 30 cities nationally.
“I applaud Eva Longoria, Robin Romano and Shine Global for using the power of film to expose the plight of child farmworkers in The Harvest/La Cosecha. As this film documents, children in agriculture too often work in dangerous and exploitive conditions, which are illegal in every other industry,” Congresswoman Roybal-Allard said. “I commend them for their work to shed light on the lives of these children and for their dedication to passing the CARE Act, which would end this unacceptable double standard in our nation’s child labor laws.”
Actor, activist, and philanthropist Eva Longoria said, “I want to commend Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard for her leadership in Congress on the CARE Act. Using my voice to help Shine Global and U. Roberto (Robin) Romano raise awareness about the plight of farmworker children in agriculture has been an incredible honor. This has been one of the most important issues I have had the opportunity to work on."
While retaining current exemptions for family farms, the CARE Act would bring age and work hour standards for children in agriculture up to the standards for children working in all other industries. That would mean, under CARE, that teenagers would be required to be at least 14 years of age to work in agriculture and at least 18 years of age to perform particularly hazardous work.
In addition to addressing the age and hour requirements for child farmworkers, CARE addresses several other problem areas:
• To serve as a stronger deterrent for employers who violate child labor laws, the bill establishes a minimum penalty for child labor violations and increases the maximum civil monetary penalties from $11,000 to $15,000. The bill also imposes a criminal penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for willful or repeat violations that lead to the death or serious injury of a child worker.
• To provide children with greater protections, CARE raises the labor standards for pesticide exposure to the levels currently enforced by the EPA.
In addition to Eva Longoria and Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, speakers at the press conference included: Thomas A. Saenz, President & General Counsel, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF); Antonia Cortese, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition; Reid Maki, Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition who released the National Consumers League’s results of a consumer survey on attitudes about child labor in agriculture; and Norma Flores López, Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), and a former child migrant farmworker.
Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF, said: "Our national values demand the elimination of a legal system that treats certain children as second class, subjecting them to working conditions that would not be tolerated for other children. The CARE Act would bring American agriculture out of the nineteenth century by ensuring that farmworkers' children, such as those whose experience is documented in 'The Harvest', receive the protection of federal law. We look forward to the swift enactment of the CARE Act."
Antonia Cortese, secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, a national network of organizations and individuals working to end the exploitation of children by abusive child labor practices, said: “We applaud Rep. Roybal-Allard's efforts to make sure our government fulfills its obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us—especially our children. Kids need to spend their childhood getting an education—not moving from school to school and field to field as their parents follow the crops across America. The CARE Act will close existing loopholes to give these kids the educational opportunities they deserve and extend to them some of the most basic protections, already afforded to children in other industries, against working long hours under hazardous conditions.”
Reid Maki, Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, said: “The 28 members of the Child Labor Coalition, which is co-chaired by the National Consumers League (NCL), applaud Rep. Roybal-Allard for her tireless work to protect farmworker children over the last decade. Clearly, momentum for change is building. More than 100 members of Congress co-sponsored CARE in the last congressional session, joining more than 100 organizations interested in human rights, civil rights, worker rights and farmworker rights that also endorsed the legislation. Our recently completed NCL survey reveals that most consumers (four out of five) agree that child labor laws should protect children equally no matter what industry they work in. The time has arrived for Congress to protect America’s most vulnerable children.”
Norma Flores López of AFOP said: “Starting at the young age of 12, I worked in the fields alongside my family. I worked to help my family survive, often until my hands were so swollen that I could not hold a pencil at school. Like thousands of American farmworker children today, I experienced the hazards of child labor in agriculture first hand, which is why I know how important it is to equalize the child labor law by passing the CARE Act.”