Report: Farmworker Transportation Still Hazardous

It’s been nearly 55 years since two crashes resulted in a total of 59 farmworker deaths. That was in 1963, and it spurred Congress to declare that this serious risk to migrant workers was inexcusable, prompting the passage of the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act.bus

But today, even still, migrant workers and farmworkers continue to be at heightened risk of crashes and transportation-related injuries and fatalities.

Take, for example, the bus that crashed in November 2015 on a highway near Little Rock, Arkansas, when 18 Mexican guest workers were being transported from the citrus groves of Florida to the pumpkin and beet fields of Michigan. The motorcoach in which they were traveling sideswiped a barrier and a concrete bridge support. Five workers were killed and seven more severely injured.

These kinds of incidents are prevalent for a few reasons. The first is that the industry is reliant on low-wage workers who are willing to travel long distances to do back-breaking work. Employers provide the cross-country transportation for them to get to these job sites and then back home again. However, as cases like this show, these workers do ultimately pay a steep price in terms of their lack of safety.

Despite the federal law intended to protect migrant workers, there are a host of lapses in enforcement, as well as an attitude toward farmworker safety that could be described as callous. The companies that contract the workers often don’t properly insure the vehicles, which are overloaded and often poorly maintained. On top of that, the vehicles are often driven by one of the crew members, who in some cases may have no driver’s license at all, let alone a commercial driver’s license.

A recent investigation by the Associated Press showed that since January 2015, there have been more than 12 accidents that have resulted in 38 deaths and almost 200 injuries. Some of these casualties included children accompanying their parents, including a 14-year-old killed in an overturned van in Virginia packed with Mexican workers and a four-year-old child killed when a bus full of Haitian workers crashed in Florida.

What’s especially troubling is that these figures are likely a substantial under-count. There is no national tally of these figures. In many cases, the large companies that benefit from this cheap labor aren’t held accountable. Instead, it’s the families of workers who have to pay.

Our Greensboro workers’ compensation attorneys are committed to securing benefits – including workers’ compensation death benefits – when workers are eligible. We also have a team capable of pursuing third-party liability claims against other negligent drivers or vehicle manufacturers.

Of the more than one million farmworkers employed in the U.S., more than 70 percent were born in another country. In anonymous surveys, about half of those concede they are present and working in this country illegally, often under-the-table. What they often do not realize is that this fact does not preclude them from being entitled to workers’ compensation coverage. Almost all employers in North Carolina are required to carry the insurance, and they are required to provide benefits to eligible workers – regardless of their immigration status and even if the employer doesn’t officially claim them as “employees.”

The company involved in that November 2015 crash? They have been cited 22 times in the last five years by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for violations ranging from underage drivers to worn tires. No fines were ever issued.

This kind of failure to hold companies to account provides an incentive for companies to cut corners on safety.

Our Greensboro workers’ compensation attorneys will fight tirelessly for the rights and interests of our clients.

Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Why so many fatal crashes for migrant workers? Some answers, Dec. 22, 2016, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

McKnight v. Lowe’s – Refusing Alternative Suitable Employment After Work Injury, Dec. 26, 2016, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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