Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)All potential whistleblowers who play a role in food production should have adequate protections to safely report problems they spot on the job. That means even (if not especially) immigrant workers, who make up a significant portion of the workforce along the food supply chain but are the most vulnerable when it comes to blowing the whistle.
Under the pending Senate immigration bill, Americans would rely increasingly on immigrant workers – specifically, temporary guest workers with H-2B visas – to carry out U.S. industry jobs, including food processing.
But as previous cases have illustrated (such as last year's debacle with one of Wal-Mart's seafood suppliers), guest workers often experience horrific working conditions while not enjoying any whistleblower protections. That's a serious problem, considering the proposed legislation could quadruple the size of the H-2B program over the next four years, from 66,000 workers to 264,000.
Fortunately, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced an amendment to the immigration bill that would ensure whistleblower protections for this group of workers. According to the National Guestworker Alliance:
Senator Blumenthal’s amendment would give H-2B whistleblowers the protections they need to expose employer abuse without fear. Without these protections, abusive employers drive down wages and conditions for U.S. workers by pitting them against captive guestworkers in a race to the bottom. But when guestworkers can blow the whistle on abuse, they help secure the job quality of the 24 million U.S. workers in their sectors.
Empowering workers to safely report abusive labor practices is an essential first step in providing food industry workers whistleblower protections. How can we expect individuals to blow the whistle on food safety threats when they aren't even assured of their own safety and wellbeing?
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also supported the amendment, clearly showing that this is a bipartisan issue. Of course, there are other groups of workers within the American food system that lack adequate whistleblower protections, and FIC continues to advocate for their voices as well. But the immigration bill amendment is a solid effort to improve accountability and transparency in the food and agriculture industries.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.