From DailyWorld.com, Associated Press, 4 Feb 2012.
BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has agreed to help migrant workers with limited English language skills understand rights and protections.
The deal is part of a larger agreement reached in December with the Environmental Protection Agency that arose after some workers said they could not communicate about repeated exposure to pesticides.
The Advocate reports EPA investigated after receiving a complaint from the group Southern Migrant Legal Services.
EPA’s Office of Civil Rights then launched a broader examination of the state agency’s policy on communication with migrant workers.
One of the key issues was a state agriculture department that complaint interviews be done in person.
Although in-person interviews are not required by law or regulation, the state agency had the discretion to implement such a policy, EPA said.
Southern Migrant Legal Services staff members said 13 of the workers involved in its complaint already had returned to Mexico but a 14th worker would have been available for a telephone interview had the agriculture department permitted.
However, the Louisiana agency insisted interviews must be done in person and at the Baton Rouge office, according to EPA findings.
“At least for these guys who went back to Mexico, it wasn’t just difficult, it was impossible,” said Melody Fowler-Green, managing attorney with Southern Migrant Legal Services.
Bobby Simoneaux, director of pesticide and environmental programs for the agriculture department, disagreed, saying, “It was never stated that it had to be in Baton Rouge.”
Simoneaux also said the department takes complaints over the phone and follows up on them.
However, phone interviews are not admissible in court, Simoneaux said, and that’s something investigators have to keep in mind when doing an investigation interview.
Southern Migrant Legal Services also would not identify the people who were going to file the complaint, Simoneaux said.
Fowler-Green said her organization asked state officials to keep the names secret from the farm where they worked because of fear of reprisals, but the state agency refused.
Simoneaux said the department inspected the farm based on the complaint.
However, EPA says the department did not investigate specific complaints of the 14 workers. Simoneaux disputes that finding.