Legal Services Corporation:

Grantee Attorneys' Handling of Migrant Farmworker Disputes With Growers

HRD-90-144: Published: Sep 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the activities of Legal Services Corporation (LSC) grantees that provide legal services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in seven states.

GAO found that: (1) grantee attorneys in 4 states reported that about 66 percent of closed cases between 1985 through 1988 were against growers, while attorneys in 30 other states reported that 23 percent of closed cases were against growers; (2) the higher incidence of migrant farmworker disputes against growers in those four states could be attributed to such factors as extensive growth of hand-harvested crops, the greater use of farm labor contractors, and the characteristics of migrant farmworkers; (3) grantees' priority-setting procedures varied widely; (4) farmworker disputes against growers typically involved failure to pay wages for hours worked and other wage-related issues, failure to pay minimum wage rates, misrepresenting working conditions, and violating housing standards; (5) 1987 and 1988 statistics showed that grantees resolved over 80 percent of migrant employment cases through negotiated settlements; (6) state organizations responsible for enforcing standards of conduct for attorneys reported no public disciplinary actions against any attorney employed by the six reviewed grantees from 1985 to 1988; (7) unless the migrant farmworkers feared retaliation, grantee attorneys generally released farmworkers' names to growers and their attorneys; (8) laws in the reviewed states generally paralleled or exceeded a professional organization's model rules governing control over grantee client trust accounts; and (9) a grantee providing legal and technical assistance to other grantees estimated that it spent about 38 percent of its $547,649 grant in representing or acting as primary counsel or cocounsel for migrant farmworkers.

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