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The Bush Administration today finalized midnight regulation changes to slash wages, make it easier to hire foreign workers, and reduce worker protections for the nation's farmworkers.  The changes apply to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and were published today in the Federal Register.  They will take effect January 17.

The DOL's many harmful revisions to the H-2A visa program include reducing obligations for growers to effectively recruit U.S. workers before applying to bring in guestworkers, lowering the wage rates by changing the program's wage formula and eliminating government oversight of the program.

Eliminating labor law enforcement in an industry known for violating the minimum wage is irresponsible and unacceptable.  The DOL is not enforcing worker rights in the current program and is allowing employers to bypass U.S. workers in favor of hiring vulnerable temporary foreign workers.

In anticipation of DOL's changes to the program, Farmworker Justice released a report last week documenting abuses that have occurred under the current H-2A program due to lack of enforcement and government oversight.  According to the report, "the DOL's proposed changes will only make a bad program worse. The cases listed [in this report] are 'just the tip of the iceberg' because guestworkers are often reluctant to complain".  The report highlights the program's negative impact on U.S. workers as well.  In one case, a grower in Arizona replaced nearly his entire U.S. workforce (some 200 legal farmworkers) with guestworkers instead.  A lawsuit on the case is currently pending. Download a copy of the report on the Farmworker Justice website.

The new rules, by minimizing oversight of employers' applications for H-2A guestworkers, could result in the growth in the program in 2009 from 75,000 to 200,000 guestworkers.  There is no annual visa cap.

These midnight regulations put farmworkers in this country back more than 60 years. Is this really the legacy the Bush Administration wants to leave behind?

Originally posted to Farmworker Justice on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 07:53 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ummm, I'll be waiting for the outrage from (0+ / 0-)

    the voters.

  •  Could the diary author add what the actual wage (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, notrouble

    ... would be dropped down to, and mention that the farmers doing the hiring are now not required to provide worker housing like they formerly were, so we have the specter looming before us of day workers working for slave wages and living under tarpalin tents and lean to shacks down by the river?

    Oh, already there. Mission Accomplished Only More So.  Thanks, Bush Administration!

    "Toads of Glory, slugs of joy... as he trotted down the path before a dragon ate him"-Alex Hall/ Stop McClintock

    by AmericanRiverCanyon on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 08:00:09 AM PST

    •  wage rates and housing info (2+ / 0-)

      Regarding the wage rates, it's a little complicated.  They vary by location.  Currently the DOL uses a regional average hourly wage for farmworkers as determined by
      the USDA Farm Labor Survey, with one wage rate issued per state. (This wage is already low because it includes undocumented workers).  Now they will switch to another formula (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Survey), which does not even survey farms, but surveys farm labor contractors, the lowest paying employers of farmworkers.  They also will allow employers to choose from four "wage levels." Most employers will offer the lowest level, which is the average wage received by the lowest-paid one-third of farmworkers in a geographic area, (i.e., the 16th percentile). The only real floor is the state or federal minimum wage even though many farmworkers already earn more.

      The bottom line is, wages are going to go down. An example is California where the current average wage rate is $9.72/hr.  The new formula will probably drop it down to the state minimum wage of $8/hr.

      Regarding the housing requirements, the current (old) regulations required employers to provide workers with housing that is certified as meeting federal and state safety standards. The new rules will permit substitution of rental or public accommodations if the grower declares an emergency situation.  This gaping loophole will allow
      employers to claim that they face an emergency unavailability of housing and must put the
      farmworkers up in a decrepit former motel or substandard mobile homes.

  •  This should be a part of Rachel's Lame duck watch (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, dewley notid, notrouble

    I would hope that there are a bunch of people making list of things that Bush did that must be undone.

    Anytime you blame the poor, you are complaining about the behavior of the slaves, when you should be doing all you can to stop the slavery. - A Seattle Comedian

    by THE BIG FUNNY on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 08:04:40 AM PST

  •  Consumer Question (0+ / 0-)

    What does a consumer do to try to help the profitability of agricultural enterprises that promote better working conditions for farm workers?

    Not that I don't support a public sector solution to this problem, but we sure as hell aren't going to get that with corporatists holding the reins of power.

    Stuck Between Stations : Thoughts from a bottomless pool of useless information.

    by Answer Guy on Thu Dec 18, 2008 at 08:37:45 AM PST

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