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?