against strengthening guest worker protections.
The Department of Labor wanted to require companies to look a little harder for workers in the United States before bringing in foreign workers on H-2B visas, and to curtail some abuses of H-2B workers. But naturally businesses relying on H-2B workers have been wailing about how prohibitively expensive it would be for them to look for workers in the U.S. and not abuse guest workers, so Thursday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would delay those changes for a year.
While the amendment was sponsored by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, several Democrats joined the vote: Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, Wisconsin's Herb Kohl, Nebraska's Ben Nelson (of course), Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Arkansas' Mark Pryor. Mikulski cited her state's seafood industry as a reason for her vote, saying, "We want [the Labor Department] to understand the industry, the rhythms of the industry. I'm going to support Senator Shelby."
Before Thursday's vote, Rebecca Smith of the Immigrant Worker Justic Project wrote that:
The human rights abuses occurring under H-2B are documented in government and private studies, and the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission have prosecuted dozens of cases. The EEOC recovered an estimated $1 million for 48 H-2B welders from Thailand who were held against their will, had their passports confiscated, were forced to work without pay and were confined to apartments without any electricity, water or gas. Private litigants, including Filipino teachers, Indian welders, Guatemalan forestry workers and Mexican landscapers, have similarly brought legal action alleging forced labor and trafficking in the H-2B program.Are those the kind of rhythms of industry Mikulski wants the Labor Department to understand and respect? Or how about the rhythms of the Louisiana crawfish processing H-2B workers who recently sent a complaint to the Labor Department alleging they were forced to work double and even triple shifts without overtime pay?
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that the Labor Department's new rules would "punish the employer" and that "Like it or not, there are jobs in the construction field that are going unfilled after diligent advertising and paying the prevailing wage." But Sean McGarvey, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, called the amendment "nothing short of outrageous," continuing, "At a time when roughly 1.4 million American construction workers are unemployed, Senator Shelby deems it appropriate to make it even easier to import foreign construction workers. Where is the shame? Where is the outrage? Does he truly believe there are no American workers willing and able to fill these jobs?"
Answer: No. He just thinks it would be cheaper for businesses to continue to be able to use guest workers with weak protections.