Friday, February 08, 2008


Farmworker and immigration advocates said the Bush administration proposed changes to a little-used agricultural guest-worker program would in fact weaken rules that protect workers under the program. These administrative policies, announced this week by the Department of Labor (DOL) as a proposed change to regulations, would drastically lower protections and minimum housing standards for the farmworkers who harvest our nation’s crops.

“Farmworkers face the most devastating policy changes since the end of the abusive Bracero program in the early 1960s” said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice. “The White House and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao are heartlessly slashing wage rates and removing labor protections for United States agricultural workers. The administration is encouraging agricultural employers to hire cheap foreign labor thus lowering the wages for all U.S. workers,” he continued. “Employers should offer wage rates based on America’s labor standards, not those of developing nations.”

The DOL proposal, says Farmworker Justice, will also change the wage formula for the H-2A program by using different statistics to set the wage rate. Previously these rates were calculated based on surveys performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For example, the 2007 rates (still in effect for now, and based on 2006 wages) include: California, $9.20 per hour; Georgia, $8.51; New York, $9.50; North Carolina, $9.02; Ohio, $9.88. Now the DOL wishes to use flawed surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that result in substantially lower wage rates. The complex proposal would involve large numbers of individual wage rates in numerous geographic areas and would allow employer manipulation of the wage system.

Erik Nicholson, director of the United Farm Workers' guest-worker program, said the proposed changes are a step backward for foreign agricultural workers who will see their wages reduced and who will be even more vulnerable to exploitation by their employers.

"We've also seen that if wages are depressed for foreign guest workers we fully expect to see wages go down for domestic workers as well," Nicholson said.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls for reducing immigration, said, “It looks as though the government is relaxing the rules to make it easier for agricultural employers to hire workers at whatever wages they want to dictate.”

President John Sweeny of the AFL-CIO said, "The Department of Labor will hurt both immigrant and U.S.-born workers alike if it goes ahead with its plans to strip a number of workers’ rights from the H-2A agricultural guest worker program. The Bush Administration has shown once again that it will go to any extreme to cater to the interest of corporations at the painful expense of workers, and that it is not serious about real fixes to our nation’s broken immigration system."

Who likes the proposal?

The American Farm Bureau (AFB) does. Although the AFB likes to claim they are the "voice of American agriculture" the AFB leadership is in fact nothing more than highly paid corporate agribusiness lobbyists which acts as a mouthpiece for corporate agribusiness.

The following is from the United Farm Workers of America.

Bush Administration H2A Proposal is Nothing More Than Gutting of Existing Worker Protections

Once again, the Bush Administration is attempting to strip away the few protections afforded to workers who harvest our nation’s crops.

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced what it calls the "most significant overhaul of the nation’s agricultural guest worker program in two decades." That sounds good, but look a little closer and you will discover that instead of fixing the problem, this so-called reform is nothing more than a gutting of existing protections for both domestic and foreign workers.

The proposed plan to the H2-A/guest worker program is simply unacceptable. This so-called "overhaul" of the nation's agricultural guest worker program will result in lower wages and worsen conditions for farm workers that are already unacceptable. DOL's proposal includes an easing of the standards farmers must follow to show they have tried to hire domestic workers first. It also hurts those workers coming in under the H2-A program by lowering wages and undermining labor protections that already exist for U.S. workers.

The key to real solution to this dilemma is the UFW-backed AgJOBS. This bill will provide a stable and reliable agricultural workforce. AgJOBS has the support of growers, workers and a bipartisan majority in Congress.

In the coming days, we plan on raising public awareness about how the federal administrative changes are being forced upon us, instead of a legislative solution. We intend on engaging elected officials and community organizations across the nation to stop these changes from being enacted.

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