Final rule change by Department of Labor diminishes livelihoods of U.S. and foreign farmworkers
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Department of Labor announced that it will shortly, presumably while President Trump is still in office, finalize extensive new regulations under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program. The program recently has allowed agricultural employers to employ over 200,000 guestworkers per year.
Farmworker Justice is reviewing the 722-page document to assess its impact. A brief, initial review reveals several obvious harms to the more than 200,000 farmworkers who are H-2A visa holders or U.S. workers employed at H-2A program employers. The DOL restates its intention to freeze the main wage rate under the H-2A guestworker program for two years and then utilize a formula to calculate subsequent wages that, according to DOL’s own understated estimate, will reduce farmworkers’ wages by at least $1.6 billion over ten years. The wage decision, originally issued in November, is under a preliminary injunction preventing DOL from implementing it. The case is UFW v. U.S. Department of Labor (E.D. Calif.); Farmworker Justice and WilmerHale represent the plaintiffs.
Today’s document states that temporary foreign workers under the H-2A program will no longer be reimbursed fully for their transportation costs of coming into the United States and returning home; the resulting losses to farmworkers will be about $30 million per year or about $300 million over ten years. Farmworkers will lose another $64 million over ten year in subsistence costs—such as the cost of food—during their travel. These are DOL’s own figures. Most of the provisions would take effect by March but the wage rates were on a faster schedule and subject to a court injunction.
“On an initial review of the new regulations, we do not see a focused effort by the Department of Labor to eradicate the H-2A program ‘s rampant wage theft, retaliation, unsafe job sites and exploitative working conditions,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. “Instead, the Department plans a massive “transfer” of funds out of the pockets of impoverished farmworkers into the businesses that employ them by cutting wages and reimbursements of workers’ transportation and subsistence costs, totaling at least $2 billion over ten years. Despite farmworkers’ essential worker status and the prevalence of COVID-19 among farmworkers, DOL takes no steps to require employers to protect farmworkers from the pandemic or help those who become ill; the pandemic only gains a mention in a footnote in this 722-page document,” he added (see p. 208, fn. 66).
“In the last moments of the Trump Administration, the Department of Labor has announced it will weaken labor protections for the most vulnerable workers in the nation while insisting that farmworkers are essential workers who must continue to work without legal protections against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.”
Farmworker Justice is a national advocacy organization for farmworkers. FJ founded in 1981 is based in Washington, D.C. and collaborates with organizations throughout the country to empower farmworkers to improve their wages, working conditions, occupational safety, health immigration status and access to justice. For more information visit the Farmworker Justice website at www.farmworkerjustice.org and follow on Twitter at @FarmwrkrJustice.
Veritas Group for Farmworker Justice
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