A Labor Day Attack on Farmworkers
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at any moment,will announce extensive changes to the H-2A guestworker program, slashing wages and reducing worker protections for hundreds of thousands of our nation's farmworkers. These policy changes deserve our attention.
The H-2A program is a temporary agricultural guestworker program that permits employers to apply for permission to hire foreign labor for jobs lasting ten months or less. To bring in H-2A guestworkers, employers must show that they cannot find U.S. workers who want the jobs. These will be the most far-reaching changes in the laws regulating guestworker programs since 1942. If the changes are finalized, as we expect them to be next week, and take effect, this Administration will have returned us to an era of agricultural labor exploitation that many thought ended over 65 years ago.
What a Labor Day gift to farmworkers!
The Administration will finalize plans that were published several months ago. They called for cutting wage rates and wage protections for both domestic and foreign workers, minimizing recruitment obligations inside the U.S., ending the requirement to provide workers with free housing that meets federal and state safety requirements, curtailing or eliminating transportation reimbursement payments, and removing much of the government oversight that is supposed to deter and remedy illegal employer conduct. There is much more and it's almost all terrible.
U.S. farmworkers will be denied jobs and forced to quit due to the onerous conditions. The aim of the Administration is to create an endless supply of guestworkers who our government will allow to be exploited at low wage wages and suffer grueling productivity standards that U.S. workers cannot afford to accept. By enticing employers to use vulnerable guestworkers at less than the cost of U.S. workers, the Administration theorizes that it will wean employers from hiring undocumented workers.
This low-wage, low-road strategy is not just morally reprehensible, it is economically destructive. Most farmworkers are undocumented. The Administration's proposal does absolutely nothing to address that reality. They are already here doing this back-breaking work. Most of them are law-abiding families embodying those All-American values such as "self-sacrifice" and "hard-work". Employers need them. The Bush Administration cannot make them go away.
For decades government commissions have told agriculture that it must stabilize its workforce and improve productivity by increasing wages and modernizing its labor practices, rather than relying new waves of exploitable foreign labor to overcome high employee turnover.
We call on Congress, including Senator McCain and Senator Obama, to do whatever it takes to stop the Administration from issuing its planned changes to the H-2A guestworker program. There are reasonable alternatives that have won bipartisan support. Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama support those alternatives.
During this Labor Day weekend, amid the election year hype we must think about the people toiling to put food on our tables. If the Administration issues the final regulations, as we expect they will any day, we plan to ask you to tell Congress to prevent those regulations from every taking effect.
For more information on the H-2A regulatory changes, and news as it develops, please our H-2A News page on our website.
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: A Labor Day Attack on Farmworkers.
TrackBack URL for this entry: