A Labor Day Attack on Farmworkers

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Amid all the hype of political conventions, analysis of the Republican VP pick and Labor Day celebrations for the rest of the country, the Bush Administration will launch an attack on the nation's 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.

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Cross posted on www.harvestingjustice.org

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5 Comments

EYES OF TEXAS said:

American citizens should be offered these jobs first anyway. So, what is wrong with having the farm owner produce a record of some sort to prove he has tried to hire American citizens first? If the proof is verified and no citizen workers can be found, he will still be able to get his alien workers with the restrictions that will force them to go home once the job is complete. It will also force the farm owner to offer a decent wage to obtain workers in his own area.

Well, theoretically that's what's supposed to happen but the reality is that there is very little enforcement of the few worker protections that exist in the program.

As part of the process of applying for guestworkers the employer has to advertise the available jobs with the state workforce agencies who then will tell local workers about these jobs and refer any who are interested to the employer.

The employer is supposed to hire those local workers (all of whom would be U.S. citizens or legal residents, by the way, because undocumented workers can't use state employment agencies). But because it's so tempting for employers to prefer guestworkers (as explained above, because guestworkers are less likely to complain about illegal treatment and are not in a position to demand the same living and working conditions legal U.S. workers can) often that doesn't happen. There have been many, many abuses of this sort already. Farmworker Justice is about to release a report next week highlighting some of the most egregious examples.

When an employer can't find enough workers solution is to raise wages and working conditions to attract more workers. What agribusiness wants (and is getting) is an exemption to the basic rule of supply and demand. Guestworker programs are not the way to fulfill America's labor needs.

EYES OF TEXAS said:

Find every abled bodied citizen that is living off of government welfare and social services and cut them off. Force them to find a job in order to survive. With the illegal workers being deported, those positions will be filled by citizens that can no longer receive government assistance.

janna said:

Eyes of Texas, there is a documentary called American Harvest making its way into theaters across the country, and I urge you (and everyone who cares about this) to see it. It's not a bleeding-heart story, it won't make you gag, I promise. It's about farmers as well as farm workers, and the challenges they all face. It goes a long way toward explaining the kind of worker visa reform that is needed, and why. The film addresses those very same points you're talking about.

I haven't seen American Harvest but my boss did and said it was a bit problematic. Apparently the filmmaker didn't bother talking to any farmworkers or legal advocates? This is an interesting review:
http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1364/1/

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This page contains a single entry by lividsnails published on August 29, 2008 12:17 PM.

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