New Guest-Farm Worker Rules Would Lower Wages

By Jorge Valencia
Published: Monday, September 23, 2019 - 10:24am
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 12:22pm
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The U.S. Department of Labor is receiving public input until Tuesday on new rules for the temporary immigrant farm workers program, which the department says will see improvements for businesses but advocates say will reduce pay for workers.

Under the proposed rules, farms would be required to pay for less of the worker’s transportation from their country of origin to their place of work, and would be subject to fewer inspections of the farm-provided worker living quarters, according to an official posting on the Federal Register. And farms in California, Florida, New York and Texas could lower wages for guest workers, according to a calculation by the Farmworker Justice advocacy group.

The labor department presented the measure in a statement as a way to “ease unnecessary burdens on employers” and improve protections for workers. Advocates say it would worsen conditions conditions for U.S. and foreign workers.

“The proposed changes would simply exacerbate existing flaws in the program,” said Evy Peña, spokesperson for the Mexico City-based Center for Migrant Rights. “Power lies in the hands of the employer, and this would only further the power imbalance and increase worker vulnerability.”

The proposed changes to the program, known as H-2A for the type of visa foreign workers receive, would require companies to refund workers for their transportation from the U.S. consulate where they received their visa, instead of their home — often a difference of several days' travel. It would also allow for employer-provided housing facilities to be inspected every two years instead of one — even though inspectors have often found workers living in squalid conditions, Peña said.

Workers’ wages in California could drop by $1 per hour to $12.92 and in Texas by 70 cents to $12.23, according to a Famworker Justice calculation.

The labor department approved more than 240,000 guest agricultural worker visas in the fiscal year of 2018, and Arizona was one of the top 10 recipients. About 3 of 4 Arizona guest workers go to lettuce fields, and on average they’re paid just above the $11 state minimum wage, according to the Arizona Department of Labor.

The federal labor department is receiving public input through the Federal Register.

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