Groups applaud the suspension of a policy that slashes wages, worker protections
(WASHINGTON DC) Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will suspend the midnight Bush Administration changes to weaken labor protections in the nation's agricultural guestworker program. The changes to the H-2A guestworker program took effect January 17, 2009, and have had a dramatic impact on wages and working conditions for agricultural workers under the program. In a notice to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, the Labor Department announces it will reinstate the former regulations in 30 days.
"This is a great relief for our nation's farmworkers." said Arturo S. Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers (UFW). "The Bush Administration's rules lowered wages and worker protections and made it easier to bypass legal U.S. workers in favor of guestworkers. We are overjoyed that the Secretary has overturned these cruel and illegal changes."
The Labor Department decided to issue the suspension after a lawsuit was filed by farmworker unions, including the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) challenging the legality of the changes. The lawsuit is still pending but worker groups praised the DOL's decision. FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez called the announcement, "an important victory against the Bush Administration's efforts to exclude farm workers from voicing their concerns over the harsh policies of a bygone era."
The groups emphasized, however, that for all H-2A applications filed during the period when the Bush-Chao regulations have been in effect, farmworker employment will continue to be governed by the terms and conditions of the Bush regulations, including the lower wage rates imposed by the Bush rules. "We remain concerned about the wages and working conditions of those workers hired under the Bush-Chao changes," said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice and one of the attorneys on the lawsuit.
"There also remains a pressing need to address the farm labor supply issue in a more comprehensive manner. One-sided changes to the H-2A program do not solve our nation's agricultural labor supply issues. We need Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill."
AgJOBS, the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, recently reintroduced in both houses of Congress, would, according to Goldstein, "stabilize the farm labor force by allowing undocumented farmworkers who meet certain requirements to come forward and pay fines to earn a temporary legal status and gain documentation. It would also revise the H-2A program in balanced ways that have been agreed to by both industry and labor." The AgJOBS proposal has broad bipartisan support.
The UFW, the farm labor union founded by Cesar Chavez, is headquartered in California, is active in ten states, and led negotiations for farmworkers on immigration legislation.
FLOC, an AFL-CIO affiliate, is headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, and has collective bargaining agreements covering thousands of H-2A guestworkers who work annually in North Carolina and is leading an organizing campaign in that state. Farmworker Justice is a national farmworker advocacy group based in Washington DC.
For more information see, www.farmworkerjustice.org, www.harvestingjustice.org, www.floc.com, and www.ufw.org.
For more information, contact:
Barb Howe, Farmworker Justice. firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.293.5420 ext. 307
Maria Machuca, United Farm Workers, email@example.com or 661-889-2758