Employers abuse H-2B program as ‘ultimate tool’ to undercut U.S. workers

Employers abuse H-2B program as ‘ultimate tool’ to undercut U.S. workers

While corporate lobbyists block crucial reforms, most comprehensive H-2B report ever reveals depth of abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 21, 2012—Employers have turned the H-2B visa program into the “ultimate tool” for undercutting U.S. workers and exploiting low-wage guestworkers, while corporate lobbyists block reforms that would level the playing field, a report released today by the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) says.

The report, entitled Leveling the Playing Field: Reforming the H-2B Program to Protect Guestworkers and U.S. Workers, was authored by the Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights on behalf of the NGA. It is available for download here.

The report highlights cases of exploitation from Texas to Tennessee, and calls for four indispensible reforms that would end employer abuse and protect both guestworkers and U.S. workers:

  • Guaranteeing guestworkers the right to organize without fear of retaliation;
  • Prohibiting employers from using guestworkers as cheap, exploitable alternatives to U.S. workers;
  • Eliminating debt servitude and other elements of human trafficking in the program; and
  • Subjecting employers to meaningful government enforcement and community oversight.

As the report notes, the Obama administration is already trying to institute many of these reforms through new H-2B program rules, but it has been blocked by an all-out effort from industry groups and corporate lobbyists—first in federal court, then through a U.S. Senate vote to defund the Department of Labor’s enforcement of the new rules.

“Corporations and their lobbyists are desperate to hold onto the profit model of excluding U.S. workers and exploiting guestworkers instead,” said NGA Executive Director Saket Soni. “The status quo rewards abuse and forced labor, while guestworkers, struggling U.S. workers, and small businesses that play by the rules all suffer.”

The most recent case of forced labor in the H-2B program came to light only days ago, when H-2B guestworkers revealed forced labor by a Walmart supplier in Louisiana called C.J.’s Seafood. The supplier subjected workers to shifts of up to 24 hours with no overtime pay, locked them in the plant, and threatened violence against them and their families.

The Walmart supplier workers planned to meet on Thursday with the office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, present the report, and tell their stories. Only days before, Sen. Landrieu joined Republicans in voting to block the new Department of Labor protections for H-2B guestworkers and U.S. workers.

“I’ve worked as a guestworker for eight years. It was always bad, but I needed the work to support my family,” said Ana Rosa Diaz, one of the H-2B workers who exposed forced labor at the Walmart supplier. “They humiliated us. They threatened to beat us with shovels to make us work faster. When one worker called the police, the boss threatened our families in Mexico. American politicians need to understand what it means to be a guestworker here. All we want is to be treated like human beings.”

DOWNLOAD: Leveling the Playing Field: Reforming the H-2B Program to Protect Guestworkers and U.S. Workers

CONTACT: J.J. Rosenbaum, NGA Legal Director, 504-376-6238, jjrosenbaum@nowcrj.org

ABOUT NGA: The National Guestworker Alliance is a membership organization of guestworkers engaging in workplace fights across many industries to win dignified conditions, just migration policy, and new rights and protections for all workers.

ABOUT PENN STATE LAW’S CENTER FOR IMMIGRANTS’ RIGHTS: The Center for Immigrants’ Rights is an immigration policy clinic where law students produce white papers, practitioner toolkits, and primers of national impact on behalf of client organizations.

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