Why employers are attacking new H-2B program rules – 5-7-15

On May 6, 2015, the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship held a hearing on H-2B guestworker program regulations.

Below is a statement by Jacob Horwitz, Organizing Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

6-4-14 action 4 350We applaud the new H-2B program regulations by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These new rules—one instituting a new wage methodology and one regulating the H-2B program—are long overdue, having previously been blocked by industry and Congressional backers who put greed over basic worker dignity. The new rules help protect wages and working conditions for the 24 million U.S. workers who work alongside guestworkers in core H-2B industries like seafood processing, construction, landscaping, and hospitality.

Testimony at yesterday’s hearing shows why low-road employers are opposing the rules: they are afraid of workers standing up for their basic rights. Seafood industry representative Frank Randol suggested that guestworkers’ joining the NGA and exposing forced labor was as worrying to him as floods and hurricanes. Low-road employers in the seafood industry have consistently opposed regulations that provide basic protections for workers, and have sought to employ those least able to enforce their rights. As Mr. Randol noted in his testimony, his own business turned from Vietnamese refugees to H-2B guestworkers, and most recently, to prison labor.

As in 2012, industry lobbyists are now making tired complaints of overregulation. But the evidence shows—and the Federal Courts and GAO have agreed—that the lack of adequate regulation has harmed U.S. workers and guestworkers alike. The reality is that the current system rewards employers who abuse the H-2B program as a source of cheap, exploitable workers.  Without the protections provided by these new rules, guestworkers like Olivia Guzman Garfias and Fausto Garcia Figueroa will continue to face retaliatory firing or blacklisting when they advocate for better conditions or come forward to expose abuse. Retaliation chills the ability of workers to enforce their rights, creates a race to the bottom, puts high-road employers at a competitive disadvantage, and drives down wages and conditions for all workers, including the 24 million U.S. workers who work alongside H-2B guestworkers.

The commonsense rules issued last week by the DOL and DHS provide important protections for all involved, including guestworkers, U.S. workers, and high-road employers:

  • prohibitions on employer intimidation, blacklisting, or other discriminatory behavior against guestworkers who seek to enforce their rights or consult with workers’ centers or attorneys, among other frontline advocates;
  • protections to prevent employers from shifting the costs of travel, visa, and recruitment to H-2B workers, thereby helping to prevent debt servitude;
  • stronger protections to ensure that unemployed U.S. workers have an opportunity to learn about and apply for the jobs;
  • an employer registration process valid for up to three years, which will expedite the certification process; and
  • stronger debarment provisions for employers and agents abusing the program.

These new rules are an important step in stopping the rampant forced labor and workplace abuse in the H-2B program, which the NGA has exposed on the supply chains of Walmart and other major corporations. They’re long overdue. And they should be supported by anyone who cares about the dignity of immigrant workers and the U.S. workers alongside them.

CONTACTS: Jacob Horwitz, jacob@guestworkeralliance.org, 504-452-9159

Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

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