Proposed Guestworker Program Is a Formula for Forced Labor – 10/4/17

This week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced an updated proposal for a new federal guestworker program called the H-2C, modifying an earlier draft to appease extreme anti-immigrant and anti-worker interests. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni, dated October 23, 2017:

“If you wanted a write a formula for forced labor, Rep. Goodlatte’s proposal would be it. The H-2C guestworker visa program he’s proposing would add more misery for desperate migrant workers, subtract labor protections and employer responsibility, and equal disaster for guestworkers and the U.S. workers alongside them. It’s a guaranteed race to the bottom.

“The bill purports to address flaws with current guestworker programs. In fact it would exacerbate the worst faults of current programs, while creating a host of new ones that would hurt both guestworkers and U.S.-born workers.

“Goodlatte’s bill would:

  • reduce the wages of all workers in the industries it would affect (agriculture, aquaculture, dairy, forestry, seafood and meat processing);
  • strip away hard-fought workplace rights and protections for guestworkers in the current system, while limiting their ability to seek justice through the legal system;
  • all but eliminate federal enforcement of workers’ rights by making it the responsibility not of the U.S. Department of Labor—which itself struggles to keep workers safe—but the Department of Agriculture; and
  • and place an unsustainable and unfair financial burden on guestworkers by requiring them to pay for unsubsidized healthcare, withholding 10% of their wages, and not requiring that they be informed of these burdens in their contracts.

“This would all but guarantee widespread exploitation throughout the program, up to and including forced labor. Desperate migrant workers would be trapped, deeply indebted by recruitment fees and unfair requirements, while wages and conditions would fall for millions of U.S. workers in the same industries. High-road employers unwilling to exploit workers would also be undercut. The National Guestworker Alliance rejects this bill in the strongest terms.

“Labor migration with freedom and dignity is fundamental to the human and civil rights of migrants, and to the dignity of the U.S. workers alongside them. Guestworker programs must be designed to strengthen local economies while protecting workers and lawful employers. They should reflect the values of a society that believes in human, civil and labor rights, and in the right to migration for work with dignity. Rep. Goodlatte’s proposal fails on every count.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-673-1307

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