By Eva Seidelman, ILRF Program Assistant
The Bush Administration had to give one more slap in the face to workers before leaving office (though there's probably more to come). The Labor Department’s proposed changes to the H-2A visa (agricultural guestworker) program would let employers cut numerous corners by adjusting the "prevailing wage" formula to push wages down on farmworkers who are already overworked and underpaid, according to editorials in the NY Times and LA Times. Not to say that the current program is just for workers, but the with the new rules, we're looking at something that looks very similar to the Bracero program of the 60s.
The new regulations will slash wages and worker protections for those who harvest
our nation’s food crops, according to Farmworker Justice. They will also limit how much employers have to reimburse
foreign workers for the cost of going home and relax enforcement of existing laws at a time when abusive working conditions and wage theft are already the norm. This is meant to help farmers fully take advantage of vulnerable workers abroad in the midst of this economic recession.
My issues with the new regulations don't take the protectionist bent that others bring up. US farmworkers deserve jobs that pay a living wage and allow workers to unionize along with migrant farmworkers. Incoming migrant workers are especially in need of work, thanks to the US corporations that dominate our food system, exploit farmworkers abroad and unfairly prevent subsistence farmers from making a living. Immigrant farmworkers who have been displaced by US farm subsidies and exploited by US corporations such as Wal-Mart, Dole, Del Monte and Nestle who pay poverty wages have no choice but to migrate. BUT WHEN IMMIGRANTS WORK IN THE US, THEY DESERVE JOB STABILITY, THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE AND BARGAIN COLLECTIVELY, AND A LIVING WAGE just as much as American workers. The new H2A regulations undermine labor rights for both US citizens and immigrants workers.
Another example of immigrant exploitation is the pineapple industry in Costa Rica, dominated by Dole and Del Monte, where subcontracting schemes take advantage of migrant workers from Nicaragua. These workers are denied the right to organize for better wages and working conditions so they often end up migrating to the US where they are also exploited.
Hopefully, the Obama administration will bring real change to our global food system by bringing comprehensive immigration reform, overhauling our nations' farm policies, and making global trade rules fair through better labor rights enforcement mechanisms.