Labor Department Suspends Farm Worker Rules

Labor Department Suspends Farm Worker Rules
By Sara Murray

The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2009

Washington, DC — The Labor Department made it harder for farm employers to hire guest workers, suspending a last-minute Bush administration rule which took effect in January.

The rule change affects farm workers admitted to the U.S. with H-2A visas. The suspension of the Bush administration rule change takes effect June 29 and will last for nine months.

Farmworker Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. said the change will directly affect roughly 70,000 H2-A workers, and will have ripple effects on native American farm workers.

Democratic lawmakers and farm worker organizations argued that the Bush rule led to lower wages for American and immigrant farm workers and made it easier to hire guest workers without first considering Americans. 'Those changes were really devastating for agricultural workers,' said Adrienne DerVartanian, a staff attorney and policy analyst for Farmworker Justice. She said the Bush administration rule led to 'really drastic wage changes that are very detrimental to farm workers, especially in this economy.'

In one instance, she cited a farm in North Carolina where salaries for American and immigrant workers dropped more than $1.50 per hour as a result of the rule change.

The Bush administration regulations, which were announced in the Federal Register on Dec. 18, 2008, went into effect on Jan. 17, 2009. Those regulations used a different formula to calculate workers' wages and asked employers to confirm that they had first looked for American workers. Prior to that, employers were subjected to a more stringent certification process, advocacy groups argued.

The Bush administration said the regulations were designed to streamline the legal hiring process and discourage employers from using undocumented workers.


Rule Change for Workers on Farms
By Julia Preston
The New York Times, May 28, 2009