Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

DOL to suspend Bush H-2A Rules

March 17th, 2009 | Bruce Goldstein

The Labor Department’s announcement of its proposed temporary suspension of the Bush Administration’s changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program will be officially published in the Federal Register today (Tuesday, March 17th).

The Bush Administration finalized its changes to the guestworker program in midnight legislation last December. The new rules for the program, which slash wages and worker protections for our nation’s farmworkers, went into effect January 17th.

Several farmworker groups, including the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) and Farmworker Justice, among others, warned that the changes would have devastating effects for agricultural workers and tried to prevent them from taking effect. Those groups praised the new administration’s decision to review the new rules. Baldemar Velásquez of FLOC called the proposal “an important victory against the Bush Administration’s closed door policies in not allowing farm workers to have a say over important issues impacting their livelihood.”

“We thank the Obama administration. Our president has clearly demonstrated that we, Americans, now have a government that listens and cares about farm workers” said UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. “Today’s announcement is definitely a victory and is the first step in ensuring that the women and men who pick our food are treated fairly.”

The proposed suspension would be for a period of nine months and would give the Labor Department time to review the Bush regulations. There will be a ten day public comment period.

Meanwhile workers who begin their contracts during the period the Bush Administration’s rules are in effect (from January 17th until the suspension begins) may end up working for the lower wages and benefits of the Bush rules, said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice.

“A suspension of the Bush rules would be a great relief for our nation’s farm workers. The rules were illegal and DOL is acting responsibly in announcing plans to review them. However, it’s unclear what this means for workers who started their contracts under the Bush rules. The Department should not leave them out.”

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