A Dire Ruling for the Nation's Farm Workers
Federal Court Decision Regarding Bush Guest Worker Program Lowers Wage Rates, Worker Protections for Nation’s Farm Workers
Back in May we told you the exciting news that new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis suspended the Midnight Bush-Chao H-2A regulations.
We deeply regret to tell you that a North Carolina federal court judge has overturned this ruling. He said the H-2A growers would suffer irreparable harm if not permitted to pay the lower wage rates that the Bush-Chao regime allowed.
As a result of this action, thousands of vulnerable farm workers in the United States—including both domestic and foreign workers--will suffer lower wages, lost benefits, and reduced enforcement of their labor rights.
These midnight H-2A regulations changes by the Bush administration gut existing protections for both domestic and foreign farm workers. They make it easier for growers to slash the pay of domestic farm workers and hire imported foreign laborers instead of U.S. field workers. They weaken government protections in an industry known for violating the minimum wage, housing requirements and other rules.
Current Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis made the right decision, the moral decision, and the lawful decision in a public process to suspend the Bush Administration rules and reinstate the regulations that had been in place previously.
We urge the Secretary of Labor Solis and the Department of Labor to appeal this decision immediately.
The United Farm Workers vows to do all we can to fight for farm workers’ interests and overturn these harmful rules. As part of our fight, the UFW along with Farmworker Justice, will continue with the lawsuit we filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. in January.
We will keep you updated with future developments.
The Bush Administration issued the new guest worker regulations on December 18, 2008 and made them effective January 17, 2009. Secretary Solis on March 17, 2009 published in the Federal Register a proposal to temporarily suspend the H-2A regulations, reinstate the regulations that had been in place, and begin drafting new regulations for later publication. The public was given an opportunity to comment on the proposed suspension within ten days.
On May 29, the Secretary announced her decision to suspend the Bush-Chao regulation temporarily until the regulations could be rewritten. Agricultural employer groups sued Secretary Solis over this decision in federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro.
On June 29, the day the suspension took effect, U.S. federal judge William Osteen, Jr., entered a preliminary injunction, declaring that Secretary Solis could not suspend the Bush-Chao regulations and reinstating the former regulations. He said that the Administrative Procedure Act had not been followed.
The consequence is that agricultural employers who apply for H-2A guest workers will continue to be able to offer the lower wage rates and other lower benefits. For example, in North Carolina, many farm workers under the H-2A program are being paid $7.25 per hour or $8.10 per hour, instead of the $9.34 per hour that would be required under the former H-2A regulations.