Labor Department proposes new H-2A worker protections

The Labor Department on Tuesday proposed a new rule that it said “would strengthen protections for farm workers in the H-2A program and help prevent abuses that undermine wages and standards for all agricultural workers.
“This proposal builds on a final rule the department published in October 2022 that modernized key aspects of the H-2A program, the Labor Department said.
“Farm workers are vital to our farmers, our food supply and our communities,” said Acting Secretary Julie Su. “This proposed rule would strengthen protections for H-2A farm workers who are particularly vulnerable to labor abuses, empower them to advocate for fair treatment and ensure that their employment does not depress labor standards and undercut domestic farm workers. The administration is committed to protecting all workers, and this proposal would significantly advance that effort.”
KNBC, a Los Angeles television station, said in an analysis, “The new rule, which is subject to a 60-day comment period, seeks to make it easier for labor unions to contact and interact with the H-2A workers, and to protect the workers from retaliation if they meet with labor representatives. The workers would be allowed to have visitors, including those from labor groups, in employer-provided housing, for example.”
The rule would also require farmers who employ H-2A workers to provide seatbelts on vans that are often used to transport workers long distances. Transportation accidents are a leading cause of death for farm workers, according to the department.
“And in a step intended to counter human trafficking, employers would be required to identify anyone recruiting workers on their behalf in the U.S. or foreign countries and to provide copies of any agreements they have with those recruiters.”
The United Farm Workers and the UFW Foundation welcomed the proposed H-2A rules and said their officials “look forward to carefully reviewing and facilitating farm worker feedback during the rulemaking process. Stronger protections for H-2A workers are long overdue, and the proposed rule takes several steps towards improving labor standards for H-2A workers, including basic measures such as retaliation protections for workers, requiring seatbelts on H-2A worker transportation, and allowing for greater transparency in the recruitment process.”
“It’s about damn time,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “The H-2A program has long facilitated the creation of a de-facto underclass of legally vulnerable workers kept in a permanent state of exclusion from U.S. citizenship and labor law. We are hopeful that these proposed rules indicate a real commitment by the Biden administration to begin empowering farm workers on H-2A visas to stand up to employer retaliation, unsafe working conditions, and illegal recruitment practices. The UFW is committed to ensuring both domestic and H-2A workers — many of whom we are proud to represent as members of our union — have their voices heard in the rulemaking process going forward.”
“We are encouraged to see the DOL propose new H-2A program rules,” said UFW Foundation CEO Diana Tellefson Torres. “Time and time again, guestworkers in agriculture are put at risk by employers that abuse the system for their own financial gain. We have continuously called on DOL to use all its tools, including the rulemaking process, to protect H-2A guestworkers. It’s time DOL implement more robust safeguards for H-2A guestworkers and enforce those rules. We will be analyzing the proposed language and encouraging farm workers to lift up their voices during the comment period.”
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