This is Important for farmers or other ag businesses who hire temporary employees!!



Hiring foreign farmworkers to get tougher under new rule

Growers must try harder to find Americans to fill the temporary and seasonal harvest jobs, starting next month.

February 11, 2010|By P.J. Huffstutter

In a move that is sure to have the agriculture industry grimacing and labor-rights advocates cheering, the Labor Department is reversing a Bush administration rule that allowed farmers an easier path to hiring temporary or seasonal foreign workers.

The department has issued new regulations that will require growers to take more steps to try to find Americans to fill jobs picking crops and other harvest-time roles, as well as increase pay and provide more job-safety protections for the thousands of foreign farmworkers they do hire.

The old rule, which affected the H-2A guest-worker program, was adopted shortly before President George W. Bush left office. The Labor Department suspended that regulation in May.

The new rule, slated to take effect March 15, will increase the average pay for temporary farmworkers by nearly a dollar per hour. Farmers also will be required to list their job openings on a new online job registry, and state workforce agencies must inspect worker housing before employers can get the nod to hire foreign laborers.

Department officials said Thursday that the changes were designed to protect the agriculture industry's most at-risk workers.

"This new rule will make it possible for all workers who are working hard on American soil to receive fair pay while at the same time expand opportunities for U.S. workers," Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in a statement. "The actions that we have taken through this rule-making also will enable us to detect and remedy different forms of worker violations."

Even when unemployment rates are high, finding temporary or seasonal workers remains a concern for the agriculture industry. During fiscal 2009, employers filed 8,150 labor certification applications requesting 103,955 H-2A workers for temporary agricultural work. The Labor Department certified 94% of the applications, for a total of 86,014 workers.

The Bush-era rule, which let employers hire foreign workers if they couldn't find Americans to fill the jobs, sparked a fierce battle across the country's farmlands. Labor advocacy groups railed against the rule for slashing wages and weakening worker safety rules.

Farmers have said they need help easing the hurdles to bring in foreign workers to harvest crops, saying U.S. workers don't want those jobs and refuse to take them. Farm groups have spent months fighting the Obama administration's efforts to curtail or modify the rule.

Last year a group of growers associations -- including the National Christmas Tree Assn., the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Assn. and more than a dozen others -- filed suit against the Labor and Homeland Security departments, alleging that they could be unfairly prosecuted for labor law violations.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.