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Rep. Dan Newhouse is leading radical guest-worker plan

His plan to expand H-2A to cover year-round work is a game-changer that will displace local workers, drive wages down



(July 24, 2017) — Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-4th) sponsored an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill seeking to expand the use of the H-2A, a temporary and seasonal agricultural guest worker program, to year-round jobs. Currently, H-2A guest worker visa program helps provides agricultural employers with an opportunity to secure temporary and seasonal workforce, but only when a local workforce is not readily available.

However, some agricultural employers have abused the program to displace local workers and to maintain a workforce where the choice of asserting their rights can lead to unwarranted discipline, through verbal and/or physical intimidation, exploitation, or termination leading to deportation. One agricultural organization is under investigation by the Washington State Attorney General for allegedly coaching their members to intentionally misreport wages and working conditions on an annual Employment Security Department Prevailing Wage/Working Conditions survey. This falls parallel to a recent Buzzfeed investigation found program participants across the nation complain they’ve been victims of wage theft, been threatened with guns, beaten, raped or imprisoned.

This has not stopped the number of H-2A visas applications by agricultural employers from increasing exponentially, from 4,500 in 2012 to up to 15,000 in 2017.

The agricultural sector has created a problem — they have consistently supported legislation to undermine farm worker wages, oppose legislation to ensure workers and neighboring farm land communities are protected from pesticide exposure, and have long ignored the need to fix the profoundly racist overtime exemption — a contributing factor to why farm workers make an average of $23,000 a year in Washington state, where the value of agricultural production is more than $10.7 billion.

Instead of pushing legislation to increase the social and economic prosperity of workers in the agricultural sector, such as pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, including the “blue card” legislation filed by Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), or working to ensure agricultural workers are provided safe working conditions, protection from discrimination or sexual violence, or eliminating the federal overtime exemption in agricultural employment, Newhouse and his Republican colleagues have decided to push a policy that will have grave consequences on the ability for the local workforce to gain meaningful employment.

The expansion of the H-2A guest worker program to year-round employment is a game-changer, part of larger effort to drive wages down and keep farm workers in situations that are harmful to their health, safety and economic security. We may see the full displacement of workers in the fruit packing warehouse and dairy industry, as a result.

And in the era of Trump, farm workers’ ability to be made whole are even more precarious and stacked against the worker. It is crystal clear that we are living in an unprecedented time where workers are under attack, where agricultural and immigrant workers are being pushed out of their communities — either through the systemic undercutting of rights and resources or through the ever increasing number of deportations that are happening in communities across our state.

The labor movement has long supported meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform — we know that the stability and the dignity that it affords hard working families benefits not just the worker, but entire economies that are supported by their wages, especially in rural parts of our state.

It is unfortunate and disconcerting to see Congressman Newhouse drive legislation that undermines the economic and social prosperity of an entire workforce that his district is supported by and that he was elected to represent.

Congressman, as a fellow farm-kid from the 4th Congressional District, I urge you to support legislation that recognizes Washington workers’ contributions to our state and rural economy, stop the attack on your farm worker constituents — give them the dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve.

TAKE A STAND — Please call Rep. Dan Newhouse’s office at 202-225-5816 in Washington, D.C., 509-452-3243 in Yakima, or 509-713-7374 in Tri-Cities and tell him you oppose his radical expansion of year-round agricultural guest workers and the displacement of the local workforce. If you’re on Twitter, tweet the following (or something similar): “@RepNewhouse #stoph2a and stop the race to the bottom on workers who feed you. #Bluecard for all farm workers!”

Eric González Alfaro is Legislative and Policy Director for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the state, representing the interests of more than 600 unions with approximately 450,000 rank-and-file members.




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