The Department of Labor’s suspension of the Bush administration’s H-2A rule is unfortunate.
Not only are growers rightfully disappointed that rules they were using for H-2A guest-worker programs changed midstream, all citizens of good government must regard the Department of Labor action as a step backward.
There is ample evidence the Obama administration’s Department of Labor did not consider the full weight of many comments from growers and other interested stakeholders advising them to retain the Bush administration changes to the H-2A program.
In their action, the Department of Labor on May 29 suspended the final rule that took effect Jan. 17 and announced a new wage rate formula for the H-2A program. That undid many months of industry work and input on changes to the guest worker program.
The new wage rates, which will apply to users of the program who file applications for guest workers after June 29, are significantly higher than under the Bush final rule. This will continue the reality that effectively forces agricultural employers to hire from a large pool of undocumented or falsely documented workers.
The Obama administration says it will take nine months to re-examine the H-2A program, after which time it may possibly come out with a new rule or reinstate the Bush administration changes.
Given the lack of listening skills the Department of Labor showed with its recent decision, there is reason to doubt that any subsequent review of the H-2A program will favor growers.
The uncertain and worsening course of executive branch direction to the guest worker program makes redressing labor issues in Congress — particularly passage of the bipartisan AgJobs bill — all that much more important.