Politics

Union Leader Comes Out Against ‘Devastating’ Guest Worker Bill

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The leader of a major agricultural and meat processing union blasted a Republican guest worker bill Monday, arguing that it would drive down wages for American workers and make it easier for companies to exploit foreign laborers.

Marc Perrone, the president of the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, says H.R. 4092 — the Agricultural Guestworker Act — is a job displacement bill disguised as a guest worker program.

“Make no mistake, this bill creates a guest worker system that will turn middle class jobs vital to food safety into jobs that are temporary, untrained and unskilled,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner. “Even worse, it would exploit these guest workers by placing them at grave risk by taking jobs that require them to use sharp knives in a fast-paced environment with little to no training.”

Introduced by Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte and co-sponsored by a dozen other GOP lawmakers, the Agricultural Guestworker Act narrowly passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in October. The bill would scrap the current agricultural visa, known as the H-2A, and replace it with a program with a significantly higher cap on the number of foreign laborers allowed to come to the U.S. each year.

The proposal contains a number of provisions friendly to growers, dairy farmers, and meat and poultry processing companies. It would allow up to 450,000 nonimmigrant agricultural workers each season under a new H-2C visa, with the cap subject to a 10 percent annual raise if visa petitions hit the statutory limit. There are currently about 165,000 nonimmigrant agricultural workers with valid H-2A visas.

Goodlatte’s bill does away with a requirement for employers to provide guest workers with housing and transportation to worksites. It also cuts the amount of guaranteed paid work time that employers must offer to guest workers from the current 75 percent under H-2A, to 50 percent under H-2C.

Most leading agricultural industry groups are backing the bill, claiming that it will ensure that producers have access to a reliable labor force.

“The U.S. pork industry needs a viable agriculture workforce to remain globally competitive,” the National Pork Producers Council wrote in statement when bill was introduced. “The current visa programs are not working for pork producers or for the broader agriculture community. The Goodlatte bill will rectify this.”

But some conservative immigration reformers say the Agricultural Guestworker Act is an unnecessary expansion that will displace U.S. workers and drive down already low wages. David North, a fellow at the Center For Immigration Studies and an expert in labor economics, says the bill would be a major giveaway to agribusiness with few offsetting protections for the domestic labor force.

“If the nation’s concern is saving jobs for U.S. workers, not further depressing wages in the ag sector, not exploiting foreign farm workers, and not further inflating the size of the nation’s population, this bill is terrible,” he wrote in a blog post.

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