Experts Urge Congress to Support H-2B Prevailing Wage Rule

Delayed Department of Labor rule would protect U.S. wages and local jobs

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 22, 2011.  Immigration, labor and civil rights experts convened yesterday during a congressional briefing to discuss the final rule issued by the Department of Labor to pay a prevailing wages to seasonal migrant workers working under H-2B visas. The briefing focused on how the rule will maintain wages for all workers and protect jobs in communities across the nation, as well as how further delays in implementation will harm current and unemployed workers.

Ana Avendaño, Director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO, was joined by Mary Bauer from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Daniel Costa from the Economic Policy Institute and Tanya Clay House from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. At Congressional briefing, panelists agreed that during these difficult economic times, elected leaders should focus on legislation that creates jobs, maintains good wages and protects workers’ rights.

The H-2B program permits employers to hire temporary guest workers for seasonal non-agricultural work when U.S. workers are not available.  The majority of H-2B guest workers are employed in landscaping, construction, food processing, hospitality and other industries.

Research suggests that the current H-2B program puts downward pressure on the wages of U.S. workers. The new wage rule would guarantee that the wages of U.S. workers are not undermined by efforts to simply use temporary foreign guest workers to fill vacancies.

Recently, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sent a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis calling for the wage rule to be rescinded. In response to the letter and pending litigation, the Department of Labor announced it would suspend the effective date of the new wage rule for 60 days.

“When the President introduced the American Jobs Act, he told America that ‘the purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working.’ That’s what this rule is about,” said Avendaño. “It requires that employers make jobs available to local workers at prevailing wages, instead of wages that are, in many instances, near poverty level.  And it prevents employers from reaching overseas for vulnerable temporary workers rather than providing work for those who so urgently need it here at home.”

“In practice, the H-2B program is rife with abuses,” said Bauer. “This program has given more tools to employers who are shopping for the most exploitable workforce. This hurts workers in the United States as well as those who come here from other countries. The Department of Labor must keep in place the prevailing wage rule in order to protect workers from other countries as well as U.S. workers.”

“As unemployment rates remain high for African-Americans and Latinos across all ages, the implementation of this wage rule has become a civil rights and human rights issue,” said Clay House. “The new H-2B wage rule is so important for creating jobs for U.S. workers and treating H-2B guestworkers fairly.” 

“All of the data I’ve looked at suggest that employers have been using the current Bush/Chao H-2B wage rule as a way to degrade the wages of U.S. workers in major industries such as landscaping, forestry, construction, seafood processing and hospitality,” said Costa. “The Obama DOL’s new H-2B wage rule will simply restore the wages in these industries to what they were before the Bush era and ensure that millions of unemployed workers have a fair shot at these jobs.”