On First Day, New Labor Secretary Moves to Reverse Bush’s Guest Farmworker Rule

Feet in Two Worlds

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

As soon as she took office Friday, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solís moved to reverse a rule affecting guest farmworkers that former President George W. Bush had modified in his last days in office.

The changes included eliminating duplication among state and federal agencies in processing applications, putting in place a new wage formula, and increasing fines for willfully displacing United States citizens with foreign workers.

Critics said Bush’s rules would push already poor wages even lower, reduce worker protections, and make it easier to hire foreigners without actually looking for American employees first.

Solís had been among the many critics of Bush’s decision, which was made in December but went into effect Jan. 17, three days before President Barack Obama was sworn in. At the time, then-U.S. Rep. Solís issued a statement calling the Bush rules “just the latest example of how out of touch the president is with working families, especially with Latino families that make up a large portion of the farmworkers in this country.”

On Solís’ first day in office, the Labor Department announced in a statement “the proposed suspension for nine months” of the rule. Solís said in the release:

Because many stakeholders have raised concerns about the H-2A regulations, this proposed suspension is the prudent and responsible action to take.

Suspending the rule would allow the department to review and reconsider the regulation, while minimizing disruption to state workforce agencies, employers and workers.

Bush’s changes had been called “a backstab to immigrants” and “a cheap shot.”  The Republican administration said it sought to make the H-2A program –which grants visas under that name to temporary foreign farmworkers– less cumbersome for employers who had shunned it because of the large amounts of red tape they faced.

After Solís’ decision last week, pro-immigrant activists were satisfied.

“…this is important because the type of labor protections permitted under H-2A influences the labor protections that could be granted under an eventual immigration reform,” Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), told La Opinión.

Farmworker Justice’s blog Harvesting Justice said, “The Bush Administration may have tried its best to leave a legacy of abuse for our nation’s farmworkers but the new administration is apparently not so willing to go along with it.”

The proposed H-2A rules suspension is open to a 10-day public comment period.

Growers are expected to oppose any new change, especially since many have placed orders for workers and are counting on them.

The Bush rules had reduced red tape, Jasper Hempel, executive vice president of the Western Growers Association, told The New York Times.

But he said the nation needed legislation, known as the AgJOBS bill, that would stabilize the farm labor situation by giving the more than one million illegal farm workers a path to legalization.

[The New York Times]

At her swearing-in ceremony Friday –which included an Obama-style oath fumble–, Solís made clear she intends “to be protector-in-chief of the nation’s workers,” CBS News‘ Mark Knoller wrote.

“To those who have for too long abused workers, put them in harms way, denied them fair pay – let me be clear: there is a new sheriff in town,” Solís said.


  1. Pingback: Hilda Solis Gets to Work Reversing Bush Farm Worker Rule | VivirLatino

  2. Garold Dungy

    Modernizing the Labor Certification Process is not what the new rules promotes, what it is really all about is discouraging using the H2A program. It does this by increasing the costs to employers and making the application process more difficult when it bills it as being more streamlined. Our consulate does not recognize even the new published rules; they have a clear attitude that they are the judge and jury.

    It appears it was put in place intentionally at the worst possible time, a time when applications were in process and being filed for the new season. It has caused delays; the dept. of labor has been inconsistent with the processing of applications. The new rule was put in place so quick even the dept. of labor was unable to adapt or react to the changes.

    At a meeting in Cape Town South Africa on Friday March 27, 2009 even the consular general said he would not be surprised if the government will shortly shut this program down.

    The facts are that immigrant guest workers are needed for seasonal agriculture help; it has been proven on every application for labor certification. The dept. of labor requires recruitment of American workers first, which should be done. However it is proven that the U.S. unemployment figures do not represent agriculture. American workers are not willing to do these jobs.

    Why does the U.S. Government want to compromise this program? At least it’s legal, these employers are not looking to hire illegal’s, why does the Government intentionally turn their head at the illegal’s they know are here and then talk about how it’s a problem and they do things like build a fence and then guard it?

    Our leader’s who are supposed to be our advocate’s don’t understand that the foundation of our economy is not near as much about the things that we read about in the paper. Our foundation is agriculture, who runs successful businesses, who buys equipment,fuel,fertilizer & chemicals,who goes to work everyday and unemployment is not problem for them, who feeds you? Their future problem is employment not unemployment, these employers need to have employees to operate,and a workable H2A program that will allow that. The H2A program under the new rules has been intentionally broken and needs fixed with the intentions of fixing it.

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