Bush's Latest Targets Farmworkers

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The Labor and Homeland Security Departments will "render meaningless" many of the basic workplace safety regulations for farm workers by revised regulations to the H-2A visa program scheduled to take effect on Jan. 17, the United Farm Workers claim in Federal Court. The "extensive changes" published in the Federal Register on Dec. 18 "undo" worker protections, cripple the Department of Labor's oversight and enforcement powers, and "unequivocally conflict with the plain language of the H-2A enabling statues," the complaint states.
    "The DOL's extensive changes to the H-2A program do not tinker around the edges; rather, they render meaningless many of the basic health, safety, and wage protections provided to farmworkers under the H-2A statute and current regulations," the complaint states. "The new rules accomplish this not only by undoing many of the substantive worker protections found in the current regulations but also by weakening DOL's role in overseeing and enforcing the statutory mandates of the H-2A program. Many of these regulations unequivocally conflict with the plain language of the H-2A enabling statues. Many others are arbitrary and capricious rules that are inconsistent with the purposes of the statute, run contrary to evidence before DOL in the administrative record and elsewhere, and are poorly explained and justified. These new rules go well beyond DOL's discretion to promulgate regulations; rather, they constitute a wholesale attempt to undo decades-old protections of U.S. farmworkers and H-2A agricultural guestworkers," the complaint states. "These regulations will cause irreparable harm to U.S. and H-2A workers by reducing wages and labor protections, and by decreasing job opportunities for workers who are already among the most impoverished in the country."
    Plaintiffs claim the changes will essentially let labor contractors and employers certify themselves as complying with a wide range of laws and regulations, and excuse the Department of Labor from bothering to certify or investigate.
    Lead counsel in the 69-page complaint is Wilmer Cutler Pickering.

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