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Farm worker proposal remains on hold

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(The Center Square) – Three months after letters in opposition from congressmen and state attorneys general, and the close of the public comment period, there’s no decision yet on a proposed Department of Labor rule for farm workers in the H-2A program.

Jake Andrejat, press advisor for the U.S. Department of Labor, confirmed in an email to The Center Square this week the department “is currently reviewing comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.”

The proposal is controversial, and critics say it will damage small farms in America up to and including forcing many to sell to bigger corporations. If put into place, those against the measure say it would give “unionization protections” and place “the interests of foreign nationals over the interests of United States citizens.”

The interim secretary of the Labor Department, Julie Su, says the initiative would empower workers and ensure fair treatment of workers.

The proposal would put in new protections for worker self-advocacy; clarification for when a termination is “for cause”; make foreign labor recruitment more transparent; make wages more predictable; improve workers’ access to safe transportation, including seat belts; and enhance enforcement to improve program integrity.

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., is among dozens representing strong agriculture states in opposition. He signed a Nov. 14 letter to Su that read in part, “This proposed rule seems to be operating under the assumption that bad actors in the program are the rule and not the exception. Farmers rely on H-2A workers and often see the same workers come back each season. It is in no one’s best interest to unfairly treat their workers.”

Rouzer was one of 75 earlier this month in calling for the House of Representatives and Senate appropriations leaders “to include an H-2A visa guestworker wage freeze in upcoming government funding legislation.”

The letter referenced an annual adjustment to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate.

In part, the letter said, “The new rates put further financial strain on farm operations of all sizes, and we urge you to include an H-2A wage freeze in upcoming funding legislation. For farmers and ranchers who use H-2A, the skyrocketing AEWR will only compound inflated input costs like energy and fertilizer, other guest worker expenses like transportation and housing, and burdens from several impending federal regulations and fees.”

Republican Reps. Dr. Greg Murphy and Dan Bishop were others from North Carolina signing.

Rouzer and congressional opponents say producers in their districts and throughout the nation are plagued by “the burdensome process of securing the needed H-2A workers to support our agriculture industry.” He said the third round of regulation changes in a year is a lot, and the November letter said, “In a time when farmers are faced with increased input costs and inflation, these changes are regulating the family farm out of existence by eating away at an already shrinking profit margin.

“We continue to see good farmers audited repeatedly, and many small farmers are not equipped to deal with increased regulations that continue to change. The current stream of new rules is not sustainable and will lead to small farms having to sell out to large corporations that are better equipped to navigate this ever-changing environment.”

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