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David Sparks Ph.d Goodlatte Bill
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Line on Agriculture
Date: June 13, 2018

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Farmworkers Say No to Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Bill

Amid an increasingly harsh political climate for workers and immigrants, farmworkers fear Goodlatte’s proposed immigration bill.

In October 2017, the House Judiciary Committee passed Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)’s “Agricultural Guestworker Act.” Goodlatte’s proposal would replace the current H-2A guestworker program with a new H-2C program, stripped of the few protections that H-2A farmworkers have. In January 2018, Goodlatte included this act in a larger anti-worker and anti-immigrant proposal “Securing America’s Future Act of 2018,” HR 4760. After the House didn’t have the votes to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, a vote on Goodlatte’s anti-worker bill is expected this month. 

 

Goodlatte’s proposed immigration bill would devastate the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of workers who labor in the fields to help feed our country and drive our economy. Specifically, guest workers’ wages would be reduced to 115% of the minimum wage, dropping hourly wages in North Carolina by over $3. The bill also eliminates farmers’ responsibility to provide housing for workers, leaving workers vulnerable to predatory housing schemes and further reducing salaries. Additionally, the bill waives FLSA and state and local laws to allow the government to withhold 10% of farmworkers’ earnings. Workers wouldn’t have access to their own money until they return to their home countries and apply to retrieve it through the Secretary of Homeland Security. Furthermore, it removes the requirement for employers to reimburse the costs that workers undertake to travel to the US. Without receiving a reimbursement, many workers who take out loans to front these costs would remain indebted, exposing them to issues of labor trafficking already common in the H-2A program. 

 

“The wages that we make right now barely cover the costs of supporting my family and paying for my kids’ school. If salaries go down even further and we have to pay for housing and transportation, it would be a question of choosing between feeding myself or my family.” said Luis Alberto Nuñez Bernal, an H-2A guestworker, member of FLOC, and father of three kids aged 15, 12 and 2.

 

“In many ways, the Goodlatte bill is responding to a real problem in the agricultural industry but it is the agricultural companies who are responsible for farmers’ economic difficulties, not the farmworkers. Instead of farmers going to their suppliers and demanding better contracts and higher crop prices, they are advocating to lower farmworkers’ wages and letting the multibillion dollar agricultural companies get off scot-free,” said FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez. 

 

Farmworkers, including H-2A guestworkers, remain excluded from a number of basic worker protections. For years, farmworkers have called for legal parity with non-agricultural workers, including demands for protections to unionize and collectively bargain with growers and their suppliers to improve working conditions. To this day, the North Carolina Growers Association with an agreement with FLOC, is the only group of growers that provides basic worker protections and labor rights to guest workers. In April 2018, FLOC began a national boycott of VUSE e-cigarettes to pressure the tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. to sign an agreement with farmworkers to expand collective bargaining rights to all tobacco workers in their supply chain. 

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