United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez issued the following statement from the union’s Keene, Calif. headquarters after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced his bill replacing the existing H-2A agricultural guest worker program with a plan with fewer worker protections than the infamous 1942-1964 bracero program.
A majority of House members are cosponsoring bills to provide Dreamers with legal status. Rather than advancing proposals for which there is demonstrated broad public support such as earned legalization, including for Dreamers and farm workers, why do House Republicans regress to the one extremely controversial notion of replacing U.S. farm workers with an army of imported guest workers with no labor protections from outside the country?
You cannot both support American workers and support these guest worker schemes. Farm workers will lose whether it’s replacing full-time year-round farm workers with guest workers, as the House Appropriations Committee supported, or advancing the Goodlatte plan with fewer worker protections than the infamous abuse-plagued bracero program, which Rep. Goodlatte would achieve by cutting guest worker wages and cancelling their housing and transportation guarantees, and the ability to legally enforce their contractual rights. Rep. Goodlatte wants to reduce the current pay for agricultural guest workers from the average wage reported by growers in a region with rates that are just above the minimum wage. Allowing any American grower to replace any American worker not willing to take a job for much lower pay as the Goodlatte bill proposes would cripple the stability of the existing agricultural workforce and of the industry itself.
The Department of Labor reports that about half of the farm workers in America are U.S. citizens or legal residents. A fundamental principle of U.S. immigration law for decades—including the current H-2A program—is guaranteeing American workers the first pick at jobs on American farms. Today, if a U.S. worker shows up in a field for a job held by an H-2A employee before the mid-way point in the season, the employer must provide that job to the U.S. worker. The Goodlatte measure would nullify this deeply rooted principle. Instead of proving they attempted to recruit American workers before applying for guest workers, growers would simple assert they tried.
The outrageously low wages under the Goodlatte bill would guarantee displacement of current domestic farm workers, including the half of farm workers who are U.S. citizens and legal residents as well as workers in other allied industries.
President Trump insists it is so vital to protect American workers and put them first. Then how can they fail to preserve the right of American farm workers to get jobs first? This is also why the Goodlatte bill is not an answer to fuller implementation of the E-Verify program.
Farm workers do the toughest jobs in America. It should not be made easier for employers to get rid of or exploit them. Law-abiding employers providing decent wages and conditions should not be undercut by unscrupulous employers who do not.
Offering other experienced farm workers already here the chance to legally remain is a much more just and workable solution than importing substantial numbers of additional guest workers from outside the U.S. The Agricultural Worker Protection Act by Senator Feinstein and Rep. Gutierrez and 69 other House members will solve growers’ labor problems and preserve the industry by letting undocumented domestic farm workers earn legalization after passing national security and criminal background checks.