Monday, March 30, 2009

Just in from Washington

AFBF Opposes Changes to H-2A Labor Program

WASHINGTON—The American Farm Bureau Federation opposes changes to the H-2A temporary worker program proposed by the Labor Department and urges the department to implement the existing regulations that were promulgated Dec. 18 and became effective Jan. 17.

In a letter sent Friday to Thomas Dowd, administrator of DOL’s Office of Policy Development and Research Employment and Training Administration, AFBF said. “We have heard nothing but opposition from growers in reaction to changes proposed by the Department.” AFBF said the DOL proposal will directly and immediately harm many farmers.

“The H-2A rules that the Labor Department wants to put on hold made several improvements in the program. Farm Bureau is disappointed that the department wants to suspend these rules that allow U.S. agriculture to legally hire much-needed temporary workers,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

Stallman said the sudden change in policy also is creating confusion for many farmers who have spent time learning the new rules, have already filled out applications and may well have contracts signed based on the provisions.

“The existing regulations that DOL proposes suspending for nine months cut red tape and make it easier to hire temporary workers,” Stallman said.

“One of the rules that DOL wants to suspend assures farmers that wages required under the program would be closer to those actually being paid in the economy and that workers referred by state workforce agencies were authorized for employment in the U.S.,” Stallman said. “Doing away with this rule will clearly hurt a farmer’s bottom line during extremely difficult economic times.”

The AFBF letter also emphasized that DOL did not provide enough time for public comment when it published the proposed rule in the Federal Register March 17 and gave only 10 days for interested parties to submit comments. Customary procedures normally allow at least 30 days for public comment. The shorter comment period did not provide AFBF sufficient time to reach out to its members and seek feedback.

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