The Agricultural Justice Project and our partners submit this open letter to the US House of Representatives Agricultural Labor Working Group as they consider expanding and changing the terms of the H2A guestworker program.
To the members of the House of Representatives Agricultural Labor Working Group:
The purpose of the following is to lay out our criticisms of the H2A visa program for nonimmigrant agricultural workers, especially from the worker perspective, and to make actionable recommendations on ways to improve the domestic agricultural workforce. The H2A program ties workers to one employer, separates them from their families at home and treats them like agricultural inputs rather than humans, uses discriminatory recruiting practices, and displaces workers who are already here and long-term members of their communities.
Therefore, here is a summary list of our recommendations, to which we will return at the conclusion of our letter:
- Dismantle and eliminate the H2A guestworker program and do not expand guestworker programs to or in other industries.
- Due to the importance of food to human life, replace the H2A program with a long-term commitment to building a domestic workforce for farms to elevate farmwork to the high level it deserves in status, rights, protections, and compensation.
- Implement an immediate path to permanent legal resident status for ALL undocumented farmworkers and their families, including H2A workers, if they so choose, without fees, penalties. and waiting period, or criminal barriers, thereby eliminating one of the major structural mechanisms that facilitates exploitation, abuse, and inhumane working and living conditions for farmworkers.
- End the exemption of farmworkers from the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements to pay minimum wage, provide a weekly day off, and time-and-a-half for overtime over 40 hours a week, holiday pay, and the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
- During storms, forest fires and other hazardous conditions, the Federal Government should ensure hazard pay for farmworkers.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration should ensure enforcement mechanisms are in place to protect farmworkers from heat, heat exposure and other environmental hazards such as wildfire smoke. Heat stress trainings for workers and supervisors should be mandated, as well as implementation of adverse climate mitigation plans.
Ensure farmworkers receive living wages that reflect the value they contribute to our economy and our sustenance, without loopholes for mid-sized and smaller farms – but rather provide support for mid-sized and smaller farms that are verified to provide living wages and full rights and protections.
- Do not implement mandatory E-verify for farms, since it serves as a control and scare tactic in an immigration and trade policy system that strategically created a large population of undocumented immigrant workers to ensure an exploitable labor pool.
- Federal farm policy should fund programs that facilitate and incentivize authentically local community and family-scale farms that seek to move away from underpaid or captive labor and towards being able to thrive as farm businesses while providing decent and humane working conditions and compensation for farmworkers, and also programs that support and incentivize worker-owned farms. Good examples include the NYS tax credit for hiring more local workers, and a return to parity price supports, so that farmgate prices cover the costs of production, including living wages for workers and the farmers themselves.
- To ensure a steady supply of skilled labor for farms, invest in farm labor services that are controlled by farmworker and other community-based organizations.
- Enable farmworkers themselves to be represented in discussions of public policy that affects their lives.
- Ensure that states have the resources and oversight mechanisms to protect farmworkers’ safety, health, and decent housing.
- Provide H2A workers who have been returning year after year to the same farm with a special immigration status that allows them to cross the border to travel home and return freely.
- Establish a division of farm labor in the Department of Labor charged with overseeing measures to improve the conditions for farmworkers including training and research, and that will hear appeals from H2A and other farm workers against excessive work requirements imposed by employers or bad living conditions…
See the full text of the letter on Google Docs.