The Bush Recovery: Bankers First, Workers Last

As the politicos of Washington, Dallas, and Austin scurry to keep the capital infrastructure from falling down (see notes below) the Bush administration today published new Agriculture rules that labor advocates say will roll back rights of farm workers to bargain for higher pay and better working conditions.

“The Bush Administration has released midnight regulation changes to slash wages, make it easier to hire foreign workers, and reduce worker protections under the H-2A agricultural guestworker program,” argues a summary report from Farm Worker Justice [in pdf format].

DOL [Department of Labor] has changed the recruitment requirements so that employers claiming a labor shortage will not have to engage in meaningful recruitment of U.S. farmworkers and the state job service
agencies will not be permitted to be effective in referring job applicants to H-2A employers.
The DOL has decided that H-2A employers need not engage in positive recruitment in known areas of farm labor supply if those areas have agricultural employers looking for farmworkers.

Despite their claim to be free market supporters, the Administration’s officials are by regulation ending competition among employers. Furthermore, DOL is withdrawing the obligation to engage in the same kind and degree of recruitment for US workers as it does for foreign workers. This allows employers to claim that they can’t find any US workers, while not making any real effort, while at the same time engaging in huge recruitment campaigns in Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and other nations in the effort to find exploitable guestworkers.

The new Bush plan drives back protections along two fronts, say advocates. On the one hand, the new rules will make it easier for employers to sidestep requirements to first exhaust local labor supply.

In a report titled “Litany of Abuses” the Farmworker Justice organization recalls how agricultural employers can make deceptive commitments to local labor as a pretext for claiming that foreign workers need to be imported [in pdf format].

Meanwhile, the new rules make it more likely that so-called guest workers will be more easily subjected to labor rights abuses such as summary firings, lowered wages, and poor working conditions.

The Dallas Fed chief today made fond references to historical lessons learned. In labor rights also we find that the steel gears of the business cycle act in familiar ways. Hard times crush down against the lowest rungs of labor at home and abroad even as an almighty determination is applied to lift the axles of global capital from the muck of its own discharge.–gm

See also: the Harvesting Justice commentary by Barb Howe.

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