On Wednesday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Act (“AG Act”) passed the House Judiciary Committee. The two-day hearing was full of passionate argument on all sides, but ended in a close vote of 17-16. We previously reported on some of the details of this proposed H-2C program here, but the passed AG Act contains several notable changes:
♦ Cap on total number of H-2C workers lowered from 500,000 to 450,000 (40,000 for meat and poultry processing, 410,000 for remainder of agricultural labor).
♦ Eliminated provision that allotted 10,000 immigrant visas each year for farmworkers.
♦ A “touch back” provision that would require currently undocumented workers to return to their home countries before becoming eligible for legal non-immigrant status under the H-2C program.
♦ H-2C would now be scheduled to become available 6 months after its passage; however, undocumented workers would be afforded no protection from enforcement in the period between the bill’s passage and implementation.
♦ Ties the H-2C program to the enactment of mandatory E-Verify legislation.
♦ Higher wages still for H-2C workers, requiring payment to be not less than the state or local minimum wage, 115% of the federal minimum wage, or the actual wage level paid by the employer to similarly situated individuals in the same job (prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment for meat or poultry processing jobs), whichever is greatest. The latter scenario is intended to ensure that these wage changes do not undermine the wages of current domestic employees.
♦ Added requirement that each H-2C worker carry health insurance.
The cap provision and mandatory E-Verify requirement should be of considerable concern for agricultural employers. As matters currently stand, the uncapped H-2A program is, for many, the only viable method for securing necessary labor, and the AG Act as currently constituted could cause more harm to the industry than good. Though there are certainly benefits to an improved guestworker program, the current bill remains flawed and incomplete.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
Making it through the House Judiciary Committee is just the first of many steps this bill will have to take before passage. The bill is now available for consideration on the House Floor, although it is unclear if House Leadership will bring it up to the full House. Even if it is considered, it is likely that there will be subsequent changes to the bill. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress and will report on any significant developments.