NOC Opposes Recent Proposed Changes to H-2A Agricultural Worker Program

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently proposed changes to the H-2A program, a temporary agricultural program that allows agricultural employers to bring workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor on a temporary basis.

NOC is opposed to most of the proposed changes to the H2-A temporary agricultural worker program because most of the changes degrade the conditions for both foreign workers who wish to come to work on U.S. farms and for farmworkers already here in the U.S.

NOC member organization, Northeast Organic Farming Association, submitted comments to the Department of Labor on this subject and NOC supports these comments.

Here are some of the reasons that we believe these changes will be a step backwards for farmers and farmworkers alike:

  1. The impact of the proposed rule is decreased farmworker wages, decreased oversight of housing conditions, and reduced job opportunities for U.S. farmworkers. Despite high profile stories of dangerous and substandard housing under the H-2A program, the proposed regulations would allow housing to be provided to farmworkers without annual inspections by government agencies.

  2. The proposed changes weaken the recruitment requirements and the protections for U.S. workers that allow them first access to available jobs.

  3. The proposal would allow farmers to make changes to the job terms without providing H-2A workers, or U.S. workers who may also be working at a farm, with any voice in the changes. Guest workers generally lack bargaining power to demand improvements in conditions and higher wages, due to their restricted non-immigrant, temporary status and other factors, including the debt they often owe upon arriving in the U.S.

NOC believes farm work must be elevated to the status it deserves, in order to create a truly healthy and just food system.  Workers on farms should be treated with respect, paid living wages for a 40-hour work week with full benefits, including health insurance, unemployment insurance and Workers Compensation. They should receive adequate training in health and safety and their work should not expose them to toxic materials that threaten their health and the health of their families. They should have the same right to freedom of association as workers in other sectors of the economy. If these conditions were fulfilled, qualified immigrants as well as U.S. residents would be attracted to farm jobs. 

The ultimate consequence of the proposed changes is to damage U.S. farms, who only stand to lose when the farmworkers they employ live in a state of instability or poor living conditions. Furthermore, the proposed changes will disproportionately favor the largest farming operations and labor contractors at the expense of family-scale farms.

Read the Northeast Organic Farming Associaiton’s full comments here.

Abby Youngblood