New regulations for the nation’s H-2B guest worker program, enacted in the waning days of the Bush administration, threatened to weaken worker protections and make it easier to replace U.S. workers with temporary foreign labor. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of immigrant rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the regulations on behalf of several farmworker organizations and a Mexican guest worker who would be harmed by them.
The lawsuit, originally known as CATA v. Chao and later changed to include current administration officials, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claimed the new regulations would expand the definition of temporary jobs to include jobs lasting up to three years – increasing the type of jobs open to low-skill guest workers. The existing regulations allowed foreign guest workers to be hired for no more than one year.
The new regulations allowed employers wishing to use the guest worker program to simply vouch that they were unable to find enough U.S. workers for these positions. The existing regulations required employers to obtain certification from the Department of Labor that there is a shortage of U.S. workers.
As a result of the lawsuit, the Department of Labor ultimately changed the way wages for H-2B guest workers were calculated, increasing wages for guest workers and helping prevent them from being used as a cheap alternative to U.S. workers. H-2B employers and employer associations attacked in court, and its implementation was effectively blocked by Congress, largely due to the efforts of a few vocal senators and representatives from states with industries that rely heavily on H-2B workers.
In December 2013, the Department of Labor’s Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals ruled that the department didn’t have the authority to increase the wage rates of the majority of H-2B nonagricultural guest workers – a decision that effectively revoked raises owed to thousands of guest workers as well as threatened to depress the wages of U.S. workers.
The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit to reverse the board’s decision. The lawsuit described how the board overstepped its authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.