SPLC files suit to protect wages of 50,000 guest workers, as well as U.S. workers

The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit today to reverse a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) decision that will effectively revoke raises owed to thousands of guest workers as well as depress the wages of U.S. workers.

The class action suit takes aim at a decision by the DOL’s Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals. The board ruled earlier this month that the department didn’t have the authority to increase the wage rates of the majority of H-2B nonagricultural guest workers employed in 2013 – a decision that will affect 50,000 guest workers in addition to U.S. workers in similar  jobs.

The suit accuses the board of violating the Administrative Procedure Act.

“The Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals has clearly overstepped its authority by invalidating the Department of Labor’s guest worker regulations and policies that would ensure H-2B guest workers are paid a wage that doesn’t undercut U.S. workers,” said Meredith Stewart, SPLC staff attorney. “The board’s decision is completely arbitrary and contrary to the law.”

The DOL had changed the way guest worker wages were calculated as the result of a 2009 suit filed by the SPLC, along with other worker advocacy organizations, to challenge weak guest worker regulations enacted in the waning days of the Bush administration. As a result of the case, the revised rule would have increased wages for guest workers and helped prevent them from being used as a cheap alternative to U.S. workers.

The new rule should have gone into effect in September 2011. But 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.

The previous wage rule remained in effect, resulting in the gross underpayment of wages to hundreds of thousands of H-2B and U.S. workers. The SPLC persisted in its legal efforts to topple this harmful wage rule, and in March, along with other worker advocates, had the old wage rule invalidated. The recent decision by the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals undermines this victory for workers.

Co-counsel in this latest lawsuit include Friends of Farmworkers, attorney Edward Tuddenham, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Migrant Farmworker Justice Project and Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.