05/2006

Recommendations for Action

The H-2B program should be changed to better prevent U.S. workers' labor standards from being undermined and to protect temporary foreign workers against the exploitation of their vulnerable guestworker status. When true labor shortages occur, the guestworkers who are permitted to work in the U.S. should have the opportunity to earn credit toward permanent immigration status so they may gain economic and democratic freedoms so fundamental to our nation's traditions. At a minimum, their non-immigrant visas should allow them to leave abusive situations and transfer from one employer to another.

The Department of Labor and other agencies must substantially increase their enforcement efforts and penalties, sending the message to employers and labor contractors that if they violate the law, they are likely to be caught, and the cost will outweigh the benefits of violating the law.

Guestworkers must have the ability to take action by bringing charges to federal agencies and, when necessary, filing federal lawsuits. Low-wage H-2B workers cannot afford to hire attorneys to enforce their rights; free legal services at federally funded legal aid programs should be available.

Workers should not have to risk death daily to earn a living. The single largest danger to forestry workers is the ride to and from their jobs. Better health and safety laws, and better enforcement of those laws, are essential.

In order to ensure fair and decent treatment of workers, the following steps must be taken:

• Require seat belts for all passengers in vehicles used to transport migrant workers; 

• Increase safety and health inspections for forestry workers so they can safely do their job; 

• Increase Wage and Hour inspections to ensure workers get paid for all hours worked, at the prevailing wage rate promised them; 

• Where the Department of Labor does conduct inspections, it should specifically investigate whether landowners are jointly liable for violations of the law; 

• Wage and Hour should enforce the decision in Arriaga v. Florida Pacific Farms, LLC, 305 F.3d 1228 (11th Cir. 2002), requiring repayment of travel and visa costs to the extent they bring the workers' wages below the federal minimum wage in the first week of work; 

• Enact statutory changes to make H-2B workers eligible for federally funded legal aid programs; 

• Require government agencies overseeing forestry activities on public lands to enact a code of conduct to ensure they are not supporting abusive treatment of workers; and 

• Require the Department of Labor to decertify H2B employers that are repeat offenders.