Groups seek greater H-2A worker protections

Farmworker advocates are going through NAFTA to try to extend a U.S. farmworker protection law to H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers, but it wouldn’t do much in Washington state, a farm labor leader says.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on January 26, 2018 9:23AM

YAKIMA, Wash. — Extension of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act of 1983 to H-2A-visa agricultural foreign guestworkers would have little impact in Washington state, an agricultural employer representative says.

The state’s Farm Labor Contract Act and its disclosure to workers already is as stringent as the federal law and H-2A workers already have access to federal courts, says Mike Gempler, executive director of Washington Growers League, in Yakima, representing agricultural employers on labor issues.

Farmworker Justice, the United Farm Workers and other farmworker advocates in the U.S. and Mexico are petitioning under NAFTA for the federal law, referred to as AWPA or MSPA, to apply to H-2A workers in the U.S.

Congress excluded H-2A workers from AWPA under the belief they were protected under H-2A regulations, but farmworker advocates say workers face serious enforcement barriers and that AWPA would give them greater protection.

“H-2A guestworkers seeking to enforce their employment contracts are relegated to state courts and often to inferior remedies under state contract laws,” states a Jan. 25 news release from Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice in Washington, D.C.

The organization’s 2011 report, “No Way to Treat a Guest,” cited cases of alleged foreign and domestic worker abuse by employers and said the H-2A program “deprives foreign workers of economic bargaining power and the opportunity to gain political representation.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contains a labor agreement that the same labor law protections should apply to migrant workers from another country as applies to its own nationals.

The petition, filed Jan. 25 to the National Administrative Office in Mexico City for the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, requests proceedings address violations of the agreement and protections and remedies of the AWPA be extended to H-2A workers in the U.S.

Beside Farmworker Justice and UFW, petitioners include: the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO; Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union); and Proyecto de Derechos Economicos, Sociales y Culturales, A.C. (ProDESC), which is based in Mexico.

Gempler said extending AWPA to H-2A workers may have more impact in other states. He said the petition surprises him and that he doesn’t know what’s prompting it now.

Action under NAFTA is a lengthy process, he said, adding he doesn’t know what legal bearing it would have on Congress or the U.S. Justice Department.

Gempler said he doesn’t think the petition will have any impact on the flow of H-2A workers this year.


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