Monday, December 15, 2008

Midnight Meanness

The Bush administration continues to issue last minute decrees and rules changes, and apparently will to do so right up to the minute Barack Obama is sworn in. The latest is a gift to agricorps who hire foreign workers, and it's a dandy, according to an editorial published in the NY Times.

The Bush administration is doing a last-minute overhaul of the visa program for temporary farmworkers to make it easier to hire foreigners over Americans, to lower workers’ wages and to erode their rights. You would think that after failing for eight years to fix immigration, the administration would pack it in rather than make one last listless stab at a solution. But this plan isn’t even that — it’s just midnight meanness, right in time for the holidays.

The Labor Department’s proposed changes to the H-2A visa program, which would take effect in January, are supposed to help both growers and workers by making hiring cheaper and speedier. The program is notoriously unwieldy and underused, approving only about 75,000 jobs for foreign workers a year, in a labor force of about 2.5 million seasonal and migrant farmworkers, well over half of them undocumented.

To spur use of H-2A visas, the government wants to let employers cut numerous corners. It would adjust the salary formula to push wages down. It would also ease the burden employers face to prove they tried to recruit Americans first, and limit how much employers have to reimburse foreign workers for the cost of going home.

The editorial quite correctly compares the proposed changes to the shameful bracero program of the last century. That program effectively revived a kind of slavery among farm workers, tying them to one employer with no recourse for abuse or wage theft. The sad part is that the migrant labor system upon which food production depends in this country could be fixed in a much more humane and just way. In fact, one proposal that didn't make it through the 109th Congress would have gone a long way towards accomplishing that fix.

There is a better long-term solution. It’s AgJobs, a federal bill that died with previous efforts at comprehensive immigration reform. It would give undocumented farmworkers a chance to legalize and the right to change jobs, a crucial means of discouraging abuse by employers. Its goal is to bolster workers’ rights and build a more productive, stable work force. AgJobs isn’t perfect, but it was born from long negotiations among growers and workers’ advocates — a compromise that the Bush administration’s plans could blow apart.

But that kind of compromise doesn't exist in Bush's world, or at least can't be allowed to exist. That would mean a "transfer of wealth" from the haves and have mores to the have nothings.

Bah! It makes me want to throw a shoe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The editorial fails to note that AgJobs would put the burden for the "care and feeding" of legalized illegal aliens, i.e. "guest workers" squarely on the backs of the American taxpayer. AgJobs would allow farmers, especially Agribusiness, to hire seasonal workers at its convenience then stick the rest of us with the tab for their off season care. Furthermore, once the "guest workers" brought in by AgJobs fill their obligation to their employer, you can bet they'll move on to more lucrative, less onerous jobs outside of agriculture, competing directly with American workers for those jobs. We'll then hear the lament that Agriculture needs yet more "guest workers" to fill the jobs left vacant.

4:49 AM  

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