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Rick Worthington Oversight to Guest Worker Program
by Rick Worthington, click here for bio

Program: Farm and Ranch Report
Date: February 11, 2019

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Oversight to Guest Worker Program

A measure in the Washington State Legislature could be a model for other Western States, which would establish more oversight for a federal program that allows farms to recruit guest workers from other countries.

The bill would create an office of compliance for the guest worker program, known as H-2A, and require employers to pay a fee for worker applications.

The program has grown more than 1,000 percent over the past decade, but has been unable to get more funding from the federal government.

Rosalinda Guillen with Community to Community Development, says H-2A workers face retaliation for protesting working conditions.

"These growers and labor contractors that bring workers in blacklist workers who complain,” she states. “So, yes, we think that the growers prefer the H-2A program because it's a totally controllable, captive labor force."

Guillen says her organization receives complaints from guest workers about pay and poor housing and labor conditions. She notes that workers aren't able to form a union and protest because employers can send them back home for doing so.

Ryan Ogburn is with a farm labor organization and says this measure will create unnecessary regulations for farmers.

"They're facing lower commodity prices, higher labor costs, higher operating costs, lower global markets,” he points out. “So it's just kind of a perfect storm of more regulation, more taxes, more costs for these employers, these farmers who are trying to get by, especially the smaller farms up here in Washington state."

Community to Community Development disagrees that the state has a worker shortage and says this bill will give ESD the funding needed to analyze this issue.

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