Legislation floating in the Washington Legislature looks to establish more oversight for the H-2A program. The bill would create an office of compliance for the guest worker program, and require employers to pay a fee for worker applications. The Employment Security Department requested the bill, saying the program has grown more than 1,000% over the past decade but has been unable to get more federal funding.
Rosalinda Guillen, heads Community to Community Development, a farmworkers rights group, said H-2A workers face retaliation for protesting working conditions.
“These growers and labor contractors that bring workers in blacklist workers who complain. So, yes, we think that the growers prefer the H-2A program because it’s a totally controllable, captive labor force.”
Ryan Ogburn director of visa services with WAFLA, says this measure will create unnecessary regulations for farmers.
“They’re facing lower commodity prices, higher labor costs, higher operating costs, lower global markets. 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.”
Guillen said her organization receives complaints from guest workers about pay and poor housing and labor conditions.
The Senate version of the bill, S.B. 5438, has a hearing Thursday in the Committee on Labor and Commerce.
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