Does Trump really believe U.S. companies should “Hire American?” Not if he allows Congress to expand the H-2B guestworker program.

Daniel Costa

Daniel Costa Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research, Economic Policy Institute

On Monday morning, members of Congress in the House and Senate made public the text of omnibus appropriations legislation to fund the U.S. government through September 2017. The legislation includes a “rider” provision that will double the size of the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program, a temporary foreign worker (or “guestworker”) program that brings up to 66,000 migrant workers per year to the United States for up to nine months at a time to perform low-wage seasonal jobs in industries like landscaping, forestry, housekeeping, seafood processing, and construction. The fact that the legislation was unveiled on May Day makes it sadly ironic, because if President Trump signs it without pressuring congressional leaders to remove this H-2B rider, it will become the latest example of Trump’s aggressive anti-worker agenda. There is still a chance that the final version of the bill might not include it, but it’s a longshot unless Trump demands that Republican leaders in Congress take it out.

H-2B visas are sponsored—in other words owned and controlled—by the employers who hire H-2B workers. In practice that means H-2B guestworkers cannot switch employers if they are cheated or abused. For H-2B workers, losing their visa makes them instantly deportable, which is why they often work for low wages in poor conditions without complaining. In addition, EPI research has shown how H-2B wage rules have often allowed H-2B workers to be paid less than local average wage rates for similarly situated U.S. workers, and how H-2B workers earn no more than undocumented workers on average. Moreover, there are numerous cases of litigation, reports in the media, and government audits documenting how migrants employed through the H-2B program are often exploited and robbed by employers, and even are victims of human trafficking. Because U.S. workers are forced to compete with vulnerable H-2B workers, in turn, this degrades wages and working conditions for all workers in major H-2B occupations. Thus, there’s no question that the H-2B program needs major reforms to protect migrant and American workers—but any push to expand H-2B should be made through the regular legislative process and after a full debate in Congress, so that members are accountable for their votes—not as a fly-by-night provision on a must-pass spending bill.

There were approximately 136,000 H-2B workers present in the United States in 2016, and that number would increase rapidly if the omnibus appropriations bill is signed as currently drafted. The omnibus contains additional H-2B riders that would extend a number of provisions from last year’s appropriations bill that prohibit funds from being used by the U.S. Department of Labor to enforce key protections for both American and migrant workers—rules that help ensure both are paid fairly and that seek to prevent blatant discrimination by H-2B employers against either. Last year I explained in detail the substance and impact of these corporate giveaways at the expense of the wages of low-wage workers. It is scandalous that Congress proposes to allow them to continue.

The abuses H-2B workers suffer and the substandard pay they receive—which in practice they have no power to increase because of their precarious immigration status—are partly why the New York Times took a strong stance against expanding and deregulating the H-2B program through appropriations legislation last year. The Times asked and answered its own question about why Congress would ever do such a thing:

Why would Congress expand the H-2B system? Because businesses that profit from cheap and subservient labor are demanding that it do so. Employers are supposed to recruit American workers before they hire H-2B workers. They are also supposed to pay guest workers the prevailing wage Americans would earn. Legal loopholes and lax enforcement have allowed them to sidestep those rules.

The main justification cited by employers and corporate lobby groups for expanding H-2B is that there are national-level labor shortages in H-2B jobs. However, no credible evidence to support this claim has been presented. In fact, the opposite is true: An EPI review of the latest Current Population Survey data reveals that the unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2017 for landscaping was 8.6 percent, 10 percent in construction, and 11.3 percent for farming, fishing, and forestry occupations—all much higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent. A historical look at the data tells the same story: For the past decade at least, wages have been flat and unemployment rates have been sky-high in H-2B occupations.

In addition to continuing this trend for the foreseeable future for landscapers, construction workers, and many other low-wage workers if Trump signs the fiscal 2017 appropriations bill without objecting to the H-2B riders, it will fly in the face of everything the president has said about protecting American jobs and American workers. It wasn’t even a month ago that President Trump signed an Executive Order that he sold to the public as a tool that will encourage more U.S. companies to “hire American.” The H-2B riders in the fiscal 2017 appropriations legislation will do exactly the opposite: give employers incentives to hire indentured and underpaid workers from abroad who have no power in the workplace, and who have no hope of a path to permanent residence and citizenship.

We have already seen the Trump administration’s despicable criminalization and scapegoating of immigrants and immigrant workers—even deporting victims of crime who seek relief in courthouses across the country—but allowing Congress to pass appropriations legislation that deregulates and expands the H-2B guestworker program would make it clear that Trump doesn’t care about American workers either, only CEOs and their bottom lines.

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Reposted from EPI.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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