Congressman Goodlatte is an enthusiastic sponsor of the Agricultural Guestworker Act (HR 4092), which he wrote and which he and other Republicans narrowly approved in the House Judiciary Committee.
According to Goodlatte, the act would create a “reliable, efficient, and fair program and provide American farmers access to a legal, stable supply of workers for seasonal as well as year-round work.”
But as Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, writes:
The AGA is a direct threat to America’s hard-working families, the incomes they depend on, and the food we all eat. This is not hyperbole. If the AGA becomes law, it will allow 450,000 foreign visa holders to work in agricultural and meat processing jobs that are currently held by hard-working American men and women. The impact of this bill, particularly upon the hundreds of thousands of people employed by the meat and poultry industry, would be devastating.
Like any high skilled and vital profession, current salaries reflect the quality and importance of this workforce, with wages as high as $23 per hour. By allowing untrained workers or guest workers to hold these important jobs for as little as $10.88 per hour, the AGA will effectively drive down wages and destroy hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the process.
Make no mistake, this bill creates a guest worker system that will turn middle-class jobs vital to food safety into jobs that are temporary, untrained, and unskilled. Even worse, it would exploit these guest workers by placing them at grave risk by taking jobs that require them to use sharp knives in a fast-paced environment with little to no training.
At a time when we need to strengthen American jobs and make our food safer, the AGA would also allow guest workers to stay for up to three years. That isn’t a guest-worker, that’s a long-term employee and further shows how this bill is designed to both exploit foreign workers and replace American workers at the same time.
There’s no denying that our immigration system is broken. We need structural reforms to our employment-based visa system that will protect foreign workers and immigrants. We also need immigration laws that protect American workers. But the AGA will only make a failing system even more flawed.
And the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, a migrant workers’ rights group, reports:
This despicable legislation would commodify workers, serving business interests while failing to provide fair labor protections for the people on whom they depend. The AG Act would exacerbate the flaws in the existing H-2A agricultural program, a legacy of the notorious Bracero Program that is rife with abuses including wage theft and economic coercion. The AG Act would further weaken oversight of worker protections by transferring responsibility for the program from the Department of Labor to the Departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security. Under the H-2C visa program, workers would have an increased risk for forced labor, exploitation and other abuses; and migrant workers’ ability to defend themselves would be restricted.
Goodlatte has long favored the interests of large corporate agriculture over those of small farmers and farm workers. He has received more than $2 million in campaign contributions from agribusiness. So his sponsorship of the AGA should be no surprise. But that’s no excuse for this terrible anti-worker legislation.