Urge Secretary of Labor Solis to Revoke Exploitative Bush Administration Regulations

Dear Friends and Allies,

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis was finally confirmed.  We look forward to a Department of Labor that fights for the rights and dignity of all workers, especially those most vulnerable in this economy. There is no time to waste.

The Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity has already written to Secretary Solis urging immediate action to reverse midnight regulations enacted by the Bush administration that exploit vulnerable guestworkers.

These regulations reversed the USDOL’s decades-long position that employers must reimburse guestworkers the thousands of dollars in fees they pay employers and their agents to obtain guestworker jobs in the United States. The Bush regulations contradicted judicial decisions by the Eleventh Circuit and every lower federal court that had previously ruled on the issue.

These fees force guestworkers to plunge their families into debt.  Then the crushing debt blocks guestworkers from protecting their fundamental labor rights, including the right to organize.

The charging of exorbitant fees to obtain guestworker jobs is one of the worst abuses of the H-2 guestworker program, under which U.S. businesses bring in tens of thousands of workers each year for low-skilled jobs that last less than one year.  Because guestworkers are prohibited by law from finding other work, they are highly vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employees who hold the power to send them home, in debt, if they complain about pay or working conditions.

The Bush regulations went into effect Jan. 18 – two days before the Obama administration took office.  Instead of reforming the guestworker program, the Bush Department of Labor gave more tools to employers who are shopping for the most exploitable workforce. This hurts workers from the United States and workers from other countries.

In an economic crisis, the DOL’s first order of business should be protecting the rights of workers, not the profits of employers.  In its last days, the Bush administration attacked guestworkers and undermined US workers

The Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity is demanding:

  • The Obama Administration’s USDOL should publicly reject and refuse to enforce the introduction to the regulations changing the USDOL’s longstanding position that point of hire travel and visa costs are for the primary benefit and convenience of the employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • The Obama Administration’s USDOL should appoint a special team of labor inspectors to the Gulf Coast that reports directly to the Secretary of Labor.  These inspectors should receive special training and have the language capacity to respond on an emergency basis to guestworkers who report severe labor exploitation.
  • The Secretary of Labor and other high level officials should meet with guestworkers who been imported to the United States Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina in order to hear three years worth of testimony about severe labor exploitation resulting from manipulation of the current guestworker program and the failure to enforce existing labor protections.  Testimony would also focus on the direct impact of the impact of the Bush Administration’s attacks on guestworkers and their effects undermining of U.S. workers.
  • The Obama Administration’s USDOL should work closely with the Obama Administration to expand and protect the right of guestworkers and all workers to organize including protections included in Employee Free Choice Act.
  • The Obama Administration’s USDOL should put the Bush Administration’s guestworker regulations on hold and start a new process to make rules that address the real protections guestworkers need including blocks to debt servitude and the right to organize.
  • The Obama Administration’s USDOL should commit the USDOL to playing a role in the Obama Administration’s development of a migration policy that ensure that foreign workers and families can enter the United States into dignified life and work, without being pitted against U.S. workers.

ACT NOW: The workers need your support! Here’s how you can help:

  • Tell the Obama Administration that your vision of change includes changing the exploitative Bush administration guestworker regulations immediately and protecting the rights of all workers to fundamental protections including the right to organize.  Include a similar paragraph to the following:

I support the members of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity.  It’s very important that Secretary Solis act immediately to stop the effect of the exploitative Bush Administration guestworker regulations.  Enforcing basic protections including the minimum wage and the right to organize is necessary to protect all workers.  In an economic crisis, the DOL’s first order of business should be protecting the rights of workers, not the profits of employers.