Rancher still eligible to get foreign workers
November 30, 2000
The H-2A program is a temporary foreign worker program run through the U.S. Department of Labor to help American employers fill positions they are unable to fill with U.S. workers. It helps a broad range of employers from cattle ranches to high-tech firms. Employers who hire H-2A workers must follow strict recruitment, pay and treatment guidelines.
The department is seeing an increase in businesses violating regulations this year. Most of the violations are for failing housing inspections, said John Bartlett, a regional certifying officer for the U.S. Department of Labor in Dallas, Texas.
Most H-2A workers in agricultural areas come from Mexico, Peru, South America, New Zealand and Australia. H-2A employees working in an industry such as sheepherding are typically contracted to work for a year. Several H-2A farm and ranch workers return to the same American employer as soon as they are eligible again.
“We see many people come back year after year,” Bartlett said.
According to Bartlett, the most common complaint his department receives from H-2A workers is a dispute about what the worker’s contracted wage is. It is usually a misunderstanding, and the Department of Labor is frequently able to mediate and keep the employee working for the business, he said. Most of the complaints never result in charges, Bartlett said. If a dispute can’t be resolved through mediation, the H-2A worker sometimes leaves that employer and is placed with another business.
The positions the H-2A employees are working positions are mainly ones Americans don’t want to do, so employers tend to try to keep them happy. “The employers are far and away outstanding people because they have to be,” Bartlett said.
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Even if an employer has had several complaints filed against him, the business will usually be able to continue hiring H-2A workers.
“The way regulations are written currently, even if an employer does a, b, c, d, e ,f and g, he will probably get certified,” Bartlett said. “If he’s denied, he will just appeal.”
The Colorado Workforce Center in Craig receives a few complaints from H-2A workers every year.
“Some years there’s one or two,” said Kandy Kropinak, a labor and employment specialist at the center. “Some years we’ll have a rash of them and we’ll have six or seven.”
Most of the complaints the Workforce Center sees are for verbal or physical abuse, or wage disputes, Kropinak said.
There isn’t a specific agency that H-2A workers must go to file a complaint against an employer. Some workers to go the Colorado Workforce Center with complaints, but others go to the sheriff’s department, Kropinak said. When the center receives a complaint it passes it on to the Department of Labor, she said.
“Generally there isn’t a process,” she said. “One of the things we need is a process…I think (the workers) go wherever they think they can get help.”
Most of the H-2A workers probably don’t file complaints when they have a problem, Kropinak said. One of the biggest reasons is the language barrier.
“They’re trying to do everything they can to get their complaints resolved,” she said. “It’s hard when you don’t speak English.”
Some employees don’t follow through with their complaints, Kropinak said.
“If they don’t follow through, don’t trust that we can help them, we can’t resolve the dispute,” she said.