Lawsuit: U.S. Dept. of Labor Not Enforcing Wage Regulations
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri's agriculture products bring in more than $88 billion a year, based on the latest data from the Missouri Farm Bureau, and much of the labor is supplied by migrant workers on H-2A visas.
The visas allow foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for temporary work, and by law employers must meet certain stipulations about wages and working conditions.
A lawsuit filed this week by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) alleges that requirement is not being enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor in Missouri and other states.
"So, what that leads to is just workers being paid less, both guest workers coming from Mexico and other countries, as well as U.S. workers that are working in those jobs," explains Justin Flores,FLOC's vice president.
According to a 2017 survey by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, wages for H-2A workers range from $7.70 an hour to $16.50 an hour.
The U.S. Department of Labor referred a request for comment to the Department of Justice, which declined to comment on this story.
Flores says while upholding the law regarding H-2A visas is the goal of the FLOC lawsuit, there is a larger problem that needs to be addressed with manufacturers demanding bottom dollar pricing from their agriculture suppliers.
"We obviously want to see improved wages and working conditions for all workers in agriculture, but we see this only as only one small piece of the puzzle,” he states. “Right now, it's important to get manufacturers and purchasers of agricultural projects to improve their procurement processes."
Earlier this year, the Trump administration said it was looking to modernize the H-2A visa program by streamlining the process while ensuring protections for workers.
There are reports of a shortage of farm workers because of the recent immigration crackdown nationwide.