Newscasts

PNS Daily Newscast - March 22, 2019 


President Trump rattles the Middle East, saying the U.S. will recognize Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights. Also on our Friday rundown: A judge blocks laws limiting the power of the new Wisconsin governor. Plus, momentum builds across party lines to abolish the death penalty.

Daily Newscasts

Wash. Bill on Guest-Worker Program Oversight Moves Ahead

Washington state farmworkers testified in favor of a bill to give more oversight to a federal guest worker program this week. (Community 2 Community Development)
Washington state farmworkers testified in favor of a bill to give more oversight to a federal guest worker program this week. (Community 2 Community Development)
February 28, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state lawmakers have advanced a bill that would give more oversight to the federal guest farmworker program.

Senate Bill 5438 would create an office of compliance in the Employment Security Department (ESD) for the H-2A guest-worker program, and require employers to pay a fee for worker applications.

The program recruits workers from other countries and has grown more than 1,000 percent over the past decade.

Columbia Legal Services attorney Andrea Schmidt says ESD has many tasks overseeing this program, including outreach to farmers and compliance audits.

"Also, just all the administrative functions of the program, which include processing applications and that sort of thing," Schmidt pointed out, "which is essentially all they are able to do right now – process the applications – under the budget that they're currently given."

The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed the bill on to the Rules Committee. Some farmers testified against the legislation, saying the fee would be too costly in an already tight agriculture market.

ESD expects 30,000 H-2A workers in Washington state this year.

Edgar Franks, civic-engagement coordinator for the farmworkers' rights group Community to Community Development, says H-2A workers have complained to his organization about housing and food, but fear being blacklisted if they report this to employers.

Franks notes that workers also can't form their own union.

"We definitely want a bill like this, that helps make workers feel confident when there's complaints, that they have somewhere to go without having that fear in their minds that they're going to get deported if they complain about a legitimate work concern," he adds.

As it stands now, the bill would set up a fee for worker applications capped at $75. Schmidt says for comparison, growers who use the largest labor contractor in the state pay $1,200 per worker.

"Seventy-five dollars is a pretty minimal cost to have this program function correctly," she says. "And frankly, it's the price that they need to pay for having what is, without exaggeration, a captive workforce."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA