Thursday, April 29, 2021

The price of crawfish

A group of seafood processing workers in Breaux Bridge are suing to get rid of a loophole that allows plant owners to pay a lower "prevailing wage" because they employ some migrant workers who are on H-2B visas.  

Basically, before issuing the certification that allows companies to hire temporary workers from foreign countries – using H-2B visas – the employer needs to show that pay will not be less than the prevailing wage for local American workers. The rub, according to the lawsuit, comes in showing what the prevailing wage actually is.

The 2015 Wage Rule modified existing regulations to allow employers to use their own surveys to set the prevailing wage and that rule change impacted the conditions and pay for similarly employed U.S. workers, according to the lawsuit.

This is just one small way the rules are deliberately written to take advantage of workers the government confers a more precarious status upon to lower the standard for everyone. It's an example of how allowing any class of workers to be exploited causes everyone to suffer. The lawsuit estimates the overall effect depresses wages by as much as $5 an hour. 

Of course, as we've seen before, the real costs of this system can be much higher

A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government databases and investigative files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of court documents, as well as more than 80 interviews with workers and employers — shows that the program condemns thousands of employees each year to exploitation and mistreatment, often in plain view of government officials charged with protecting them. All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wages, threatened with guns, beaten, raped, starved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.

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