La. seafood processors sue U.S. government

Seafood processors are among the dozens of Louisiana businesses represented in a lawsuit brought on Wednesday against the U.S. government.

The suit targets a new mandatory methodology for setting wage rates for foreign workers in the federal H-2B program, due to go into effect on 30 September, that will substantially increase the wage rates for many foreign workers. The increase, argue the plaintiffs, will “cripple” businesses and make it difficult to compete with foreign businesses and domestic businesses that employ illegal immigrants.

Members of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, Crawfish Processors Alliance and American Shrimp Processors Association are among the plaintiffs. The suit was filed in US District Court in Alexandria, La., against the U.S. Department of Labor and Homeland Security, which manages the H-2B program.

Under the H-2B program, employers can bring in up to 66,000 non-agricultural foreign workers annually for temporary jobs. Seafood processors and many other seasonal businesses nationwide rely on these workers to do labor-intensive tasks such as shuck oysters, pick crabs and peel crawfish, because Americans reject these short-term, low-paying jobs.

According to the suit, foreign workers at crawfish and shrimp processing plants will see hourly wage rate increases ranging from 51 percent to 83 percent.

In a press release on Wednesday, many Louisiana businesses spoke out in opposition of the wage rate increases.

“The seafood industry currently provides many jobs for American employees. Those jobs will be lost to our economy, and the U.S. workers in these non-H-2B jobs will be severely affected,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. “The impact of these changes will not be to hire more American workers, it will be to shut these businesses down. And then tens of thousands more will be out of jobs.”

“In 40 years in the business I've faced a lot of challenges, but now we are facing our own government trying to shut us down,” added Frank Randol, who represents the Crawfish Processors Alliance and runs a crawfish business and Cajun restaurant in Lafayette. La.

For years the H-2B program — and securing enough foreign workers to keep a seafood processing plant in operation — has been a matter of contention for the U.S. seafood industry. Click here to read a feature on the subject that appeared in the June 2008 issue of SeaFood Buiness magazine.


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