U.S. processors relieved by delay of labor rules


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
June 13, 2012

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations this week approved a fiscal year 2013 bill and on Thursday approved a one-year delay of new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rules governing most workers involved in the H-2B visa program.

Many U.S. seafood companies in places like Maryland and Louisiana rely on H-2B workers to fulfill processing roles like shucking oysters and picking crabmeat — unskilled jobs that few American workers are willing to do.

The amendment from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama was approved by a 19-11 vote. Shelby said during Thursday’s debate on Capitol Hill that proposed rule changes to increase visiting workers’ pay by up to 50 percent would “crush” U.S. businesses that rely on temporary labor.

“There would be more American job losses at a time when the economy cannot afford it,” he said.

The amendment will delay implementation of the rules until at least 1 October 2013.

Jack Brooks, president of the Coalition to Save America’s Seafood Industry and president of J.M. Clayton Company in Cambridge, Md., said he’s pleased that the committee members “appreciate the danger” posed by the new rules.

“We thank the senators for moving to provide time for all parties to continue seeking a more reasonable regulatory framework for the H-2B program. The Coalition already is helping make the case before both the Administration and Congress,” said Brooks.

“We embrace some of DOL’s basic concepts and already follow many of DOL’s specifications regarding working conditions, worker housing and concerted efforts to recruit U.S. citizens before turning to guest workers. But additional, onerous requirements cannot be accepted without grievous harm to the industry and the loss of thousands of American jobs.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who has spearheaded many efforts to delay changes to the H-2B visa system, also weighed in on the issue on Thursday.

“Maryland is seafood. Right now we’re having a big celebration to commemorate the War of 1812. People are all over our harbor. And when they come they don't come to eat broccoli; they come to eat steamed crabs,” said Mikulski. 

“I’m going to support Senator Shelby not because I’m crazy about the Shelby amendment, but it provides certainty for one year,” she continued. “We need to have rules that are workable. And most of all we need a Department of Labor that understands the industry and works to protect the workers, protect our borders, protect American jobs, but let's reward the people that go by the rules and have rules that people can honestly comply with.”

The provision was included in the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations measure for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies, which provides USD 158.8 billion in discretionary funding. 

Click here to read the SeaFood Business January Top Story “There’s work to do” > 

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