California Farm
The new rule protects temporary farmworkers— a great share of which are Latinos— against employer retaliation, illegal recruitment practices and more. AFP

The Department of Labor announced a new measure on Friday that seeks to improve working conditions for temporary farm workers including legal protections against employer retaliation and illegal recruitment practices.

The new rule will take place on June 28, and it will target abuses experienced by workers under the H-2A program that undermine fair labor standards for all farmworkers.

"Our rule is meant to give H2-A workers more ability to advocate for themselves, to speak up when they experience labor law abuses, " said Labor Secretary Julie Su at a vineyard in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco.

Each year about 300,000 migrants, mostly from Mexico, take seasonal jobs on U.S. farms, according to Yahoo News.

The new rule will require farmers who employ H-2A workers to make sure the vans and buses they use to transport workers long distance have seatbelts for all passengers. It will also protect temporary agricultural workers from employer retaliation if they meet with legal service providers or union representatives at the housing provided by the employer, as well as protect them from retaliation if they decline to attend "captive audience" meetings organized by their employer.

At the same time, in a step intended to counter human trafficking, employers would be required to identify anyone recruiting workers on their behalf in the U.S. or foreign countries and to provide copies of any agreements they have with those recruiters.

The new measure follows a plan announced by the Biden administration in September that sought to boost safety requirements on farms and raise transparency around how such workers are recruited.

Similarly, the Labor Department is already required to ensure that the H-2A program doesn't undercut the ages or working conditions of Americans who take similar jobs. Employers are required to pay minimum U.S. wages or higher, depending on the region. They are also required to provide their temporary workers with housing and transportation.

Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, said the rule will help prevent employers' abuse because those found in violation of the new rule will not be allowed to use the program again. She said a requirement for employers to disclose contracts with their agents will make it easier to identify wrongdoers.

"In many cases, employers take their documents and they have to pay a debt that they incurred from recruiters that unfortunately are not ethical and charge tremendous amounts of money for the workers," Romero said.

Labor advocates also applauded the new rule.

"Agricultural guest workers are some of the most vulnerable workers in America, but this rule will empower H-2A workers to stand up to some of the biggest challenges they face," the Congressional Labor Caucus, made up of about 100 pro-union members of Congress, said Friday.

The new Department of Labor rule comes after reports of Latinos facing a disproportionate risk of dying while on the job in the U.S.

A study by AFL-CIO highlighted the risk immigrants face while on physically demanding jobs. In that report, Latinos represented 60% of the 1,248 fatalities recorded. Because of this, working conditions of immigrants have come into the spotlight, particularly when six Latino workers died after a ship crashed into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key bridge.

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