DOL Suspends Changes to H2A Program and Announces Updated Wage Rates

The U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) announced on Friday, May 29 that it is suspending the final rule of December 18, 2008 to the H2A Temporary Agricultural Guest Worker Program for nine months effective on June 29, 2009, and in the meantime is reinstating the previous rule.  The DOL supports its decision to vacate the final rule because the administration of the final rule was difficult due to insufficient training of the technical staff responsible for implementing the H2A program.  In addition, the DOL claimed that it had insufficient resources for new systems that it believes the final rule required.  The DOL will review matters in nine months and then announce its intentions. The DOL augmented the suspension announcement with another announcement describing the updated Adverse Effect Wage Rates for 2009.  The number of both H2A employers and H2A guest workers has rapidly increased in just the past four years, and is now a major source of seasonal employees, especially for labor intensive sectors such as fruits and vegetables, nurseries, etc.  Traditionally, there are fewer workers willing to work on farms than there are jobs available.  By suspending the final rule, certain categories of employment are eliminated from the H2A program during the suspension: Christmas trees and logging.  “Incidental activities and packing” are not excluded from the H2A program because, these activities were allowed in the previous H2A program.