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In Midnight Attack, Bush to Slash Farmworker Pay and Protections

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farmworkersFarmworker Justice, an advocacy group for those who harvest our nation’s food, slammed a new series of midnight regulations by the Bush Administration. The regulations would slash wages and cut protections for the already-vulnerable workers who bring food to our tables.

According to the group, the regulations showed up on the Department of Labor website yesterday evening but have not yet been made public. Here’s what Farmworker Justice had to say, in a post called Bush’s Midnight Attack on Farmworkers:

These will be the most far-reaching changes in the laws regulating agricultural guestworker programs since 1942.  They will return us to an era of agricultural labor exploitation that many thought ended decades ago.

That’s right, these changes are the most sweeping since 1942, the start of the Bracero program. Never heard of it? According to the Kansas City Star:

The term braceros referred to what they were, manual laborers. From 1942 to 1964, millions of men were legally recruited from Mexico to work mostly agricultural jobs in the U.S. They are credited with helping to keep the U.S. afloat economically and families fed during World War II while much of the working-age population fought overseas.

But despite their role helping us to win World War II, many were cheated out of a portion of their wages. […] 

The plight of the braceros should be a cautionary tale for the next president of the United States. […] 

One U.S. Department of Labor official in charge of the program termed it “legalized slavery.”

So just what would the new regulations do? According to Farmworker Justice:

The changes cut wage rates and wage protections for both domestic and foreign workers, minimize recruitment obligations inside the U.S. and curtail or eliminate much of the government oversight that is supposed to deter and remedy illegal employer conduct. 

The Administration has a record of coddling unscrupulous employers while going after hard working people, and these twilight regulations are no different.  It’s time for common-sense immigration reform, including changes to the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program, infamous for its abuses of both foreign and native-born workers.

Now is not the time for throw-backs to bracero-era immigration policy.

Congress must both reverse these midnight attacks on worker justice once Bush leaves office, and work toward a real, comprehensive reform of our broken immigration laws.