Last month saw the end of an unusual labor strike in the apple orchards of Central Washington. 17 workers from Mexico decided to strike against their employer in the apple industry, leading to face-to-face negotiations and an eventual agreement, which brought the striking workers back to work. With negotiating help from the Northwest Farmworker Union, or Familias Unidas por la Justia, the workers bargained for what they termed as primarily respect, wherein the employer would stop the abuse and name calling.
In that case, the workers were present in the United States under the H2-A program. Under that program, employers in the agricultural industry can file form I-29 that brings in a nonimmigrant worker to work temporarily in the agricultural sector. Note that the workers must qualify for nonimmigrant status, meaning that when the job ends, the worker will return home. To qualify, an employer petitioning for a nonimmigrant worker must:
- Offer a job that is of a temporary or seasonal nature;
- Demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work;
- Show that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers; and
- Generally, submit a single valid temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor with the H-2A petition.
Each I-29 form submission is for a maximum of one year. These can be renewed, up to a maximum of three years.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, or USCIS, oversees the H2-A workers program.
Other H2-A Requirements
Under the program, the employer must provide housing for the temporary workers. The housing must comply with all OSHA rules and are subject to inspection. Often, the workers live in housing that is rented by the employer. In such an instance, the rental units must meet all Washington state standards for rentals. Such requirements include areas to wash and dry clothing, adequate heat and cooling systems, hot and cold water, and more.
In addition, those workers can only come from a U.S. Homeland Defense department list of approved countries. The employers must pay the workers the state minimum wage, which is $13.38 per hour.
Upon completion of the contract, the employer is required to provide reasonable transportation to return home for the workers, unless the workers are relocating to another job under the H2-A program.
Presence of H2-A Workers
The presence of such workers has increased 40% over the past five years. In 2017, employers in the Evergreen state requested over 18,500 H2-A workers, primarily from Mexico, to work on Washington farms and orchards. This dramatic increase has been seemingly propelled by the decline in illegal immigration, which is believed to have made up the bulk of the Washington agricultural workforce.
Do you have labor and employment needs in the state of Washington? Contact the labor and employment law firm of HKM, experienced Washington labor and employment lawyers.