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Debate over union rights for H-2A visa farm workers
Kansas Ag Connection - 11/17/2023

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has joined 22 Republican attorneys general against a proposed rule by the US Department of Labor that would allow agricultural workers on H-2A temporary work visas to join labor unions to combat wage theft, workplace abuse, and human trafficking.

Kobach, spearheading a public-comment campaign, argues that extending union protection to migrant farm laborers is illegal under the current federal framework. This viewpoint echoes his criticism of the administration's approach, accusing it of prioritizing foreign nationals over U.S. citizens.

The controversial rule change, announced by the Department of Labor in September, intends to empower H-2A visa holders by enabling them to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. This approach, according to the department, is crucial in protecting these workers from exploitation and providing them with a platform to advocate for better working conditions.

Some states, including Kansas, already allow collective bargaining for agricultural laborers. Kobach believes that this federal-level change would unfairly burden U.S. agricultural employers with increased costs due to unionization.

Contrasting perspectives are evident in the debate. United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero stresses the importance of these protections for ensuring fair treatment and combating labor trafficking. Similarly, Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute highlights the broader issue of exploitation across various U.S. work visa programs.

On the other side, Kobach criticizes the administration for not compensating U.S. agriculture employers for potential losses due to time spent by H-2A workers on labor organizing. He asserts that prioritizing the interests of foreign agricultural workers over those of Americans is detrimental, especially amid high inflation and interest rates.

The debate on labor rights and agricultural policy in the US is complex, highlighting the tension between protecting migrant workers' rights and addressing domestic agricultural employers' concerns, posing a critical challenge in the ongoing policy discussion.

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