Fighting for H2A Oversight

Despite it’s widespread use by corporate farms throughout the United States, the H-2A program remains largely invisible– and intentionally so. Modeled after the exploitative Bracero program, the H-2A program is a federal agricultural guest-worker system that allows U.S. growers to hire workers from Mexico and Central America to allegedly fill labor shortages. Many activists have pointed out that the labor shortage claims necessitating the use of H-2A are false, and in fact a ploy allowing growers to pay their workers less than local workers would take. Workers with H-2A visas are tied to a single employer, who is also responsible for the workers’ food, housing, transportation, and other necessities. To keep costs as low as possible, employers nearly always expose their workers to squalid conditions on and off the fields. Despite the incredible risks to workers, there is very little oversight to help keep H-2A farmworkers’ living and working conditions safe on a federal level. Up until 2019 in Washington state, different state departments were responsible for different H-2A oversight tasks– for example, the department of Labor and Industries handled complaints, while and the Department of Health handled housing inspections. Thanks to direct farmworker activism,  WA bill 5438 was proposed to the legislature creating an office for oversight of the H-2A program. This bill was passed into law in July of 2019. This office of H-2A oversight replaces only 4 people in total who were responsible for the ≈30,000 workers with H-2A visas in Washington, and the 120 corporate farms who use the program. Though this was a big win for WA food and labor justice activists, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that was proposed later that year has the potential to undermine some of the important progress that’s been made. You can sign your name in opposition here. For more information on the H-2A program, see the articles below or view Maddi’s introductory workshop on the page Preparing for Farmworker Justice Day.

Resources about H2A Oversight

Prospect Article: 

Since Washington, D.C., Won’t Oversee Its Guest Worker Programs, Washington State Will

Legal Document: WA Senate Bill 5438 Made Into Law

ENGROSSED SECOND SUBSTITUTE SENATE BILL 5438 Chapter 441, Laws of 2019 66th Legislature 2019 Regular Session H-2A TEMPORARY AGRICULTURAL PROGRAM