Cochran supporting bill to stop new regulations for H-2B program

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) will support legislation to stop the implementation of new federal regulations governing a temporary foreign worker visa program, saying the regulatory changes are flawed and detrimental to seasonal industries like shrimping on the Gulf Coast.

Cochran announced that he would cosponsor a joint resolution of disapproval challenging the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed rule to restructure the H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program. The resolution, expected to be introduced soon by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is intended to restrict the Labor Department from implementing the rule in April.

“There are a lot of workforce problems on the Gulf Coast and in Mississippi that the federal government should not make more difficult. The seafood and forestry industries rely on the H-2B visa program to put together seasonal workforces. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor has proposed two H-2B rules in the past year that will make the process of hiring workers even more cumbersome and more challenging to deal with in a positive way, especially for small businesses,” Cochran said.

Cochran broached the H-2B visa issue with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis last Wednesday during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee hearing on the FY2013 budget request for the Labor Department. Solis offered to have Labor Department officials work with Mississippi businesses on the regulatory changes, which she told Cochran are intended “to minimize abuses that have occurred in the past.”

“I appreciate that Secretary Solis is willing to work with businesses in Mississippi on this issue, but that offer does not negate the simple fact that the proposed H-2B rule changes are flawed and harmful to seasonal businesses,” Cochran said.  “The rule should be put on hold until a more workable solution is found.”

The H-2B comprehensive rule scheduled to go into effect April 23, would create significant new recruitment and wage requirements for seasonal employers. Mississippi employers’ concerns include provisions of the H-2B comprehensive rule that would:

• Require employers to advertise for U.S. workers up to 21 days prior to the job start date, which would inhibit seasonal industries that require months in advance to recruit a suitable workforce from American and H-2B temporary workers.

• Require employers to pay transportation and subsistence costs to and from the workplace for H-2B visa participants.

• Require employers to pay H-2B workers a minimum of 75 percent of their wages for each 12-week period they are employed, even if that 12-week work period is disrupted by weather or other unforeseen problems.

Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, supported a provision in the FY2012 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (PL.112-74) that delays for one year the Labor Department from implementing a corresponding H-2B wage rule. The Labor Department intends to implement this rule Oct. 1, the start of the federal 2013 fiscal year.

The delayed H-2B wage rule would mandate hourly wage increases for seasonal workers holding H-2B visas.  According to the Labor Department, H-2B wage increases would range from $1.29 an hour for food service employees to $10.61 an hour for construction workers.  This rule could increase wages by more than 90 percent, posing a significant burden on American companies that hire H-2B workers.

An H-2B resolution of disapproval has already been offered in the House of Representatives (H.J.Res.104).  It is cosponsored by Representatives Gregg Harper and Steven Palazzo (both R-Miss.).

A joint resolution of disapproval is a legislative tool that can be used by Congress to disapprove a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies. Enactment of a disapproval resolution would stop a federal rule from taking effect and prohibit the agency from issuing a similar rule without subsequent statutory authorization.

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